BWS Feather Dancer ("Harley")
Larger Gypsy Stallion x Shire Mare
Born June10, 2002; Imported 2003
ADHA Registration #D0102S; GHA Registration Pending
Harley, registered name BWS Feather Dancer, was SFG's show horse from 2006 to 2009. He and Lisa appeared in Drum/Gypsy shows and in many dressage competitions. His show record can be found on SFG's original site at http://www.silverfeathergypsies.com. Here we intend to revisit some of Harley's triumphs and notable moments. We retired Harley because he developed a fear of noise in indoor arenas. These conditions were extremely hard to replicate in everyday life and so training him through them seemed, if not difficult, then impossible. Here is Harley's story.
Harley came to the U.S., as did so many of SFG's horses, through Black Forest Shires & Gypsy Horses. This photo, taken from BFS&GH's site, shows a very young Harley being examined by Jeff Bartko, one of BFS&GH's owners. Harley is probably about 6 months old here. When Harley was put on its site, here is what BFS&GH said about his background:
As everyone probably knows, the gypsies aren't breeding for big horses these days, like they were 10-15 years ago. The gypsy lad that owns the stallion for this boy had himself a top stallion, heavy as can be, and well respected among the gypsies. He was a bit "out of fashion" as he was 15.2 hands, so his size made him not as in-demand as he was several years back. The gypsy lad that owned him didn't want to sell him though, as he liked the horse, but was breeding his mares to a smaller stallion to "fit the trend". He asked a farmer friend if he could put the horse into one of the farmers fields. The farmer had one field which contained an old (about 23 years, by the owners estimation), retired shire mare. The mare hadn't bred a foal in over 10 years, in spite of the farmer's attempts, but he kept her anyway, because she had earned her retirement. Well, about a year after she started sharing her field with this good gypsy stallion, out pops this surprise!
We acquired Harley from Blackwater Stables of Arkansas in 2006 to be our show horse. Lisa had found Harley; we were initially looking for a Gypsy gelding to show. Lisa liked Harley's size and the potential she saw in him. Here Lisa is meeting him for the first time at Blackwater.
Upon acquiring Harley, Lisa immediately set to work training and showing him. Working with Andre Poole, she gradually trained him in dressage. Our favorite photo of him and Lisa in the dressage arena made the cover of Equine Journal (see photo to right). During 2008, he won enough points to win that year's USDF All Breed High Point Training Level award. Toward the end of his career with us, he was making inroads into Level 1, and Level 2 appeared doable.
Harley's issues with noise were brought home to us forcibly at the 2007 Ohio State Fair. Harley had appeared in the 2006 OSF Drum classes without incident. These classes, held in conjunction with the OSF Gypsy Vanner Horse Show, were the first Drum Horse classes ever held in the United States as far as we know. Competing against one other Drum, Harley placed first in both Drum classes. In the photo to the left, he and Lisa are shown doing a victory lap
Following their wins, people flocked to Harley's stall to meet and lay a hand on him. Here is the line at one point during the afternoon; Lisa is inside Harley's stall with him supervising his interactions with members of the public.
Harley's appearance at the Ohio State Fair in 2006 was a success; the one in 2007 was much less so, although he won the one class he appeared in there. The OSF simply oozes hitches, four in hands, and these teams make a great deal of noise as they move anywhere. Harness jangles, the team's iron-shod hooves strike concrete, the wagons' wheels rattle . . . it's almost impossible to go from stall to arena and then from arena to stall without encountering multiple hitches in transit to or from their own classes. By 2007's OSF, Harley's fear of noise had grown greater. Before Harley's one and only class at the OSF in 2007, Lisa successfully got him to and inside the entryway to the arena. However Harley could see and hear the hitches then inside the arena, and right outside the arena helicopters were taking off, giving fair goers rides. It was all too much for him; Lisa, who stayed on the ground till the last minute, was spinning him to keep him from going up. He wasn't trying to be difficult or mean; rearing was the only way he knew how to express his overwhelming fear. He could easily have torn away from Lisa and run amok in an effort to escape what he feared. The stallion did not do so however. He was trying to be good, but he had to express his great fear somehow, and rearing was the only way he knew to do it.
Determining never to show Harley at the OSF again, we continued to show him in various recognized dressage shows and at other breed shows, most notably the Feathered Horse Classics held in Perry, Georgia. At 2006's FHC, he had been Reserve Champion Versatility. In 2007, he was Supreme Champion Drum, Champion Drum Stallion, and High Point Drum Horse. During the award presentation at the 2007 FHC, Lisa had to move him toward the end of the arena for photographs because the noise fans of a celebrity were making disturbed him. The 2008 National Gypsy & Drum Horse Classic, held in Lexington, Kentucky, was the breed-show highlight of Harley's career. Not only did he place 1st in a slew of performance classes against Gypsies and other Drums, but he was Supreme Champion Drum. All the classes were held outdoors and so Harley was not subjected to noise in indoor arenas. Below is a photo of Lisa and me with Harley in his ribbons. Other photos from the show, taken by Fran Scott, are shown below.
Harley's condition seemed to gradually worsen over time. Toward the end of his career with us, Lisa said that he was tense even in covered, but not enclosed, dressage arenas. We decided it was not fair to keep putting him through this. While at the Massachusetts Equine Affaire at the Gypsy Horse Association's booth, we were put in touch with the trainer of a man who was seeking horses for his large estate in Vermont. He wanted a horse to use in trail riding, and he himself was quite tall. He liked Gypsies, the trainer said, and had sent her to look at them. However, with his height, good friend Terry Marshall, who was also manning the booth, thought that a Drum might suit him better. We shared Harley's phobia with the trainer, but she said that probably wouldn't be a problem. She came to Tennessee and spent a weekend trying Harley out, and he and his daughter Heather ended up being sold to Vermont. There he takes his owner on trail rides, and we are told they call him the Trail Blazer, because he wants to be out front. His new owner gelded Harley because he wanted him to be able to go out with other horses. We understand Harley is very happy there. Lisa delivered him to his new home in Vermont, and she said that, as she pulled out on her way home with the trailer on which he'd ridden so many times, he looked up as if to say, "Hey, why am I not going with you?" and then went back to eating hay. That was Lisa's last view of Harley.
2008 National Gypsy & Drum Horse Classic
This show was one of the high points of Harley's career with us. The following photos, taken by Fran Scott of RemmePark Photography, are from it. The show was held at the gorgeous Kentucky Horse Park, and all classes were held outdoors, and so Harley wasn't afraid. He swept the performance classes, trading 1st and 2nd places with one other horse. Also in attendance at the National was Jeff Bartko of Black Forest Shires & Gypsy Horses. Along with many of the Gypsies shown there, BFS&GH had imported Harley. Jeff was impressed at the amount of feather Harley possessed.
Harley was also Supreme Champion Drum Horse of the show and won a slew of ribbons in various performance classes.
Mark Barrett Photos of Harley
We'll conclude Harley's page with a tribute of Mark J. Barrett photos of him, taken at a photo shoot in 2008. One of his photos appeared in the 2011 "Horse Feathers" calendar.