“He likes to play with me when I have him in the arena. I will start running and he’ll chase me and we’ll have races. I’ll be like ‘ready, set, go’ and he’ll race me,” laughed Jacqueline Anne Cavalier as we chatted about her horse, Dreamer.
The tall dark bay quarter horse (who raced under the name Caraways Nativedream) eyes me with suspicion as Cavalier chats about his quirks and things she’s come to love about him.
Dreamer, as she likes to call him, has been part of Cavalier’s life for the last eleven years. She came across the gelding in 2003 at a friend’s farm in Schomberg. “It was one of those things where you just walk out and that’s the horse that you love. He was just so beautiful and he was just one of those big dark horses that I just fell in love with,” said Cavalier. She took lessons on the four-year-old until the following year when Cavalier’s mom bought Dreamer for her fourteenth birthday.
Glancing over at the handsome and very solid lad I was curious to know how Dreamer had fared in the racing world before joining forces with Cavalier. It turns out the quarter horse, (like my horse Mr.Tease) wasn’t a big fan of track life. He made his racing debut at Picov Downs (now known as Ajax Downs) in July 2001 and had his last start there in July 2002. He raced a total of ten times but only placed twice in the money.
Even though Cavalier has been riding since she was five years old and taking lessons on Dreamer before he became hers, she admits being uncertain about what the young duo would be doing at the start of their partnership. “We really didn’t know anything about him or what the heck we were doing… and that he was a very large horse for a small person.”
And small she is, standing at 5' 3" next to Dreamer who stands at 16.2 hands (around 5’ 6"). Despite my limited knowledge of quarter horses, his unusual height and size for the breed is not lost on me. Cavalier also makes a point of noting the gelding’s interesting body dynamics, first pointing out his quarter horse like-bum, then his warmblood mid-section and thoroughbred looking neckline. To be honest, he looks more thoroughbred than my own thoroughbred.
Leaving the racing world behind, Cavalier started Dreamer on a western style discipline known as Western Pleasure. Working calmly in that discipline, Cavalier decided to give Dreamer a go at jumping since she had a hunter/jumper background. As much as the partnership began to develop as they worked through several different disciplines, Cavalier admits that his spooky personality (and several falls) had her nervous about riding him. “Honestly, he used to be so spooky that he always kind of made me afraid. I was up in that arena one time and somebody came up with an umbrella and he just freaked and he threw me into the fence and I got a concussion,” admitted Cavalier.
In 2010, Cavalier moved Dreamer to Triple S Stables in Stouffville. Knowing that groundwork and flatwork would be important elements in regaining her trust with Dreamer, Cavalier began working with dressage coach Susan Downs-Saunders. “Dressage is really helpful because you have to be with the horse and you have to know what you’re doing and just have that connection with them -- because I was basically training him from the start. He had no dressage background whatsoever.”
Dreamer, whose been listening to our whole conversation is waiting patiently for Cavalier to finish tacking him up. Once he’s ready to go I follow her into the indoor arena to get a glimpse of the duo’s afternoon ride. Warming him up and working out his stiffness Cavalier seems at home in the saddle. She takes him through his paces at the walk, trot, canter and also does some lateral movements while other riders come and go.
Watching him closely, I notice him spook slightly as the side door shakes with the wind blowing through the arena. His petite blonde rider isn’t phased by it and continues riding him down the long side of the arena at an easy trot, getting his brain focused back on their work.
Cavalier admits that it’s a challenge to do dressage with a quarter horse. “Not going to lie, quarter horses aren’t built to do dressage,” said Cavalier whose ridden breeds of horses such as warmbloods that are built to do specific movements required in dressage.
Moreover, Dreamer has suffered a couple of injuries that also pose a challenge to getting him in the correct frame. “He was in the field one time and he kicked the back of a fence, and so he ripped open his tendon on his right (back) leg. Another time at a different barn he got kicked. So his other hock has damage to it. So that’s why it’s really hard for him to do dressage because he needs to get on his hind-end and it’s difficult for him because he’s got some scar tissue in his hocks.”
In order to keep the sixteen year-old gelding in his prime and perform at his best (regardless of previous injuries), Cavalier currently rides Dreamer five to six times a week. She also gets a coaching lesson once a week, or may have her coach ride him to work on certain elements of their training. A fourth-year student at Trent University and sales associate at a familiar tack store down the road, her quarter horse still remains one of her top priorities.
Like any good horsewoman, she has learnt over the last decade or so that building that trust and getting over her fears involves working with Dreamer on a regular basis. “It’s basically consistency, just like being here everyday with him and just knowing everything about him makes it easier to trust him. Before, when I was in my teens I wouldn’t come up as much, because you know you have a different life, you’re in high school and you’re going to parties and stuff, and it was the inconsistency that was making me scared,” said Cavalier.
Showing him in the dressage ring over the last three years, Cavalier is excited to begin showing Dreamer next month at RCRA. In June, she is also planning to take him to a combination show (dressage/jumping). Although he may not be built for a discipline like dressage, Cavalier is pleased with how far they’ve come and how much heart Dreamer continues to put into his work. “We may never get past third level or anything, but he’s my whole world,” said Cavalier.
Dreamer may not have been destined to win races, but it’s evident (even in the short time I spent with both horse & rider) that he’s won the heart of his leading lady.
Fast forward to December 2015:
Since writing about the duo in April they have gone onto compete in both the jumper ring and dressage ring. They have also been doing some extreme cowboy racing.
Although Dreamer did hurt his hind right (superficial flexor tendon) in the fall, he is now back to his healthy and happy self.
The duo will be training over the winter to prepare for their next venture into second level dressage. They will also be doing some more extreme cowboy races and trying a little western dressage.