There's a lot to appreciate about the long-legged, talented Lonoir, but the woman closest to this Danish Warmblood gelding zeros in on a special trait when she's talking about her star.
"I love his personality," says rider/trainer Olivia LaGoy-Weltz, who with Mary Ann McPhail owns the horse she was pointing toward the 2020 FEI Dressage World Cup™ Final in Las Vegas.
"He's really come out of his shell. He's very intelligent; I want to call him 'emotionally sophisticated.'
"He thinks about things, but not in an obsessive, analytical way. Teaching him how to piaffe, we broke it down for him, teaching him to lift each leg. He responds super-well to that because he's really smart. I think that's why he's been very easy to train," she noted.
"If you can...explain it to him, he's very keen to do it for you. I never have the feeling he would ever actively resist. He's not devious," she noted, then added with a smile, "but he's cheeky sometimes."
The rider added , "He's very sensible. If he thinks he's in trouble, he gets too worried, it doesn't work. He's a good team member if you do it right."
Lonoir was on track to qualify for the Cup final when the show season came to a screeching halt before he had accumulated his last score at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival—and then the competition in Vegas was cancelled anyway.
“It’s a little like they poked your balloon with a pin,” LaGoy-Weltz said.
The situation was particularly difficult in the case of Lonoir, however, because he was making a comeback after being out of action for 18 months following the test ride at the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games. After a farrier cut his hooves down drastically and he was in pain, recovery meant time away from competition while resting, tack-walking and turnout on grass.
"It was epically hard for me," said LaGoy-Weltz, "but we used the time well. He's come back fantastic. We made the best of it, which is what you have to do, no matter what causes you to have time off."
That lesson is serving her once again in the midst of the COVID-19 situation. She had discovered, as Lonoir recovered from his hoof problem at her Virginia base, time suddenly was available to assimilate everything she'd learned over the years.
"When you get to restart a horse, that's fun, too. You're like an old married couple," she said.
Lonoir, by De Noir 3 out of a Loran mare, was on the U.S. Dressage Elite List with other big names this winter. But at the moment, no one knows where they stand, so it’s uncertain what comes next.
“It’s hard for anybody in the whole world to make any plans right now. It has a lot to do with what happens this winter. How quickly do they get a vaccine? Are we going to have horse shows again this year? It’s so out of any of our hands,” observed LaGoy-Weltz, who said she is trying to stay positive.
“It’s a tough time for everybody. You hear about everyone out of work and trying to pay their bills and worrying about putting food on the table for their families. It’s important to keep it in perspective.”
As the rider noted, no one has any idea at this point what the qualification and selection procedures will be going forward. So the best thing to do with her horse is simply to “let down and take it easy, keep him healthy and happy. He’s in great shape.”
She’s hoping to ride at Tryon and Dressage at Devon in the fall, if those shows happen. Dressage at Devon is an FEI World Cup™ qualifier, so LaGoy-Weltz is looking ahead to the 2021 Final in Gothenburg, Sweden, as well as the rescheduled Olympics three months later. The 75.617 percent Lono received at the end of February in his first Grand Prix Special since 2018 gave his rider encouragement about his prospects for the Games, even though at that juncture she was more focused on Vegas.
"I decided that the World Cup would be a good option for a number of reasons. It's always been in the back of my mind to try for it," she explained while she was still trying to qualify.
"I've heard it's amazing, so I think getting to do that home venue would be fantastic, for all the people who have always been great supporters."
That meant the Olympics originally was a secondary goal. While there were “some really solid-scoring horses” for the three-person Olympic team in Steffen Peters (Suppenkasper); Kasey Perry-Glass(/Dublet] and Adrienne Lyle (Salvino), the delay has changed everything. Dublet, for instance, did not show in Florida, so he’s hard to assess, and there are some up-and-coming horses who may be contenders now that they have an extra year to develop.
LaGoy-Weltz met Lono, as he is called around the barn, at Andreas Helgstrand's facility in Denmark in 2011 when she was on a buying trip with her former employer, Kathy Priest.
The 7-year-old, who was at the equivalent of Third Level, "had quite a lot of presence and was a super-scopey mover," she recalled. Although he is tall, probably 17.2 hands (she has never put a stick on him to get a formal measurement) "he's very much a lady's ride," LaGoy-Weltz said.
"He's quite sensitive, so it's not about having to be super-strong, though at some point, I am definitely anchoring into the saddle and counter-balancing his power. Training him has never been about being tough. It's always been about explaining things and being really fair about it and making him a part of the conversation. I guess you'd like to train all horses that way.
"He's been easy to educate. The biggest thing is getting his confidence and getting his trust."
Her horse's charisma goes beyond the show ring.
"What Lono is like in the stall depends on who you are," said LaGoy-Weltz, who finds him "very snuggly. He checks you out if you're a new person. He's very communicative in wanting to be scratched and showing you exactly where."
His taste in treats is eclectic, running from the usual carrots, apples, sugar and bananas to tangerines, doughnuts, jelly beans, chips and snap peas. As his rider puts it, "if you have it, he wants to try it."
Outside of the stable, Lono sometimes can be a free spirit. But LaGoy-Weltz takes it as an important sign when Lono runs off and squeals, even while he's warming up.
If he’s “frisky and bouncy, it tells me he’s feeling good. Something about that is very quintessentially him,” she explained.
“I like it that he's a 16-year-old Grand Prix horse who feels that good and joyous. We know we're in a good spot if he's like that.
“But as soon as we get into the 'rectangle of safety,' through the halt and into the work, he generally settles. Sometimes he'll be a little excited into the halt, but he knows then what to expect. He's really fun. He's really special. I feel lucky to have him."