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Simpsonville horse up for top honors

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High Hickory Farm’s The Daily Lottery, a Saddlebred coming off an undefeated season, is one of three horses that are finalists for U.S. Horse of the Year.

By Stephanie Doyle

SIMPSONVILLE– A few years ago,  on a fairly concealed farm off Webb Road in Simpsonville, a young colt was learning the how to compete in the graceful arenas of the American Saddlebreds.

No one could predict his invincible 5-gaited run. No one knew he would become a World’s Champion of Champions. And certainly no one envisioned his rise this month to an even more elite circle in the equine world.

CHThe Daily Lottery, born on High Hickory Farm, will join five other Horses of Honor who have reached the highest level of excellence in equestrian sport with their talent, perseverance and tremendous spirit. The United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) in Lexington will bestow two of them with the prestigious title of Horse of the Year, the highest honor the USEF awards a horse. This year – a change from years past – both a national and an international horse will win.

The champions from across the Federation’s breeds and disciplines will be recognized Jan. 13 at the USEF Horse of the Year Awards gala – part of the USEF’s annual meeting - in Cincinnati. The public’s vote will help determine the champions that join the pantheon of past winners, including last year’s top horse – Gunners Special Nite, a champion reiner.

The three international Horses of Honor include Coral Reef Via Volo, a Belgian Warmblood mare who paired with rider Beezie Madden to rack up numerous show jumping  triumphs across the globe; Weltino’s Magic, a Westphalian gelding who was undefeated in 2011 with dressage superstar Steffen Peters on his back; and Neville Bardos, an Australian Thoroughbred gelding who wowed the eventing world with Boyd Martin.

On a side note: Martin almost lost Neville in a horrific barn fire but was able to rescue his beloved horse. Neville not only recovered from burns and severe smoke inhalation, but he returned to competition.

This year’s national Horses of Honor include Sjored, a world-famous Friesian stallion, and the Arabian Starr Llight, the most winning Purebred English Pleasure mare of all time – and Shelby County’s own The Daily Lottery.

“He's probably the most unique and curious horse I've ever been around,” rider Gabe Deknatel said.

No other horse has been able to surpass this beautifully big-motioned chestnut. He doesn’t just amaze the judges in the five-gaited division for Saddlebreds – he continues to win – every time – and by unanimous decision. With Deknatel at the reins, crowds cheer at the textbook example of showing gaited horses.

“I'm very lucky to be able to ride and be around such a great horse,” he said. “I hurt my back this year and didn't feel comfortable on other horses. His proper athletic movement puts me in a comfortable position. I can't tell you how lucky and blessed I feel about that.”

In the barn, they call this horse Dudley, but his true fans call him “Studly” – and for good reason.

The Daily Lottery was a jackpot payout in 2011 with an undefeated record among amateur competitors. From the string of grand champion titles at the UPHA/American Royal, Kentucky Fall Classic, Midwest Charity Horse Show, Bonnie Blue National and the Kentucky State Fair World's Championship Horse Show, The Daily Lottery dominated the scene like no other.

Although quite calm in the barn – usually – and standing just over 15 hands tall, The Daily Lottery turns up the heat at shows, gradually and inevitably working up a power and motivation that are unmatched.

“One of his true gifts is that he doesn't realize he's a reasonably plain smallish horse,” Deknatel said. “And no one else knows it when he's doing his thing. He comes out with a one-track mind, putting everything into his work, every time.”
Deknatel says “Studly” has taught him the true meaning of hot-blooded when it comes to horses.

“At a horse show, where he really turns up the heat, I believe he would go harder and harder indefinitely, until he or I got hurt or died,” he said. “I would pass out before he would – he’s so fit. But he would go until he died, getting bigger and better every step.”

That could be why this once-relaxed horse turns quite the opposite after such a workout. “He makes life difficult for his caretakers after he has worked,” Deknatel said. “His body gets sensitive, and he wiggles around. He tries to bite and kick. All of which is opposite his normal demeanor.”

But when The Daily Lottery first finishes competing, he simply looks up at the lights and the crowd, and handsomely poses, his ears towards the sky.

“He now has an awareness of his surroundings that I don't entirely understand – it’s fascinating,” Deknatel said.
Winning the Amateur 5-Gaited Championship at the World’s Championship Horse Show at the Kentucky State Fair is considered to be the highest honor for amateurs – but to win it twice in a row is a rare accomplishment.

If anyone could do it, though, it would be The Daily Lottery, trained by John and Tammie Conatser, and Deknatel.
And in August from the moment he trotted into the ring, The Daily Lottery was absolutely brilliant – expressive, quick-moving, agile and thrilling to watch. In every gait he pushed off his hind legs with power – right to victory. Again.