Susanne Benne & Roger Rabbit
The $3 Grand Prix horse ......
The story of Roger Rabbit begins on a cold and rainy day in Braunschweig, a city in Germany near Hannover, a region well known for breeding some of the greatest sport horses in the world. As head trainer and Pferdewirtschaftsmeister at a prestigious equestrian facility my duties included not only educating horse and rider but also seeking young new talent thus always keeping an eye on what the market may offer. What caught my eye on this particular day was a young Hanoverian gelding named “Little Big Man”. My client, Dr. Joachim Bösche, a well known and respected “O” judge and a mentor of mine, had already seen and made the arrangements for me to try the 3 year old. After riding this big, athletic individual with gorgeous gaits I had absolutely fallen in love. Little Big Man was to be sold at the Verden horse auction, a huge annual event that attracts potential buyers of all nationalities. This is where one comes to see the best of what the industry has produced. Dr. Bösche made the decision to buy the gelding and I was to train him.
As we entered the packed arena in Verden two weeks later we looked for two seats at about mid-level. Working our way through the crowd we passed a group of people selling raffle tickets, shouting “First prize is a Hanoverian Yearling” and I thought, why not, I had an extra $3.00 and the prizes where quite nice: riding boots, saddle with bridle and, of course, a yearling. I bought a ticket, stuffed it in my purse and we took our seats as the bidding began .Horse after horse was lead out, the gavel fell and purchases were made. At last our horse was on the block and after an intense “cat and mouse chase” we were able to out bid a buyer from switzerland. “Little Big Man” was ours. As the day was coming to an end Dr. Bösche took care of the formalities and I stayed for the drawing of the raffle tickets.
I cannot describe what I felt at that moment when they called the numbers I held in my hand, 2250, the winning ticket......me, I won! I do recall jumping up and waving my arms...somehow I must have floated down the stairs because the next thing I remember is standing in the arena holding my new colt, introduced to me as “Roger Rabbit”. Walking on a cloud, feeling numb with joy we loaded the two horses into our trailer and took our “prizes” home.
I turned Roger out at a small boarding facility not too far away. I would visit occasionally, watching him develop while trying to keep an open mind. Growing up on the family breeding farm I knew what to look for when evaluating young horses. So far Roger Rabbit was true to his name in having a rather large set of ears but as he was reaching his second year I had some serious doubts. He was still quite ugly and uncoordinated. His lineage was impeccable coming from the“Gestüt Amselhof ” in Celle, a facility with a reputation of breeding and educating top notch performance horses headed by Heike Kemmer, one of Germany's finest trainers.
A year later I made the decision to leave Braunschweig and move back home to help run the family business. Roger Rabbit, now a 3 year old, made the move with me and it was time to start his career. Actually quite handsome now, he finally grew into his ears. Dark chocolate in color with 3 white socks, he was huge, topping out at almost 18 hands and still growing. Having spent the last two years with his peers in a pasture, Roger wasn't accustomed to human contact. Extremely sensitive and very insecure, the initial training steps were not easy. My first goal was to ride him straight and forward, getting him used to the weight of the rider and establishing balance in all three gaits. Again, true to his name, he was more like a rabbit but eventually, with great patience, Roger began to trust me and our relationship over the next few years became a true partnership. It was a partnership so strong I felt confidant and at ease riding him while pregnant with both of my children.
My husband Richard, a Floridian who had spent most of his adult life in Europe, felt it was time to move to the United States to be close to his parents. We both agreed we would enjoy the sunny, tropical Florida climate after living in cold and often wet Germany. This meant a big change for me but also a challenge I would not turn down and in 2000 I said good-bye to Germany, my parents, my friends. We packed up our children the 2 horses and flew across the Atlantic to make Florida our new home.
I thought the language would be my biggest hurdle until I stepped off the plane and tried to breathe the hot, salty, humid air of the subtropics. Not to mention the bugs, biting, crawling, flying and the unrelenting sun. Over the years I have been able to adjust completely but Roger with his massive stature still has issues with the environment. At 18.1 hands his size is truly monumental and at the age of 6 we hit a major training plateau as we schooled third level movements and struggled for more collection. I wasn't convinced Roger could develop the self carriage required for the upper levels and the thought of selling him crossed my mind more than once. It was then I began to work on a more stringent training regiment, a diet plan to make him sweat more and a conditioning program to give him more endurance.
In 2004 Richard and I established Half Halt Stables Dressage, now a 14 acre full service training facility on Florida's east coast. With the addition of a covered arena in 2007 and the help of a few esteemed colleagues, I have been able to build Rogers stamina and work through the ever increasing difficult demands of the sport, earning many championship titles. This winter, at the age of thirteen, Roger and I will be showing Grand Prix, the highest degree of collection and balance in dressage. We know one another's strengths and weaknesses and we work with them in full collaboration and harmony. He is a reliable partner, still sensitive but trusts me whole heartedly. Ever correct and honest, he has been a wonderful experience in my life and a joy to ride every day.
"I feel compelled to tell Roger’s unusual story because it says so much about horses; their resilience, devotion and trust in their human partners. And how we need to be patient, understanding and most importantly not to give up too soon! After analyzing and recognizing your horses ability and your own skill level, believe in this partnership and work hard at what you believe. Seek the help of good reputable trainers that have the knowledge and positive encouragement necessary to help you with the challenging task of educating a horse through the levels!"