Whitney and Laredo 183.
Photo: Paris Richman
The "Right Now Devil" and the "Red Dragon" could not have planned a better finale for their three-year partnership. The Right Now Devil is Whitney Harrington and the Red Dragon is Laredo 183. They closed their remarkable competitive run together by winning the Adult Amateur Horse Of The Year at the California Dressage Society Championships in September.
"When I decide to do something I want to do it right now," laughs Whitney of how she earned her moniker. "Right now" is not usually an option in dressage, but Whitney followed the discipline's version of that by purchasing Laredo, a Grand Prix schoolmaster, relatively early in her dressage career. Laredo got his nickname over quirks that include stretching his neck and sticking his nose in the air like a giraffe and arena entries that sometimes require the ring steward to clear the back gate of innocent bystanders.
Whitney rides with Jane Arrasmith Duggan at Iron Horse Farm in Malibu and Laredo came her way on the advice of frequent coach Guenter Zach of Austria. He insisted that she needed a Grand Prix schoolmaster and suggested that Laredo would "either work out really well or not at all." Whitney and Jane went to Germany to check him out and decided it would be the former. However, the first night he arrived in Malibu he had to be sedated, Whitney recalls. "I thought, 'Oh my god, what have I done?"
It turned out that the mighty Red Dragon was "just one of those horses that really needed to trust his person." Once that was established, the pair made rapid progress and went straight on to their show ring debut at they Grand Prix level. Whitney knows that might sound crazy, but she had a clear rationale. Laredo was 17 when she bought him and the clock was ticking on how long he'd hold up at dressage's highest level. "I told Jane that I didn't want to make an ass of myself – I didn't want a judge to say, 'Try a different level,'" Whitney recalls. "But at the same time, I don't know how long he'll hold up and I wanted to go out and do it. If I was slightly embarrassed, that's fine."
In their first Grand Prix outing, there was, in fact, cause for slight embarrassment. "I couldn't get any of the one-tempis and our zigzag was a disaster," Whitney recalls. From there they alternated between Intermediare II classes and Grand Prix, all the while improving and "having an amazing experience along the way." Plus plenty of victories. They were Adult Amateur Grand Prix HOY winners at the CDS Championships in 2011 and finished reserve last year.
"It was bittersweet," Whitney says of their last victory. "I had decided a few months prior to the Championships that it would be our last show together. He's coming 20 and the Grand Prix is a difficult test. I didn't think it was fair for him to keep working at that level at this stage of his life.
"We've had our ups and downs, but he is really just a regular horse with a bunch of quirks," she continues. Laredo, or "Tater Tot," as Whitney usually calls him, is now learning to trust Lindsay Schultz, a young rider at Iron Horse who is leasing him. "It's exciting to be able to give someone the gift of Laredo," Whitney notes. As for herself, she's in the unusual position of "not having a straight vision of where I'm going next." That's worked out fine for now, due to her family's busy life. Whitney and her husband Marc's oldest daughter Kalynn is applying to college and their son Garrett is a high school freshman football player.
In mid-October, Whitney was heading back to Europe with the goal of "sitting on a lot of different types of horses." She's open to Guenter and Jane's suggestion to get a slightly less confirmed horse than Laredo, yet "I know I want another Laredo in my life at some point."
A Daughter To Thank
Whitney has Kalynn to thank for bringing her back into the horse world. Eight years ago, Kalynn asked for riding lessons and Whitney's search for the right situation led her back to her youth with horses in Malibu. "My folks kept asking, 'Don't you want to ride with her?'" Whitney relays. "I kept thinking I'd be content watching, but one day, while driving Kalynn to her first show, it came over me as a wave of clarity, 'Oh my god, I have to start riding again!"
Whitney found her trainer Jane through her mother. Jane had been assistant to international rider Leonie "Button" Baker and when Jane went out on her own, Whitney's mother went with her. Whitney and Jane realized they'd actually known each other as horse crazy pre-teens and today their trainer–student relationship is augmented by that of close friends.
Among the many things for which Whitney is grateful, riding with Jane at Iron Horse Ranch ranks high. Snugged in a quiet, shady canyon setting, the small, private facility has 14 stalls filled by high performance dressage horses. Some are campaigned and some are owned and ridden simply for the fun of pursuing the sport. Whitney's wins were just a few of the trophies and tri-colors the "Iron Horse Ladies" hauled home from the Rancho Murieta Championships this year.
A hunter/jumper rider through her youth, Whitney "couldn't believe how hard dressage is" when she took up the discipline on returning to riding. After a brief period of riding loaned mounts, Whitney and her mother bought a small tour schoolmaster named Hassan. "That was my first real taste of dressage. Jane sent me out at Third Level and by the end of that year, we'd won a championship." Kalynn then took over the ride on Hassan and achieved many successes before taking a break to focus on senior year academics.
"I've been incredibly lucky and it's been an amazing three years," Whitney reflects. Having a great horse has been huge, as has having a supportive family, from her generous parents, Bill and Mary Hinderer, and husband to her understanding children. Juggling an ambitious riding track with motherhood is no mean feat. "Especially when I first got Laredo, it's was all or nothing for me," she explains. "I wanted to go to as many shows as possible and I definitely relied on my family and friends for help. I think I am a little more happily balanced now."
"I've just been so lucky it's ridiculous," Whitney concludes, at least for right now.