Often riders and grooms will describe their horse as having a puppy-dog personality, but if any horse ever epitomized that phrase it would be superstar hunter Lafitte De Muze. I spent about an hour chatting with Ashmeadow Farm barn manager Tim Delovich in Ocala, Florida, and “Lafitte” quickly became my buddy, licking my hands and nuzzling my pockets for most of that time.
The 8-year-old Belgian Warmblood (Darco—Everlychin De La Pomme, Malito De Reve) may be as sweet as a children’s pasture pet on the ground, but as soon as he’s in the ring, you can’t help but be impressed by his easy way of going and that back-cracking jump.
Since Cheryl Olsten’s gelding debuted in the hunters in 2018, he’s turned plenty of heads, picking up top ribbons during the HITS Ocala (Florida) winter circuit and Devon (Pennsylvania) with Amanda Steege in the irons. He swept the classes at Lake Placid (New York) last year to take home the grand hunter title both weeks and went on to win the $500,000 Diamond Mill Hunter Prix at HITS Saugerties (New York), the $50,000 WCHR Professional Challenge (Maryland), and was champion of the 3’6″ greens at the National Horse Show (Kentucky).
In 2019 his accolades have included winning the $50,000 National Horse Show Hunter Classic and the 3’9″ green championship at the National, a second-placed finish in the $100,000 WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular (Florida), reserve at Devon, and third in the Platinum Performance USHJA 3’6″/3’9″ Green Hunter Incentive Championship (Kentucky).
Go behind the stall door with us to get to know the hunter whose fan club is expanding daily.
- It took no time at all for Lafitte to make himself at home in the States.
“Some horses [get] off the airplane and have zero personality,” said Delovich. “He got off the airplane and was like, ‘Hi. Sprechen sie Deutsch? Anybody?’ ”
- He goes by Lafitte in the barn, and occasionally they call him Little Feet, though Delovich tries to dissuade that particular nickname!
- He’s a giant ham. Once Lafitte hears the camera shutter, it’s ears forward. After all, you’ve gotta show the camera your good side. He’s not afraid to work it to get all the attention. Because when you’ve got the first stall in the barn, naturally everyone is supposed to be paying attention to you.
“He can get a little bratty,” said Delovich. ”He’s usually a perfect angel with me. He doesn’t paw; he doesn’t do anything bad. It usually comes out when he hears Amanda’s voice. The weeks he doesn’t show he really misses the attention. He’s fine with it for most of the day, but by the afternoon, he’ll see me come out of the feed room, and he looks at me and grabs his blanket and throws it on the ground. He’s like, ‘Do something with me!’ ”
- He’s not the type to flaunt his ability or act cocky. He’s the humble one in the barn.
“He’s super mellow; he doesn’t think he’s anything special,” said Delovich. “He just thinks this is what a horse is supposed to do. He’s super friendly, easy to work around.
“He always looks like he wants to do it, not because you’re asking him,” Delovich continued. “He’s like, ‘Yeah, let’s go do that together.’ It’s not like, ‘Ohhh OK.’ ”
- He’ll let you trim his ears and clip him without a fuss, but there’s one part of his body that’s off limits: his whiskers.
“You have to use the purple razor,” said Delovich. “He’s like, ‘No, it tickles. I don’t like it.’ I agree with him; it feels funny.”
- He has a unicorn stuffed animal, but he wasn’t a fan at first. The first night it was in his stall he ripped off both of its eyes. Apparently he just didn’t like it looking at him because he has not continued destroying his furry friend.
- He’s fond of his stall toy, a Horseman’s Pride Jolly Stall Snack Combo with ball. When he naps he often stands in the back corner of his stall with it against his back.
“It was so funny, I put that toy in, and none of the horses seem to give sh*ts about the toy, and I’m like, ‘Oh you’ll love it,’ ” said Delovich. “For like a week every time he heard my voice he’d go to his toy. He’s like, ‘Thank you, thank you.’ ”
- He’s not picky—at all. Any and all treats are good, please! So much so that he had to go on a diet to keep his weight in check.
- Delovich may be Steege’s longtime boyfriend, but he knows where he ranks when it comes to Lafitte.
“I refer to him as Amanda’s boyfriend,” he said. “I’m like, she loves him more. She got to pick [him] out. That’s the fun part. That even though Cheryl owns him, Amanda got to pick out the horse, and he doesn’t need to do the amateur job. He’s definitely a pro horse, and she got to pick him out. An old client said, ‘He has all the best parts of all of her past best horses.’ ”
- He likes having horsey friends, but he’s just as happy alone (especially if that means all of the attention is on him).
“He’s pretty friendly with all the horses but doesn’t worry about where they are so much or anything,” said Delovich. “I can put anyone next to him in the trailer or a stall or anything.”
- “He’s not a hay dunker, but he’ll take his hay and set it on top of his water and then eat it off the top,” said Delovich. “He doesn’t actually dunk it like a traditional dunker. I need a little shelf.”
Photo: Kimberly Loushin