There is an old adage which says, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” This saying exemplifies Julie Forsyth and her tiny troop of mini horses.
An accomplished horsewoman in her own right, Julie once traveled the hunter and western pleasure circuit in the Pennsylvania and New Jersey area with full sized steeds. But after winning the Pennsylvania/New Jersey All Around Western Pleasure Championship title, Julie decided to hang up her saddle on a high note. Pain was making it nearly impossible to ride. The average person may have acquiesced to the agony and taken up a less rigorous hobby. Bridge, maybe. But not Julie. She turned to plan B.
While perusing a publication, Julie spied an ad for a colorful leopard patterned equine- a very small equine. He was only a year old and 35 inches tall. Named LoveEm Mini’s Apache Ruler, Julie fell prey to his charms and added him to her stable. He ended up winning Best Dressage at Teddy Bear Picnic his first time out.
Like ice cream, chocolates, and potato chips, Julie couldn’t stop with just one. She now has 20 VSEs.
Throughout her career, Julie and her teams have been formidable competitors. She has scored multiple grand championships in the roadster division and won the division at nationals in Delaware. At Gladstone, she dominated the Preliminary division with a win.
While Julie has amassed many victories, her journey with VSEs had humble beginnings, mainly because few people were driving minis when Julie got into the action, and driving clinics and instructors were few and far between. Julie laughs when she talks about those early days. “We shared equipment. One of us drove around with a broom and a dustpan rattling away on the back of our carriage. Another friend was thrilled when she got a snazzy RED whip.” But the driving rage took off like a wildfire. Julie and her friends were eager to learn and before too long, they began amassing the benefits of their enthusiasm. They searched out quality clinicians and instructors, organized, and morphed into serious competitors.
According to Julie, driving minis has many perks. Aside from the fact that they are adorable little characters packed with personality, they are also an economical equine option. The feed bill is minimal, and Julie tells of a woman who once converted the back of her van to transport her mini. You can’t get any more economical than that.
One of the biggest challenges when driving VSEs is the fact that one does it without a navigator. It’s a solo effort. Additionally, the driver does not have the benefit of an extended field of view given the fact that she is sitting closer to the ground aboard a lower conveyance, but that hasn’t dissuaded Julie. She speaks with passion about the intricacies of various carriages and about some of her more recent accomplishments.
Initially, Julie purchased Amish carriages, but discovered they had rough rides. Since then, she has discovered Patty’s Pony Place. The Canadian couple who operate the establishment manufacture a model called the Cricket, of which Julie is a fan. It has Corvair suspension, independent wheels, and according to Julie, is unsurpassed. Julie is also a fan of the Hardwick Tadpole and of some of the larger carriages manufactured by Fry and by Bennington.
Julie’s favorite driving event is the marathon. The combination of the varied terrain through woods and water, the directional challenges, the hazards and the race against the clock appeal to her competitive nature. She won the Nature Coast this year with “Stanley.” “It’s a rush!” she says.
Another event that has sparked Julie’s interest is distance driving. It’s a lot like competitive endurance riding in that horse and driver have specific distance intervals to meet within specific time margins on a signed course. Julie won the 10–mile distance drive last year at Black Prong, coming in exactly on time.
She took the STRIDE versatility Award in 2015, 2017, and 2018 with three different VSEs- Fortora Farms See Spot Run, Lucky Trails Uninformed Generation (aka Joker), and Fortora Farms Buckeye Soldier respectively.
Julie keeps six to eight VSEs in training on an every–other day schedule. During training and competition, she learns their strengths and weaknesses. She swears that “Joker” has learned to read marathon signs and can rate each kilometer. One thing is for certain, Julie has learned about and is ready to share with others the immense pleasure and sense of accomplishment that very small equines can afford. Just ask!