Growing up riding her mother’s delicate-looking Arabian horses, the towering, grumpy- faced son of Dynaformer presented a bit of culture shock to Sarah Noll, upon first meeting.
Nothing like the equine eye candy that pranced around her mother’s Cincinnati farm, Metro, was big and rangy; he was a plain bay with a bad reputation.
“I was told that he liked to bite and kick,” Noll says. “I was prepared not to consider him, because there’s a lot of little kids at my barn, and I couldn’t have a horse like that around children.”
And yet, she agreed to sit on him anyway. Sometime in 2007, she can’t remember exactly when, Noll took a ride on Metro that was so amazing the details are still etched in her memory.
“Shortly after I mounted him, his owner asked me to trot, and do a leg yield down the right side,” Noll recalls. “I never felt a horse move like that. It felt like we floated over to the wall!”
In that brief encounter, she felt the power and stamina in the well-muscled horse who also had the quick responses of a sports car.
Race name: Metro
Dam: Braided Way
Foal date: Feb. 5, 1999After she dismounted and put Metro away, Noll decided to ignore his reputation, and take a chance. She arranged to lease the strapping 17.2 hand gelding and start learning the foundations of eventing—a discipline she’d longed to try.
Metro had previously trained for dressage and in the next two years, he proved to be so good at his job that at times Noll doubted she could equal his effort.
“He’s got such a natural ability that sometimes I feel I’m holding him back,” she says. “I really haven’t progressed to his level.”
But they have made great strides: They have cleared three-foot-six jumps in practice sessions. But alone, Metro has free jumped six feet!
To get the best effort from him, she has struck a balance between being no-nonsense-allowed boss on the ground, and a silky soft rider in the saddle.
“I just handled him like I wasn’t going to put up with anything bad,” she says. “We’d handled a lot of different horses at my mother’s farm, and they all had to behave. So with Metro, I had it in my head that he was going to behave, too.”
What she didn’t have in her head was that the huge racehorse would also take on the role of babysitter. But that’s exactly what he did with a young boy who took lessons on him.
Within two months of trying the ex-racehorse, the 14-year-old student, who’d previously only ridden gaited horses, was jumping cross-rails at the country fair with the persnickety bay.
“I wasn’t sure how Metro would respond to a rider who didn’t know exactly how to give cues,” she says. “But Metro took care of him. He became the babysitter!”
Metro has also taught Noll to refine her cues and riding style.
Instead of using a lot of leg on him to ask for a canter, for example, she simply lifts an inside rein to signal him. Admitting that when she gets nervous at a show, she uses a little too much leg, and has had horses buck, she finds the subtle signal brings the best upward transition.
A casual observer might not know it by glancing at Metro’s ears, angled backwards as they approach a jump, but this is not the expression of a total grump.
In fact, he’ll move his ears back when he thinks the course should be approached differently than does his rider.
At one show, after Metro watched the other horses jump the course ahead of him, he actually tried to copy what he’d just seen.
But this competition did not dictate how a course should be ridden. So when his efforts to go in the same jump sequence as the other horses were thwarted by Noll, who piloted him in the free-style competition, back went his ears.
So never mistake the ear position for anger. With this towering progeny of the late, great Dynaformer, his ears signal his determination to win, and his eagerness to jump it his way, Noll explains.
“After one horse show, I had a judge tell me that she really liked Metro. She said he was one horse she always looked forward to seeing because he seemed to enjoy so much, what he was doing.”