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Five-Star Horses of a Different Breed

by Ashley Swift | Apr 25, 2019, 3:01 PM

US Equestrian’s 11 recognized breeds are all stellar ambassadors for the versatility, athleticism, and power of the horse. Each has its own special characteristics, and many of these breeds excel in a multitude of disciplines.

While breeds like the Thoroughbred, Irish Sport Horse, and warmbloods are numerous in the field of competitors at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event presented by Mars Equestrian, keep your eyes on the lookout for a few horses boasting some different bloodlines in the start box on Saturday.

Sparrow’s Nio (Grange Finn Sparrow x JB/Unknown)

2003 Connemara/Thoroughbred gelding

Owner/Rider: Allie Sacksen

Sparrow's Nio and Allie Sacksen
Photo: Kasey@Rare Air Photography

The Connemara breed is not typically seen at a five-star event, but Sparrow’s Nio, a feisty grey standing at just 15.3 hands, isn’t one for being typical. Owner and rider Allie Sacksen joined forces with Nio when he was seven and new to the sport of eventing. They started at the Novice level and methodically worked their way up the ladder, building his confidence and competing at the Intermediate/two-star level by 2013. The pair completed their first four-star competition, now classified as a five-star, at the 2015 Kentucky Three-Day Event. Following this accomplishment, the American Connemara Pony Society (ACPS) recognized Sparrow Nio’s excellence as an ambassador for the breed, naming him 2015 Halfbred Connemara of the Year. Fast-forward to 2019, Sacksen and Nio are prepped and ready to take on the LRK3DE challenge for the third time!

Sacksen has described Nio as amazing and spunky, with all the trademarks of a Connemara pony despite his Thoroughbred-crossed pedigree. The Irish contributed much to this country, and any owner will tell you the Connemara is their greatest contribution, said the ACPS. Born out of the beautiful yet harsh Western Ireland shores, the Connemara evolved from an unusual blend of natural selection and human need. Athletic, adaptable, and hardy, this breed can excel in virtually all disciplines. A well conformed Connemara’s compact and well-balanced body result in lovely, free-moving gaits and a natural jumping ability.

Visit the American Connemara Pony Society to learn more and check out their demonstrations at the US Equestrian Demonstration Arena at LRK3DE on Thursday, April 25, at 4:30 p.m. and Saturday, April 27, at 3 p.m. to see all that these special horses can do. 


Vermiculus (Sazeram x Wake Me Gently/Unpredictable)

2007 Anglo-Arabian gelding

Owner: Jacqueline Mars

Rider: Lauren Kieffer

Vermiculus, affectionately known as “Bug” at home, first came to rider Lauren Kieffer’s barn when he was just a three-year-old, and she has brought him up through the ranks. Bug first competed at the five-star level at the 2017 Kentucky Three-Day Event. Since then, the combination has produced a series of strong performances, including a top-five finish in the 2018 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event and a top-10 finish in the 2018 The Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International Three-Day Event, then classified as a CCI3* event.

Vermiculus and Lauren Kieffer
Photo: Shannon Brinkman Photo

Bug is an Anglo-Arabian, a breed that combines the Arabian horse and Thoroughbred bloodlines. For thousands of years, Arabian horses lived among the desert tribes of the Arabian Peninsula, bred by the Bedouins as war mounts for long treks and quick forays into enemy camps. In these harsh desert conditions evolved a horse with large lung capacity, incredible endurance, and high intelligence.

Watch Bug gallop across a cross-country course with ears pricked and it becomes very clear why this athletic breed has been a favorite for Kieffer. “They really suit the sport,” she said. “You need horses that can run all day and still be sharp the next day. They’ve got the quickness and the stamina, and they’re careful horses. Every one I’ve had has been really brave, too. And they’re typically good movers. So it’s a great thing to have in a horse; it’s always a bonus if they have a bit of Arab blood in them.”

Visit the Arabian Horse Association to learn more about the Anglo-Arabian and other Arabian breeds.


Honor Me (Brynarian Brenin ap Maldwyn x Dream Contessa/Royal Chocolate)
2006 Thoroughbred/Welsh Cob gelding

Owner/Rider: Lisa Marie Fergusson

Honor Me and Lisa Marie Fergusson
Photo: Taylor Pence/US Equestrian

Honor Me, known as “Tali” in the barn, and his owner/rider Lisa Marie Fergusson competed at the FEI World Equestrian Games™ Tryon 2018 for the Canadian Eventing Team. In their first major games, they leapt an impressive 40 spots up the leaderboard between the initial dressage phase and their final show jumping performance and finished in the 40th position as an individual. Fergusson guided Tali around Capt. Mark Phillips’s challenging cross-country course with finesse, jumping clear and accumulating just 8.4 time penalties in Tali’s favorite phase.

Tali is a Thoroughbred/Welsh Cob cross, also referred to as a Welsh Sport Horse, and was built to answer the tough cross-country challenges presented at the LRK3DE. According to the Welsh Pony & Cob Society of America, the Welsh Cob originated in the mountainous region of Wales with a lineage that predates the Roman Empire. The horses of this region not only survived, but thrived in the unforgiving environment, developing into a breed with a remarkable soundness of body, tremendous endurance, and a high degree of native intelligence. They are also well-known for their friendly personalities, even temperaments, and trainability. It has been demonstrated that the Welsh Pony/Cob crosses well with many other breeds, and this is an important aspect of the breed’s versatility for breeders.

Today, there are over 45,000 registered Welsh Ponies and Cobs in North America competing in nearly every discipline, even at the highest levels, as evidenced by Tali. Visit the Welsh Pony & Cob Society of America to learn more about the Welsh Cob.

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