Vermont-based trainer Anna Smith had no idea what was in store for her when she decided to partner with a pint-sized powerhouse pony last year. Little did she know the middle-aged, tiny mare, whom she dubbed “Dunny” because of her bronzed buckskin coat, would prove herself to be a foxhunting phenom.
An accomplished rider and trainer in just about every English discipline, Anna is always on the hunt for a fun project. “I’ve been training and selling young horses since I was in my early teens, learning mostly from trial-and-error. I’ve worked with rescue cases, Quarter Horse crosses, Connemara crosses, draft crosses, ponies, really anything I could get my hands on,” she says.
When Anna heard about Dunny, she thought the mare was right up her alley. Her friend had purchased the mare, along with a few other similar ponies, after they’d ended up a local sale when their elderly owner passed away.
“After watching the 13.3-hand rascal easily put the farm's seasoned veteran boss mare in her place, my friend decided the time needed to break this squirrelly pony would not be conducive to her busy work schedule,” says Anna. She was impressed with the pony’s fearless attitude as well as her floaty gaits, and so she decided to take her on as a personal project.
“Much to my surprise,” she recalls, “as soon as I gained the courage to start the breaking process, she never once gave me an ounce of trouble and tackled any question I asked with this can-do confidence.”
An Intro to the Hunt Field
By her twentieth ride, Dunny had proven herself to be a sure-footed and capable partner with a natural motor--the perfect combination for foxhunting. “I took her out for the first time with Wentworth Hunt, and I believe it was her 25th or 30th ride under saddle,” Anna remembers. “The hounds took some getting used to, but after starting at the tail-end of second flight it was evident she was ready to move up.”
By the end of the hunt, Dunny and Anna were right in the mix with first flight and had jumped every obstacle placed in front of them. “Dunny took to the hunt field like fish to water. She caught on to the flow of things and would keenly look for the horse in front and gauge her pace accordingly. It’s amazing to think a barely broke 10-year-old pony would go on auto-pilot her first time asked, but she did.”
Anna took Dunny out again with Wentworth a week later and went straight into first flight. “The conditions were icy and a bit slick, but she handled the terrain wonderfully and despite her lack of miles under saddle, the 12-mile hunt barely caused her to break a sweat and she was ready for more!”
After a friend invited Anna to hunt with Moore County Hounds in Southern Pines, NC, she was a bit concerned taking such a green horse to a pretty serious live hunt.
“But when Dunny arrived, she strutted around like she owned the place, true to her nature, and I decided to take up the tail-end of first flight,” recalls Anna. “There were hounds whizzing past her left and right, but this pony never lost focus. There were some pretty big fences, and at one point the horse in front of her stopped at a large coop heading straight downhill. Dunny locked onto that jump and soared right on past! It was a memorable day. I was quite proud of her and of the compliments I had received that day. She earned it.”
Not Your Typical Ponies
One of Dunny’s buddies is another one of Anna’s pocket-sized prodigies named Orangie, a German Riding Pony who also has some hunt experience. Before introducing her to foxhunting, Orangie had been under saddle for almost two years and also had been successful competing in eventing at the Novice level. “To my amazement, she handled a tough first hunt with Norfolk Hunt with ease, confidently tackling the stone walls of Barney’s Joy, some standing a solid 3’6” and that seems like a conservative estimate from the back of a 13h pony,” Anna remembers.
“It’s quite amusing to consider the general ‘pony’ stigma of Thelwell’s little tot butterfly kicking a rather devious ball of fluff, compared to a ready for business, get-it-done type battle steed,” she laughs. “The latter are more accurate descriptions of Dunny and Orangie! It’s not too uncommon to see them peeking into the kitchen window from their paddock, especially on a Saturday.”
Even though Dunny was purchased with the intent to be trained and then sold, needless to say Anna is in no hurry to let her go. This spring she will start training to compete in her first event, something Anna believes will come very natural to her.
“A few people have asked, ‘Isn’t she a bit old to be just starting a career, I mean what kind of market is there for a green-broke, grade pony that is past her prime?’” says Anna. “Well, as they say, age is just a number. A sturdy, gritty, forward-thinking horse will go farther than a doodle-brain klutz no matter how talented, every time, even despite having a few more turns of the clock. That’s just how I look at it.’
Building a Future and Preserving the Past
Though Anna has always had a knack for training ponies, her true passion lies with warmbloods. She worked for the notable VDL Stud in Europe after college, which further fed her lifelong obsession equine genetics.
“My focus has recently shifted more towards Thoroughbreds and the forgotten breeds of yesterday such as the Cleveland Bay and Morgan horse,” Anna says. “My goal is to better myself and my skills in the tack so I can help these horses reach their full potential and gain the respect they deserve in such a competitive warmblood-dominated industry. That isn’t to say I don’t appreciate a good warmblood, but the warmblood stallions I promote are producing very versatile horses that are suitable amateur mounts with plenty of ability.”
Currently she owns five stallions: Cast No Stones (2016 Thoroughbred), Pembridge Joshua (2006 Cleveland Bay), Mighty Oak Thunder (2017 Lippitt Morgan), Aurion (2003 warmblood), El Galeon (2006 warmblood). “Every one of these horses brings something to the table, which is what makes this farm so unique,” she explains. “I am lucky to have a strong mare-base that is producing quality young horses, further helping this dream become a reality.”
She recently purchased a small farm in her hometown of New Castle, Virginia, with plans of expanding her Rummler Run Farm breeding operation to accommodate more outside mares and offer affordable options for the everyday mare owner.