Go Big Or Go Home: USA’s Margie Engle on Partnering With Bigger Horses

Margie Engle’s 18.2hh partner Dicas.

If you’ve ever taken a riding lesson, it’s safe to say that at some point in time, your physical proportions have been addressed in one way or another. The reason has nothing to do with pageantry, but the sole fact that horse riding is all about self awareness, and how that recognition allows for there to be a working partnership between a horse and it’s rider.

Regardless of how long or short your legs are, horses don’t discriminate and the best riders are said to be those who can ride absolutely anything that is put in front of them. Veteran rider Margie Engle of the Untied States is a prime example of that truth. Her horses all carry a presence to them, not simply because they are a force to be reckoned with in the arena, but also because they are of an undeniably large stature for a petite rider like Engle.

Nevertheless, she carries a presence all her own, and she uses it to pilot her horses to podium finishes at the most regarded shows around the world. At the moment, her top dog happens to be Royce, the powerful 13-year-old Oldenberg stallion (Cafe Au Lait x Grandilot) who could easily double as a linebacker. Though he is the man of the barn, Engle’s newest addition to her string, the 8-year-old Rhenish Warmblood gelding Dicas (Diarado x Cassini I), easily towers over Royce and stands at a comfortable 18.2hh.

We caught up with Engle at Spruce Meadows to discuss both her partnership with the young, rising talent and her ability to work with horses that might easily scare the average rider away.

NoelleFloyd.com: There’s a saying that goes, when the rider fits the horse proportionally, it’s a good match for success. What do you think about that?
Margie Engle: Well, in all honesty, a lot of times horses find you rather than you finding them, which is what happens with a lot of the horses I end up with. People think that I look for big horses but I don’t. When I started out, I didn’t have my own horses, so people would send them to me and a lot of times [they were] big.

Margie Engle & Royce. Ph. Tori Repole for NF

It’s hard to find a horse that is everything—that is scopey, has a big heart, and wants to be careful. It’s hard enough to find many of those qualities. Sometimes you have to give in some areas, and proportionally, it’s a give and take. You have to see if the good outweighs the bad.

Ideally, my favorite size of horse is 16.1 and uphill, short-coupled, like my old horse Salut. If I’m looking for the perfect match, I’d like something short coupled and not quite as large. But in everything there is a compromise, just like in every relationship.

I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of grand prix horses, and a lot of big horses seem to find me.

NF: And that seems to be the case with Dicas, correct?
ME: Yes, I didn’t buy him for me originally. I do a lot of partnerships with people in Europe and I bought [Dicas] with David McPherson in England. We bought him as a six year old, and I have some other big ones over there now!

David started showing him at the end of his six-year-old year, and in some of the young horse classes last year. He had a lot of people asking about him towards the end of the year because he jumped him in some ranking classes and he easily went around. He said to me, ‘you know this horse has a lot of clean rounds, he doesn’t ride as big as he looks, and before I sell him, you should try him.’

I asked David to put a stick on him and he was 18.2, but he said that I should trust him, and he was right. Dicas is one of the easiest horses to ride that I’ve had. He’s short coupled, and when I brought him over I just loved him. I rode him in the WEF circuit a little in some 1.45m classes, and he’s just grown since he’s been here. In Florida, I had some people who bought David McPherson’s part out, so now we all own him together.

So far, Dicas has done everything I’ve asked of him. He’s very sweet, scopey, his rideability is fantastic, he’s very adjustable for a big horse, and even though he’s big he’s uphill.

NF: So, are there benefits to riding a larger-sized horse like Dicas?
ME: I don’t know if there’s benefits per say. Sure, for smaller indoor shows, it’s much easier to ride a smaller, more blood horse. I think smaller horses are usually quicker on their feet and easier to maneuver. Bigger horses can leave out strides.

Royce, the 13-year-old Oldenberg stallion.

When Hidden Creek’s Perin came out of his stable for me to try in Germany, I remember that he looked even bigger than he actually was, and I said ‘don’t even show me this horse.’ He looked like he should have been pulling a cart, he was that huge. But the guy there asked me to ride him, and the minute I got on him and jumped him, I just fell in love. It wasn’t his type, or any specific part of him that I liked. But once I jumped him and felt his jump, how scopey and careful he was, I changed my mind.

It’s the same with Royce—he looks like a football player or a body builder—he’s just all muscle. When we first got him, he was standing in the crossties wearing his grooming halter, and he just yawned and it went –bing!- and everything broke right off. He’ll pick up the freezer with his jaw—just playing with it. He doesn’t even know how strong he is. And in jumping, he’s a powerhouse.

NF: Does working with bigger horses ever feel overbearing? How do you enhance their rideability?
ME: For sure they take a lot of flatwork. Royce took a lot more time than most of the horses I’ve had because he rides big, and his reactions were maybe a little bit slow being a stallion. It took him awhile to react to the aids, to lengthening, shortening and just carrying himself behind. Dicas is at least a hand taller than Royce, but he’s physically easier to ride on the ground.

NF: For a rider who may be short and may avoid riding the bigger horses, what would you say to them?
ME: Ideally, it’s not the best thing. When I started, I had to learn to adjust to whatever horses I had. When I was catch-riding, I learned to adapt. I think what people have to remember is no matter what size they are, no one is as big and strong as a horse.

You have to get them to want to be good for you. The more broke you can get them the better, and you learn to maybe ride a little bit stronger than a taller, longer legged person. At the beginning, most of the horses that I got were the ones that no one else wanted to ride. But through that, in getting through the problems, that’s how I started getting some better horses. It made me really appreciate the nicer horses in the long run.

It was always a challenge to me when I was younger. The more they said that this horse couldn’t do it, the more it made me want to get into their head, get a feel of them, and get to know them.

They don’t do things out of sheer strength. If they don’t want to do something, they don’t have to. The whole idea is to get them to want to.

NF: What are your hopes and plans for Dicas going into the future?
ME: I’m really excited about his future. He’s just grown and gotten better and better. He had his first week out in the International Ring at Spruce, and in both classes that I did him in, he was fantastic, really brave to just go walk out there and be good, and I’m hoping he’ll go on and be able to do everything.


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