In his first show, a Dales Pony, Brimstone Rob Roy, owned by John Aberth of Vermont Firefly Farm won the Overall Performance championship at the New England Connemara and Dales Show held in South Woodstock, VT mid-July. They also placed 4th in the in-hand class (conformation), 3rd in the in-hand class (fitting and showmanship), 6th in the pleasure walk-trot class, 4th in the command walk-trot class and 3rd in the pleasure walk-trot-canter class.
Aberth had only entered the show at his wife Laura Hamilton’s urging to help promote the Dale Pony breed, which is in critical condition. Hamilton is an American Riding Instructors Association (ARIA) certified instructor, certified for dressage and trail riding at level 2, teaching and giving lessons at her business Figure 8 Riding, at their Roxbury, VT farm since 2004.
Rob Roy’s win is a shining beacon for the Dale breed, proving their versatility. With currently less than 300 breeding mares in the U.K., the breed almost died out during the World War II, but conservation efforts have been made since then to bring it back. They originate from the Dales area of England, stretching from Derbyshire to the Scottish border. Historically, Dales Ponies were used in the Derbyshire lead mines of Derbyshire to help carry out the lead.
Aberth said, “I was surprised to do as well as we did at the show. This was Rob Roy’s first ever horse show, and this was also the first time that I rode in a pleasure and command class. However, I have learned a lot from my wife.” Plus the past month, they brought Rob Roy to train with Jordan LaPlaca of Maverick Hill Dressage in Pomfret, VT, where Aberth is also taking lessons.
Vermont Firefly Farm brought another pony, a Fell Pony, Regal (USA) Spring Storm, better known as Esther by Hamilton’s students, to the show. In her first dressage show test, Hamilton’s student, rider Caitlyn Santi, won first place, scoring 67.8 in the Dressage Into Test A in the CVDA section.
Rob Roy did exceptionally well stamina-wise just in terms of lasting that long through all his classes, notes Aberth. “He has more of “sport horse,” athletic kind of build, as opposed to the typically drafty, cob-style, which is perhaps why he was last in conformation. But he more than makes up for it with his athleticism and movement, which explains why he was able to do so well in the performance classes, considering this was his first show.”
The farm doesn’t have a breeding stock of Dales ponies, as Rob Roy is their only Dales Pony. He foaled June 2006 in Vermont, not in England. The couple bought him as a yearling in 2007 as a personal, pleasure horse for Aberth, after his mother, Sally Aberth passed away and trained him to drive and for riding. They do have eight Fell ponies, two Fell pony brood mares and a Fell stallion. They also have a Fell colt born at the farm April 4, plus a four-year-old Fell filly born on the farm to their brood mare. Fells are closely related to the Dales; both come from northern England, but they are considered separate breeds and each has their own society.
Aberth grew up in Yonkers, NY. In 1967 his family bought the farm in Roxbury for summer stays there, renting horses from a local farmer that were wild and untrained. “I was pretty young to be riding horses at that stage, but I do remember a pony named Apache, who would chase me for my marshmallows to our porch, and then run away to play the game again once I ventured off the porch. Fortunately, I married a horsewoman who knows more than my family ever did about horses, and I can enjoy them more safely and more completely than in my youth.”
Hamilton has been in love with horses since she was a little girl. She took her first horse that she owned since she was 12, with her to UVM, where she majored in Equine Science. Mostly she gives private, one-on-one lessons. She does teach group lessons at their farm to the cavalry students from Norwich University in Northfield, VT, who take lessons at the farm as part of the university’s cavalry program, and during her summer camps, “Medieval Knights’ Training.” By sharing her love of horses, her lifelong dream of making a career in horsemanship has come true.
Initially the couple considered Freisians, but found them too big and a little too hot. Dales share the feathering and abundant hair traits of Freisians, but they have a calmer, “drafty” kind of disposition, easier to work around, particularly for adults riding for the first time. Lacking prior proper riding lessons, Aberth found Rob Roy, “a great first horse to learn on.” Dales are extremely loyal, and can carry up to 200 pounds. Rather small compared to other breeds-measuring 14 to 14.2 hands, they are strong, hardy and sure-footed on trails.
A purebred Dales Pony, Rob Roy is registered with the Dales Pony Society in England. His sire is Dykedale Duke; his dam is Sunnybrowe Libby. His full barn name is Brymstones Rob Roy. He has driven with a single road cart, a sleigh, and team driving work as part of a pair. “I’ve always taken a special interest in him and I believe we developed a close bond together. One time, when I was repairing the fence of the pasture Rob was in, I was carrying a board over toward the fence line, and Rob kicked at the board, believing that the board was attacking me somehow,” said Aberth, who also rides him extensively on trails. He wishes to “communicate with him better, which meant that I had to learn how to be a better rider, and Rob had to learn more about understanding the cues we give him,” taking him to LaPlaca to bring their relationship to the next level: communicating well one of the keys to winning.