|Horse Stories: Nikkel
By Karen Nelson
Last Updated: February 22, 2009
|Nikkel, Canadian Trakehner Mare
Born May 15, 1988
We made the decision to breed Niki while at the Royal
Winter Fair in the spring of 1994. I had never before
been involved in breeding a horse, so I was pretty naive
about what all was involved. Choosing a stallion with a
busy show schedule that lived a few provinces away
likely wasn't my best choice either.
My Coach "Sue" suggested the stallion Money Talks
based on his enormous talent and apparent rideability.
We didn't give a thought to his bloodlines, nor to how his
conformation would go with hers, all things that a more
experienced breeder would consider.
Sue got Hugh Grahams contact information for me, so that I could arrange the breeding when we got back to Edmonton.
I was quite surprised that it would be Money Talks' rider that I would be dealing with and not an employee, so I was at
first a little shy about calling, but Mr. Graham was very patient and courteous to deal with, and he soon put me at ease.
It didn't take long to get the breeding contract signed and paid for, and so the next step was figuring out when Niki would
be ready to be bred. As the semen would be shipped, timing was very important. We also had to consider Money Talks'
hectic show schedule.
The vet we elected to use was our main "soundness guy". Back then we had certain vets for certain things, and I am not
sure entirely why we chose to use this vet in particular, but I think it was mostly because Sue wanted to have him around
more, and not so much that she considered him the best vet for the job. It didn't occur to me that Niki wouldn't catch the
first time, so we bred her in early May for an April baby, but the subsequent pregnancy check showed no baby, so we
had to try again. Niki was still her overly sensitive self, so breeding and pregnancy checking was not fun with her over
reacting to every sound.
The Stud farm was surprisingly accommodating to us, even collecting from their stallion while he was at shows. I don't
even think they charged for subsequent collections (other than for the shipping) which is definitely not the norm.
Niki cycled regularly and would look ready to be inseminated, but she wasn't getting pregnant, and as we were already
well into summer, we were almost out of time. She had a foal prior to our buying her, and so it seemed unlikely she was
unfertile. The stallion wasn't having trouble inseminating other mares, so he didn't seem to be the problem either. We
finally made the decision to try another vet as this would be our last chance to get Niki pregnant that year.
Within 10 days it was obvious she was pregnant; she ballooned up like a puffer fish! Not only did she put on massive
amounts of weight, she also became incredible docile. On our part we hadn't changed anything about her care; she was
on the same feed and work routine, so it was purely hormonal. Sure enough, when she was able to be ultrasounded it
was confirmed; she was pregnant!
It had been a long process to finally get her pregnant and I had almost given up hope. I am sure that Mr. Graham was
relieved Niki finally caught! Ironically the same day her pregnancy was confirmed Sue came to me with an offer; one of
the big hunter trainers in Ontario had made a rather good site unseen offer on Niki, even knowing about her bone chip.
It was a large chunk of money and I could have used it, but I just couldn't abort the foal after all we had been though,
especially after seeing how well Niki seemed to take to pregnancy.
I wish I had a picture of pregnant Niki. She looked like a giant pony. She got so large so fast that our vet advised we
immediately stop working her at anything faster than a walk as it might stress her spine. Her show season was over but I
liked this Niki better; she no longer jumped around if you sprayed her with bug spray, and she now enjoyed being
pampered. She became so quiet and calm to ride, that I would take her for walking trail rides down the road...something
I would never had felt safe doing before.
Ed at Sunrise put the effort into replacing the wire fencing one of the outside pens with wood, so Niki could be boarded
outside as I was now paying her board. I remember the fun of creosoting the wood once he was done building it. The
pen was for Niki and her best friend Piper, a tall thoroughbred mare of Sue's, who was also bred that year. Niki seemed t
really like living outside with her friend.
Sometime that winter, Sue and I moved to Amberlea to be at the same barn as Clark, so we moved Niki and Piper to Dr.
Rodney Gale's farm west of Edmonton. He had a large pasture that they could be turned out in, and when foaling time
came it was one less thing we had to worry about. I went out there to teach him and his family lessons once and a while,
and I tried to visit Niki at least a couple times a month, but I knew she was in good hands at the Gale's.
Niki loved the life of leisure. She was out with Piper and a Quarter Horse mare on a large pasture with an extremely
large shelter, a pond, open grass and trees. She was fed hay and a special blend of feed made special for the pregnant
At the same time as Niki was enjoying the good life, I was working hard for Sue and Clark at Amberlea. We had well over
40 client's horses to look after and ensure their training, vet and farrier work was up to date. Their business was
growing rapidly and was getting very successful. Clark's main source of new clients was to poach them from other barns,
and he had managed to acquire some very wealthy clients as a result. Sue and Clark would often talk about one day
having their own barn where I could manage the stables, ride horses and teach lessons. It seemed like something worth
working hard for, and we all worked long days to keep our show stable at the top.
I had Quillo, but she was sold the next spring, before Niki foaled, so for much of this time I counted on riding Sue and
Clark's horses or riding the clients horses if I wanted to ride. This was the cause of some frustration for me as the riding
was inconsistent and I constantly felt pressure to ride better so they would give me more horse's to ride....but it was hard
to ride well if I couldn't count on riding consistently. Still, I liked being a groom for the most part, and I was very good at
it. I liked most of our clients, and I enjoyed working with the vet's and farriers. Most of all though, I really did like all the
time spent with the horses; tacking and untacking, grooming, treating injuries and so on. These were nice horses and
Amberlea was a nice facility to work out of.
As busy as I was at Amberlea, the wait for Niki to foal didn't seem that long at all. As the date grew closer I was counting
on the Gale's to keep an eye on her as I was busy with show season. Finally the call came that Niki was close foaling; it
was July 29, 1995 and we were at the River Valley horse show. Sue was nice enough to offer to do night feed so I could
leave early, but it still seemed like forever before I was done putting away the show horses so I could go see Niki.
I managed to get to the farm not long after foaling. They had Niki in the barn, and when I walked Niki had her foal's head
in her mouth...apparently she liked being pregnant but not so keen on the actual foal once born.
Dr. Gale's wife helped us get Niki and her new baby into the little indoor arena so they could clean her stall and I could
see the baby; it was a filly. She was chestnut with a white sock on her right hind, but no other markings. I eventually
called the baby Tango and within days it was apparent she was going to be grey. Sue was disappointed as she wanted
a colt, but I had got along well with mare's in the past, so the fact that it was a filly didn't bother me at all. I was happy
that it was healthy and looked to be well put together.
Tango's dad's career continued to soar, with him winning the Queen Elizabeth Cup for the second time in a row the year
Tango was born. He was also listed as one of the top 10 show jumpers in the world in that year. It was exciting to watch
him on TV knowing that little Tango shared his DNA.
Niki was easy to deal with as a mom as she didn't really care what we did with the foal, and wasn't really that protective
of her. Niki didn't panic if Tango ventured away or went to visit another horse, so Tango became an independent foal
from early on. The one thing that both surprised and worried me though, was how skinny Niki got after foaling...she was
in very good weight prior, but dropped massive amounts when Tango was born, and it took weeks for her to rebound.
|Niki and her 1995 foal by Money Talks, taken at 6 weeks of
age. You can already see baby Tango starting to go grey on
her hocks. Tango grew pretty fast those first few weeks. You
can see in this photo how thin Niki got though, even though
she was definitely well fed.
Now that Niki had given birth, Sue was keen to get her rebred so that her foal wouldn't be born as late the next year.
She has chosen to breed Niki to a Swiss stallion that had been imported by one of her sister's clients. The stallion hadn't
done much to prove himself yet, but had been offered a free breeding, and we would be able to breed her live cover
and hopefully avoid the problems we had the previous year with shipped semen. The stallion was quite tall, and very
nicely tempered, but his conformation didn't really suite Niki's as they shared the same weaknesses, so I think the stud
fee was her main reason for picking him. Still, he was a nice stallion and eventually proved himself to have talent over
fences in the jumper ring and to have a very willing nature.
Fortunately for Sue, Niki caught the very first time, so her foal would be born a little earlier in the year than Tango had
Niki again seemed to mellow once pregnant, and became a much better mom, showing less aggression towards Tango .
As Niki was so relaxed about things, Tango would go off with one of the other mares, or off on her own without Niki
worrying; it made weaning Tango very easy, and so we weaned her before winter really hit.
I had started taking night school in accounting and management, so my weekday schedule was very rushed as I tried to
get the days work done and still get to classes on time. The relaxation I felt when visiting Niki and Tango offered a
welcome respite so I spent a fair bit of time at the Gale's farm that winter; I did some farm sitting for them, and just in
general hung out when time allowed. The entire Gale family was wonderful, and their farm was so peaceful that the long
drive was worth it. I think having Niki and Tango to visit at such a peaceful location helped me to not loose sight of the
fact that horses are sentient beings and not just tools.
This was far different from the more hectic atmosphere at Amberlea. Having so many horses to look after and keep track
of at Amberlea made it hard to treat each horse as an individual and to spend quality time with them. Riders in our show
barn came to ride, and if they had extra time they were given other horses to ride. If you couldn't come out, then Sue
and Clark would give your horse to someone else to ride whether you liked it or not. This was a good way to improve the
riders and to keep the horse's fit, but it made turned the horses into tools rather than partners, and riders weren't really
encouraged to spend as much quality time with their horse, although they were all very well looked after and a high
standard of care was maintained.
Sue and Clark's business was doing very well too. Their clients were very competitive all over Western Canada and into
the US. They were mostly successful in the hunter and equitation ring, but were starting to improve their rankings in the
jumpers as well. Clark in particular took great pride in the fact that our barn would regularly bring home the most firsts
and championships and he always took a picture of the final ribbon tally at the end of a horse show. This drive for
success and the pressures that go with staying at the top led to some questionable techniques and less than
honourable medicating of the horses, but our barn was definitely the one to beat in the hunters.
The following summer,again during show season, Niki gave birth to Sue's foal. A bay going grey filly. Sue was very
disappointed that it was another filly, and she wasn't as big as Tango had been at birth, but she was definaitely a quality
|Niki and Daphne, born July 1996. Daphne
was sired by the imported Swiss stallion,
Uribaldi CH, She was very cute with a big
star on her forehead.
As we didn't breed Niki again, Daphne didn't get the benefit of having the sweet, mellow mother that Tango had
enjoyed. Niki was very aggressive with Daphne and would often bite her when she nursed. As a result Daphne became
very wary of her hind end being touched. I halter trained Daphne, but I didn't have time to work with all three horses,
and Sue didn't spend much time with her, so Daphne's personality went downhill as Niki became more aggressive with
As soon as Daphne was deemed to be close to old enough to be weaned, we brought her and Niki into Amberlea
Meadows. I started Niki back into work and I remember riding her while Daphne cantered along beside us. Sue still didn't
spend much time with Daphne and just did not seem to like her or to make time for her. I didn't know how to discipline or
be safe around an aggressive foal, so correcting her kicking was not something I felt able to deal with either. Without
correction Daphne's habits became more worrisome. Sue hoped that she would mellow once weaned, and so we soon
weaned her and Sue took her to her parent's farm to grow up.
An aside: Daphne's habits didn't magically improve and Sue never warmed to the filly, so she eventually sold her to a
local young rider for far less than she was likely worth based on her talent. It took her a lot of time to help Daphne get
over her fears of someone being near her hind quarters, but this rider was able to help the filly to improve and turned
her into a successful eventer/jumper.
Niki meanwhile was getting back into show horse shape. We had the vet out to do a complete vet check, and she
passed 100%. Even her x-rays were now 100% clean with no sign of the former chip in her ankle. After a few weeks of
conditioning and grooming, Clark took her with him down to California to be sold. He was going down with a few clients
who where showing, and took Niki not to show, but to board nearby and market to the larger US market. She wasn't sold
by the time he was ready to come back, so her left her with another trainer we knew and trusted. She sold soon after to
a rider from BC.
Niki was an incredibly hot horse, and as Clark had become an expert in sedating horses for the show ring, I do have
concerns about how ethical he was when he showed her to potential buyers, but I chose not to ask. It seems like so
long ago and in a different world. So many of the show barns had started to drug their hunters rather than train them
that the number of horses being lunged in the morning decreased as if by magic. You never saw a hunter from a big
barn on the lunge anymore. The ethics of what was going on should have concerned me far more than it did; instead I
felt like I was special to be on "the inside" and to know what was actually going on. It is amazing how easy it was to fall
into the idea that what was being done was normal and ok, particularly after what I went though with Radar. To be fair
though, I do not know of Sue or Clark ever drugging a horse for sale.
Once Niki sold, Sue and I split the proceeds of the sale, and I used my share as a down payment on a condo. I had
owned Niki for longer than any other horse, but yet I had felt very little attachment to her. Even now, looking back at her
photos, I don't feel that much sentiment towards her, I more remember the pride I felt in the ribbons she won. It feels so
backwards compared to how I felt about my other horses before or after Niki. I think this is very indicative of the
atmosphere I was immersed in and the type of horse person I was at risk of becoming, rather than any comment on
Her new owner soon sent us pictures of Niki (now called Glamour Girl) winning blue ribbons and trophies in the Amateur
hunter division down in California. I wish I had taken a copy of one of those photos as it is hard to describe just how
fancy a show horse she was. I later was told her new owners decided to take her back to BC to breed her to a local TB
stallion called Musing. I would be very curious to learn about any of her subsequent foals. I wondered then, as I do now,
if there decision to breed her was based on how fancy she was, or based on how difficult she was to show.
|Back then it was common to sell Canadian horses down to the US. There were many reasons for this, with the most
common give being the low Canadian dollar making our horses seem more affordable with the exchange rate. Another
thing that was commonly done though, was for a horse to change identities when it crossed the boarder. A horse that
had broken its Pre Green or Preliminary rating in one country would be sold with a new name so it could be eligible to
again compete at the level in the other country. I don't think this was done with Niki, but nor do I think her passport was
sold with her, so I am not sure what her new owners were told about her eligibility. It had been years since she last
showed and she looked very different as she was much more white, so she would have been easy to pass off as a
different horse to the US market.
I also remember a girl that rode at Whitemud who went down to Washington to compete. She was a moderately
successful rider up here, and she had ridden in the 3' and 3'6" jumpers and hunters on her horse, but she wasn't a
consistent rider, and her horse's rounds weren't really winning material in a competitive class. We were surprised then
when she came back with all sorts of ribbons and trophies...until we found out that she can competed in the Short
Stirrup division...a division meant for riders in their first year of showing!
Now days with everything done electronically I am not sure if that sort of deception is as easy to pull, although I am sure
it still occurs.