Partially Blind Pony Places at National Competition

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Yan Yan Moorman is a 13-year-old Parelli student. She owns two ponies, Sundowner and Sunny Boy, that she competes with in dressage and show jumping. Sundowner is playing in Level 2, and she has filmed her Level 2 Audition with Sunny Boy.

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Sundowner is an 11-year-old Welsh Pony from England. When he was three-years-old, he was sold and shipped to the Netherlands. Yan Yan and her family bought him three years ago. He is a Right Brain Introvert, and Yan Yan’s favorite activities with him are playing in Liberty and FreeStyle, riding bareback and bridleless.

Sundowner is half-blind. Last March, he lost sight in his left eye when a vet discovered an infection in it. “My parents took him to an eye specialist, but it was too late. He had already lost sight due to a disease that caused a severe infection. In the Netherlands, we call it ‘attack of moon blindness,’” said Yan Yan. “When we first bought him, he had a small gray spot in his left eye. Now, we know that was most likely due to an earlier attack of the same disease.”

Yan Yan and her parents took Sundowner to the best clinic in the Netherlands at Utrecht University, but there was nothing that they could do to save his eyesight. The specialist wanted to take the eye out immediately, but with the help of homeopathic medication, they were able to wipe out the infection and keep the eye.

Yan Yan first discovered Parelli through a homeopathic vet who suggested the program. Sundowner always seemed so calm, but then he would explode at competitions. No one could understand why. People suggested either selling him or sending him to slaughter. Since there was nothing wrong with him physically, Yan Yan knew there had to be a reason behind his behavior. “He is such a sweet pony and doesn’t have a bad character at all. We were very attached to him and wanted to solve the problem,” she said.

“I train a lot and like to compete as much as I can,” said Yan Yan, who studies with 2-Star Parelli Professional Anouk Dahrs. “I also like to play with my ponies, and I learned a lot from Anouk about natural horse behavior.”

Her mother called Anouk to come out to their place for a few lessons. “Sundowner was a really shy Right Brain Introvert that had blown up a few times at competitions,” said Anouk. “I started Yan Yan with the Seven Games and explaining to her about her pony’s Horsenality. Yan Yan is a really smart girl and also a really easy student that understands everything really quickly. Within a few weeks, their trust in each other had grown a lot.”

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Since Yan Yan began using the Parelli Program, she understands his behavior much better. “Knowing his Horsenality explains it all,” she said. “Anouk explained the early signs of stress—such as unblinking eyes. Sundowner was extremely shy and tried to avoid contact by walking away. Now, he’s much more open and curious. Recently, he even started to kick the door in his stable at feeding time like an extrovert.” Sundowner follows Yan Yan wherever she goes.

She has only fallen off twice since losing his eyesight. Last winter, they were riding in the village when a dog began barking and jumping on his left side. He ran away, and Yan Yan fell off. He ran all the way home, realized he couldn’t get to his stable since the gate was closed, and ran back and forth in the farmer’s field behind their house. After Yan Yan walked home, she sat down in the field looking the other way—just as Anouk taught her—and soon he was calm enough that he walked right up to her. The second time, she hurt her leg when she fell. At first, he ran away, but then he turned back and waited beside her until she was able to stand up. According to Yan Yan’s mother, anyone can see the bond between the two.

Anouk remarked that Sundowner is a really sweet pony. “He was really shy in the beginning, living in his own small world, but after introducing him to the Parelli Program, he really started to open up,” said Anouk. “After half a year of Parelli lessons, he became blind in one eye. Because we had already taught him the Touch It Pattern, he loves it even more now. It was fairly easy to build his confidence again using that pattern. Then, we focused on not pushing him through obstacles but rather earning his trust through the obstacles and trying to help him become more curious. We started using voice cues to work on further distances with the Touch It Pattern.”

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“She competes in jumping and dressage,” said Anouk. “She really wants to be good at those two disciplines, but she wants to do it on a foundation of trust and joy with her ponies. So, I helped her understand horse behavior and how to build a relationship and trust as well as how much the results will improve if you have that bond with your pony.”

Yan Yan took third in the national Dutch Championship dressage competition. “Knowing his Horsenality and gaining his trust improved our results at competitions. You have to participate in regional competitions,” said Yan Yan. “Then, if you win, you are able to participate in the province competitions. We won the province competition and were selected to represent the province at the national competition.”

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She trains quite frequently but not always with dressage. She also likes to play several times a week—especially a day before the competition because it’s relaxing to play rather than ride different dressage exercises. “I was extremely happy with our bronze medal but hope to win gold one day!”

Anouk was awed because Yan Yan and Sundowner are an excellent example of the beauty that comes from the saying, “there is nothing you can’t do when the horse becomes a part of you.”

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“I think it is really amazing how a child like Yan Yan can hold to her principles in a big traditional competition world,” said Anouk. “How she loves to play with her ponies on the ground and FreeStyle without a saddle or bridle and then compete the next day at a big national show. Isn’t that a great example of being an extreme middle of the roadist?”

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Now, the pair competes at a higher level of dressage, and Yan Yan’s goal is to win a gold medal. “I hope to be able to participate at an international level when I’m older,” she said. “I’d also like to become a Parelli instructor and join Pat Parelli in the United States like Anouk did. I hope to be selected for training when I’m 18-years-old after I graduate from high school.”

Follow Yan Yan’s journey with her horses on Instagram, @yanyan_moorman!

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