Timing is everything, and the partnership of Erynn Ballard and Gakhir, the 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Spartacus x Indorado) stallion owned by Ilan Ferder and Esperanza Imports, is hitting its stride at the perfect moment. Named to the Canadian team for the FEI Jumping World Championships in Herning, Denmark next month, and with recent top results in 5* events across Europe and North America, Ballard and Gakhir are a team that proves the relationship in the barn leads to results in the ring.

Erynn Ballard and Gakhir have been selected to represent Canada at the FEI World Championships in August. (Mackenzie Clark Photo)

Developed as a young horse by Ben Maher, Gakhir was purchased by Ilan Ferder and Esperanza as a ten-year-old. Here, Ballard shares her thoughts about her relationship with ‘Curly’.

You have a lot of sales horses coming through your operation with Ilan, so did Curly come to you as a 5* sales horse?

He came as a sales horses and we decided we couldn’t live without him, so Ilan and Esperanza invested in him. The plan is to keep him through the WEG and if he gets sold in the future, I know Ilan will always keep a top horse for me. It’s part of the job and I like the opportunity to ride so many horses … but I will for sure cry if he gets sold! It’s the nature of the business and it’s a part of my job. I’ve done three championships in four years on three different horses: Darkos Promise, Fellini S and now Gakhir. I believe in my program and my team and if I have the right horse we will be ready to go.

Was it a relatively smooth transition for you guys to develop as a partnership?

As an 11-year-old he is still green at the 5* level. He loves the big stadiums and the grass rings. For him under lights he always shows his greenness a little more, but I think in time he will be an expert at that as well. He thrives on his relationship with me and this summer I have spent so so so much time with him, I think it’s really starting to pay off.

“He’s just a dude and any day spent with him is a good day.”

What’s his personality like in the barn?

He is an angel. At show time he can be a little pushy, but that’s also improving. Back at the barn there isn’t a kinder horse to be around. I can ride him everywhere. He’s perfect! He’s just a dude and any day spent with him is a good day. His best friend is Alyssa Ferguson – they spend more time together than me. I’m lucky to have her and him. Curly really is a part of our family, you can even catch Ilan cuddling with him and kissing his nose. He has a heart on his top lip – perfect for smooching!

Does he get anxious in those high-pressure situations, or is he learning to have confidence in himself?

That’s been my biggest focus this summer: how to get him to the ring where he stays relaxed and focused. It’s like finding the perfect recipe. I try to spend time working him the day of the show and also just be back at the barn with him. It really is a partnership and I feel he is the type of horse that the more I do for him, the more he will do for me.

Riding on the beach at La Baule. (photo courtesy Erynn Ballard)

What is your proudest moment as a partnership?

Qualifying for the World Championships this year. Last summer all we did was jump clear rounds; this winter we were very inconsistent. WEF is probably the hardest time of the year for us; with so many horses and classes, you start to lose a little bit of focus and connection with the horses, just trying to get everything done. This year you really see that in my results. I think it’s something as a team we need to focus on more for WEF 2023.

That being said, I was a longshot for the team this year. Ilan gave me the opportunity to go to Europe with the team, focus on my horse and my riding, and it all came together for Curly and me. My favourite memory of him not in the show ring is riding him in the ocean during La Baule. What a cool, cool experience – I will never forget that.

Were you always confident in a future with the horse at the 5* level or has he surprised you?

When horses jump 1.60m or championships it’s because they want to – there isn’t a rhyme or reason. So, I really believe it’s about the partnership. He has all the scope and all the quality. Eleven is still young; it’s the perfect age and it’s all about development and timing. He’s just coming into his prime; by Paris he should be an expert!