By Tori Sheehan
Six-year-old Qatar (Diktator Van De Boslandhoeve–Chicolina Lou) is simple yet sassy. She’ll let you know when she doesn’t like something you’re doing. She’s small—the dark bay mare stands barely 16H—yet scopey. She boasts 13 to 14-foot strides that make her riders sometimes confounded at how effortlessly they’ve arrived at the end of a line. Qatar loves carrots and her brother, a bulldog named Pickles. Her favorite thing could be jumping, or it could also be getting her withers scratched with a pitchfork. At a young age, Qatar seems to have an awareness that she was always meant to be a show horse, and a top jumper at that.
“Qatar tells me every day how she will go,” says owner and rider Katie Morano. “She really tells us what she likes and doesn’t like. She was always darling, but opinionated.”
Morano smiles the way a parent might grin whild discussing their child. She is not only Qatar’s owner, main rider, and trainer, but she is also her breeder.
It Started with A Love Story
“I worked in Europe for a couple of years, and I rode her mother and fell in love with her mom,” Morano says. “Just a heart of gold, scopey and big. Not a bad bone in her body. Just an honest horse that always wanted to try and please. I became really attached to her when I was there.”
Morano brought Chici back with her to the States when she moved back. After leasing her out a bit, Chici finally needed a little break. It wasn’t long until the wheels started turning, and people in Morano’s life suggested she bred the mare.
At first, she tried to breed Chici to Big Star, right before the stallion won individual gold with Nick Skelton at the 2016 Olympics. But she didn’t take, and it looked like frozen options wouldn’t work for them. Instead, Morano serendipitously turned to Spy Coast and their stallion, Diktator Van De Boslandhoeve. Even then, she needed a little bit of luck.
“We tried it the first time and she didn’t take. They had a live foal guarantee, so I paid a little bit more, got a second go at it, and then I was like, ‘You know what? Never mind, I’m just going to start riding her again, she doesn’t need a break.’ Well, she was pregnant. That was Qatar,” says Morano. “So my byproduct of just letting my mare have a break and rest and just be a horse for a while because she owed me nothing, was: now I have a foal.”
Morano has helped break and develop several young horses, but never had one all her own from the very first step. The first thing she quickly had to accept was the unknown.
The name Qatar was set for the little one before she was born, the letter Q a nod to the Belgian blood and ambiguous enough to fit a colt or filly. Morano had no idea what she had before her. She didn’t know if it was a future hunter, eq horse, or jumper. She didn’t even know whether it was a boy or girl.
“When Qatar was born, the clinic called and said, “She’s here!” I said, “She’s here? You mean my nice big stallion?” They said, “No, we mean a little itty-bitty mare that’s early.”
The Early Years
Much of Qatar’s early life was dictated by her size and the growing pressure to nurture her promise, the extent to which was still being revealed to Morano.
“I just wanted to let her grow and develop,” Morano says. “She was turned out with some young ones that were a little older but close to her age. I wanted her to get those developmental skills. Being socialized but also the running, the playing, the stopping and turning—all of those things are very important in sport horses.”
Morano let Qatar define her early years in the field. When the mare was four, Morano began working with her, which she admits is a lot later than she’s broken other horses. In the beginning, Morano immediately took note of Qatar’s floaty gates.
“I thought maybe she’ll be a small junior hunter, until I rode her. Let me tell you, she is not. She is a jumper,” Morano says with a laugh.
Qatar’s blood and scope stunned her owner. But the pair’s progress wasn’t always perfect. Also from the beginning, Qatar was opinionated, and Morano had to learn a distinct patience when it came to Qatar’s training and progress.
“There were days where we just didn’t do anything but walk. There were days where I’d get on her, walk to the ring, she said ‘no’, and you’d have to just say, ‘okay,’ and turn around. It took her until about six years old to allow someone to tell her how they’d like her to do it,” says Morano. “But I was able to work with her because she was mine. I didn’t have a time frame.”
Morano only showed Qatar in five or six classes during her five-year-old year last year. That was intentional, based on what Morano felt Qatar was ready for mentally. Physically however, there were few questions about her capability despite her small stature.
“We free jumped, she jumped as high as she could, as high as we asked her to, to the point we thought she was going to jump out of the chute. It was just so easy for her. And she loved it! But working, she was kind of like, ‘Oh this isn’t so fun.’”
The answer was time, more patience, toying with bits, and seeing what Qatar liked best. All the while, Morano was exploring the uncharted territory of developing her own horse from the very beginning.
“The fact that I personally own her, it does make it to where no one can say, ‘Well, I know this is how you feel but you have to do it anyway.’ That is great. But I did put personal pressure on myself because she is so scopey. She has so much potential and shows so much talent for future sport that I would start to make myself concerned. Like, ‘What if she’s not at the right place with her age bracket?’ All these what-ifs that I started putting pressure on myself.”
“That’s the one thing I’ve never wanted to lose by pushing her too hard. She has a gigantic heart,” Morano says. “You put her in front of any size fence, whatever it may be, she just puts her ears back and goes for it. She doesn’t know she can’t do something. And that’s the one thing I never wanted to teach her. I never want her to learn from me that she can’t do something. So that’s what I based her entire training structure on.”
‘The Springiest Horse I’ve Ever Ridden’
The first class kicking off Qatar’s 6-year-old competition year was at WEF in January. The two went double clear and finished in second place. Morano feels that Qatar is maturing nicely, accepting leadership and guidance from her riders.
“She is the springiest horse I’ve ever ridden. She is deceptively large-strided, but she’s petite,” Morano says. “When you point her at a jump you feel her engage more. Almost like a switch goes off. I find myself laughing a lot when I jump her just because even if a mistake was made, even if there’s a rail, you can feel that she really enjoys herself. She gives a little extra effort, jumps a little higher, kicks her hind end a little more. It makes me laugh because it feels like she really enjoys that part of her job.”
There’s an emotional expense paid for those who care for their young horse’s futures so carefully. Morano is honest that there is also a financial toll, and a question of if your investments will ever pay off. especially if you are not a large, established breeding program.
“I commend the people who have breeding programs. I have seen many horses and broken many horses,” says Morano. “I feel very, very fortunate with what I got out of the breeding because it is not a guarantee. You could put the best mare and the best stallion together and there’s no guarantee that you’re going to get a quality young horse.”
As for Qatar’s future, Morano is enjoying the ride and focusing on finesse.
“I’m not worried about her style or her scope,” she says. “Honestly, the bigger she jumps, the better her style gets. Even now over 1.25 m, she’s starting to jump a little more relaxed, which is great because she finds it easy. As she starts to move up in height as the year goes on, I think that rideability will be better and her style will continue to follow, so that’s my goal.”
All along the way, you bet Qatar’s path to success will be filled with lots of joy-filled jump-offs, pitch-fork scratches…and lots and lots of carrots.
“It’s Qatar’s world,” Morano says. “We’re just living in it.”
*This story was originally published in the July 2022 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!
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