CARLISLIE, Pa.--One of US Equestrian's nominees for the 2021 Horse of the Year in the National Horses of Honor division is Sjaantje, owned and competed by Gail Aumiller of Dreams Come True Farm in Carlisle.
"I have had horses since I was in fifth grade, selling when in college, and buying a thoroughbred off the track as soon as I graduated and got a teaching job," said Aumiller. "I decided when I was almost 50 I should find something less explosive than my thoroughbreds, so after much research I discovered the Friesian breed, and I bought my first in 2002. When I decided to start breeding them, I bought Sjaantje as part of a three in one package: she had just been born, and her dam was bred back and in foal, and I imported them in 2005.
"I had been tinkering with natural horsemanship techniques, so Sjaantje went through that program, playing all the games. As a 2-year-old, she was broken to harness, ground driven, and round pen trained with voice commands. I sent her off for keuring prep training that involved driving in front of a job cart as a 3-year-old, and that fall I started her, riding bareback.
"I HAD NO designs of being a carriage driver—my idea of carriage driving was an Amish buggy going down the road. I discovered carriage pleasure driving as a spectator, so in 2011 Sjaantje and I began training at Stafford Carriage Driving, when Suzy Stafford was in Coatesville. I started driving in 2011 and now in 2021, I drive four to times weekly, and I only ride a handful of times in a year.
"Our first carriage driving show was at the 2011 Brandywine Valley Carriage Driving Show, and we haven’t stopped since, although we did slow down the two times Sjaantje was bred and in foal. I still have her 2018 colt, Hamilton, now a gelding, and he is currently being trained to drive by Suzy Stafford and will be joining Sjaantje in Florida after Christmas for the winter.
"I have always been enthralled with horses—as a child I pretended to be a horse, galloping and whinnying around the neighborhood. I am now in my early 70s and certainly do not want to live without them in my life, so since I can no longer ride as well as I used to, carriage driving has afforded me the opportunity to keep enjoying and going with horses.
"Sjaantje is that one horse in a life time that we life-long equestrians dream of having, and I am blessed that she has created so many dreams and made so many of my dreams come true.
"We compete in both Friesian and open breed carriage pleasure driving events in the single horse division." said Aumiller. "A typical carriage show has us entering turnout, working, reinsmanship, cones/obstacles, and cross country obstacles. I enter ladies to drive classes, picnic, old guard, and costume classes if they are offered. Honey bee Sjaantje has never lost that carriage driving costume class. But by far my favorite division is driven dressage, which is also where Sjaantje excels in performance. As I slowly retire her in 2022, we will be choosing driven dressage classes over rail classes."
The International and National Equestrians of the Year will be announced at the 2021 Pegasus Awards Dinner Celebration on Thursday, Jan. 13, and the International and National Horses of the Year will be announced at the 2021 USEF Horse of the Year Awards Dinner Celebration on Saturday, Jan. 15, at the 2022 US Equestrian Annual Meeting in Naples, Fla.
Horses of Honor and Equestrians of Honor are nominated by their USEF affiliate organization or USEF breed or discipline committee and the finalists are selected by the Awards Committee.
The other two nominees in Sjaantje's division are Big Shot, a hunter, and HS Daydream's Heads Up, a saddlebred.
In the International Horses of Honor division, the nominees are Balou du Reventon, a jumper ridden by Brian Moggre, Dolton, a para-dressage competitor ridden by Roxanne Trunnell, and Suppenkasper, a dressage horse ridden by Steffen Peters.
In International Equestrians of Honor, the nominees are Laura Kraut, a grand prix rider and Olympic veteran, Sabine Schut-Kery, a dressage rider and also an Olympic veteran, and Roxanne Trunnell, a para-dressage rider and para-dressage Olympic veteran.
Among National Equestrians of Honor are Alexandra DeGray, saddlebreds, Susan Morey, who rides Morgans in Western, Martha Rattner, Arabians, Jeff Schall, Arabians in hand, Peter Stachowski, who drives Arabians, and Hunt Tosh, hunters.
The final Horses of the Year and Equestrians of the Year are determined by member voting.
Voting is open now through 11:59 p.m. EST on Dec. 29.
You must be logged in to your USEF account to vote.