AHT’s December Leader Of The Times
Leaders Of The Times: ROL Divine Style
(Afire Bey V x IXL Miss Firefly)
by MARY KIRKMAN
At the 2015 Canadian Nationals, ROL Divine Style won the English Pleasure Championship unanimously, and his owners, Nancy De Lisi and Carol Sandusky, of Delsan Arabians, rushed back to the stalls to reward him with one of his favorite treats. “Buddy, I am so proud of you!” De Lisi greeted him. “Ready for your carrots?” Surprise: Duke, as he is called (more on that later), just blinked at her. “Apples?” He loved apples. Still, just that steady gaze. Then he stuck out his tongue. Ah … just a few days earlier, someone had suggested they try a fancier treat. He wanted applesauce. Okay, champ, you get applesauce, and in seconds, his long, agile tongue was cleaning up the container. If horses can smile, Duke was smiling.
There is nothing wrong with the name ROL Divine Style, Nancy De Lisi notes. He is divine, and he has a lot of style. And it conveys the savvy breeding reputation of R O Lervick Arabians, where he began life. But he’s a tall, handsome (pretty, actually) Arabian stallion, and Nancy and Carol figured that day to day, he needed a name with a little more macho presence. Enter John Wayne, known to his friends as Duke.
There are so many good stories about Duke that you don’t know where to start. In addition to being scary-talented, he’s well-bred (Afire Bey V x IXL Miss Firefly, by MHR Nobility) and he has such a great personality that he is everyone’s best pal. His purpose is not just to win titles and sire talented get, but also, by De Lisi and Sandusky’s design, to provide an opportunity for a young trainer (Leah Beth Golladay) to polish her up-and-coming reputation. And the best yet is that even after unanimous two national championships and three reserves, his team says he hasn’t reached his peak. Now De Lisi and Sandusky divide their time between anticipating the 2017 round of competition and next spring’s foals. They’re looking forward to his third crop; the first two have signaled all systems go.
“At the Nationals this year, we felt like he gave his best performance to date,” says Golladay of her star. In Tulsa, the pair earned the U.S. National Reserve Championship in English Pleasure. “He tries really hard—he wants to please, he wants to show. He’s so eager to learn; anything you ask of him, he does. He’s gotten stronger and better, and I think he’s going to continue to do that.”
Gene LaCroix, who has consulted on the stallion’s training throughout his career, nods. “He had a great show at Nationals 2016. Leah Beth is a great rider and trainer, and she and Duke bond really well. I think we have another 10 or 15 percent more horse, so we’re looking forward to getting that in this next year.”
Working with Golladay, LaCroix occasionally gets on Duke. He agrees with her evaluation, and adds a stellar personal opinion as well. “For me, it was like riding the old *Bask kind of horse,” he says. “It’s the same kind of mind, really soft neck, strong behind, and he’s very willing. He’s a fun horse just to go in the stall with and be around.”
Everyone has endorsed Duke’s long term training program. There has been no pushing; at 3 and 4, he showed only a few times, and then missed his 5-year-old season when Golladay was pregnant. That worked out well, says LaCroix, because it gave the young stallion time to grow into himself for open competition. “We’re moving him up to a certain level and having him maintain that level,” he explains, “and then going to the next level when he’s strong enough and mentally ready for it.”
They began to work seriously on his strong trot only a few months before this year’s U.S. Nationals. “The eventual goal will manifest itself with a performance that demonstrates a very elevated, but poised, normal trot,” LaCroix says, “and then move into a strong trot with balance and cadence and lengthened stride, putting the crowd on its feet. It’s a lofty goal, but I think he can do it … and so can Leah Beth.”
“It all takes time, and as owners, we have to appreciate that,” observes De Lisi. “I’m about the development of the horse and the trainer, and the fact that Duke’s producing babies that are going to be like him. He has a natural balance, so to speak, and he has been able to ‘print’ his conformation. And he also seems to be printing his temperament. He’s a smart horse and he has a great mind.”
De Lisi and Sandusky own two of the stallion’s foals, Dukes Girl DA and Diamondz R Divine DA, and they like what they see. The feedback from other breeders has been positive as well; Denny Wigren, at R O Lervick, is impressed with a yearling filly from the stallion named ROL How Divine. “She’s long-necked, very upright, long-legged—has tons of quality,” he says. “Although she’s nominated to the futurities and we’ve bred a lot of halter champions, our first priority here is performance horses, and as an English pleasure mare, I don’t think you’ll find one with more look or style than this filly. She has an outstanding form for being a yearling. And she’s a lot like her dad. She has the same willingness and attitude; you can pretty much do anything with her.”
It’s all there: the ability, the game enthusiasm, the conformation to back it all up, and a pedigree that has demonstrated that it breeds on. And, for involved owners who like spending time with their horses, the pleasing demeanor of a best friend.
“One thing we’re learning on the ‘Duke Train’—that’s what we’re calling it—is that there is something special about this guy,” De Lisi reflects. “One of the grooms at Golladays’ said that in the entire time he’d worked with him, there wasn’t a horse who resonated with him like Duke did. And Gene LaCroix said the same thing; he hasn’t worked with a horse quite like this in a very, very long time.
“We’re just delighted with him,” she adds. “Our goals and objectives are being met at Golladays’. Duke is a happy horse.”
De Lisi stops to consider this year’s U.S. National English Pleasure Championship, where they were reserve to the talented mare Heirs Noble Love. “The only mistake I think we’ve made with him is that we had him trained to be a gentleman, and he takes that stuff pretty seriously,” she says dryly. “Ladies go first.” But maybe, she implies, not forever.