The Longines New York Masters is not a quiet show, and during the Six Bar ‘Masters Power’ competition, the crowd couldn’t hide their delight as first Devin Ryan and Florida, and then Jane Richard Philips and Calinesse de Guldenboom, cleared the massive, nearly-1.70m vertical at the end of the indoor venue at NYCB Live in Uniondale, New York.
But when Daniel Michan Halbinger rode his black Oldenburg mare, Cosa Nostra (Conthargos—Quicenta, by Quintender), into the ring and cleared the series of careful fences to the very top of the standards—including the custom ones made to accommodate the unusual height of the final element—even the commentators (including yours truly) were held momentarily speechless.
Daniel Michan and Cosa Nostra in the Six Bar
“I’ve always had a lot of faith in her. I knew maybe since she was six that she was the real deal. I had a feeling,” says Daniel, who competes for Mexico. “But I had never, ever jumped her [that] big. When I actually jumped [that fence], I was certain that she was all I had hoped for—especially because she did it so easily.”
Few of the entries in New York had ever contested a Six Bar before, but the 8-year-old Cosa Nostra—the youngest horse in the field—had never before competed above 1.45m, or indoors. Daniel’s plan was to jump a couple rounds in the Six Bar to get more ring time after the attentive mare was slightly taken aback by the daunting venue and boisterous crowd in their two-star classes. [Watch their 1.35 class at NY Masters]. But Cosa Nostra got more and more comfortable each time she entered the arena for the Six Bar, and not only did she bound over each fence like it was child’s play, she also showed the professionalism of a much more seasoned competitor by elastically shrinking herself to deftly fit in smooth, correct strides between the fences, with little need for Daniel to make adjustments.
"Where does the scope end? She has no limits."
In a display of true horsemanship, he did not elect to continue on to the 1.80m height—which turned out to be the final round, being cleared only by Devin Ryan. The pair finished 5th in the Six Bar—but Daniel was completely blown away with what his mare had demonstrated.
“Even when I see the pictures, she’s so far above the jump,” Daniel says. “Where does [the scope] end? She has no limits.”
Jumping the standards has become Cosa Nostra’s trademark, and it’s what caught Daniel’s attention when he first saw her as a 4-year-old on a video sent to him by friend Henri Kovács in Hungary, who acquired her when she was two years old.
“The first time she ever showed, her jump was [high] over the standards,” he recalls. “I said, ‘Wow! I have to own this horse.’ It was a big gamble—I didn’t know what to expect from a horse in a video. You just never know! But as soon as she got down to Mexico, I fell in love with her. She’s just amazing, has natural ability, and she’s incredibly balanced. Everything comes easily [to her].”
Excessively careful horses have a tendency to be spookier than most, but Daniel said that only applies to Cosa Nostra with regards to outside distractions, and only on the first day of competition. When it comes to approaching the actual fences, she is fearless.
“It’s a funny thing. She looks at things that are around, but when she’s going to the jump, she doesn’t care what kind of jump it is,” he explained. “She’s more looking around in the corners or at the flowers sticking out [from the sides of the fences as she goes by]. She looks on the first day to check it out. On the second day, she’s better, and on the third day, she’s completely blind to it all.”
“I’ve had her for such a long time, and she’s never, ever, ever stopped,” he added. “She gives me so much confidence, and she’s secure with me. We have good communication. I knew she wouldn’t stop. I thought, maybe, she’d have a rail, but the bigger it got, the more careful she was.”
Does this mare, then, have a weakness? Daniel is hard-pressed to find one, but his biggest challenge was finding a suitable bit for his mare, who he says has a very soft and sensitive mouth. He settled on the flexible Harmony bit (visibly recognized by its blue color), which is made of steel, surrounded by rubber. According to Daniel, the equipment has helped take Cosa Nostra to the next level.
“The process was a little bit hard for me,” he recalled. “I needed something I could pull hard enough without making her uncomfortable. Finally, with this bit, I really found something that she feels comfortable in. It helped us make so much progress.”
It can be easy to get ahead of yourself with a young horse with such visible talent, but Daniel is committed to taking it slow. While she has definitively proven she can go much higher, Cosa Nostra won’t tackle a 1.50m competition until the end of 2018—maybe.
“[Before the Longines Masters], she’d done just one class at 1.45m,” Michan explained. “I did the 5-, 6-, and 7-year-old classes with her in Mexico. In the 7-year-old classes at the end of the year, maybe one or two jumps were set at 1.40m. At the beginning of this year, we jumped at WEF, and in Week 12, I did the two-star qualifier that was 1.45m. I didn’t enter the grand prix, because of her age.”
Now based out of Wellington, Fla., and working with his brother, Olympic veteran Alberto Michan, Daniel, 37, has shows in Saugerties, N.Y., Tryon, N.C., and Wellington penciled in for Cosa Nostra before targeting the FEI Nations Cup there during the 2019 Winter Equestrian Festival circuit.
He’s planning with the future in mind. He’s fielded multiple offers for his horse, but he’s turned them all down. He hopes to compete in the 2019 Pan American Games (He previously jumped in the 2011 Pan Ams with former mount, Ragna T) and has the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo in the back of his mind.
“Honestly, I don’t want to sell her, because she’s going to take me to do so much,” he said. “I’ve shown some good horses, but never the quality of this one. I really, really want to try to keep her for at least the next three years to [reach] my goals.”
All photos courtesy of Sportfot