Behind The Stall Door With: Quality Girl
As the saying goes, one must always value quality over quantity. But what if one possesses both? Todd Minikus’s 13-year-old Oldenburg mare (Quidam’s Rubin—Dodirka, Dobrock) certainly does, and no, it’s not just in the name.
In the three years since she joined his string, the bay mare with the flashy chrome face has provided Minikus with some unforgettable moments, most notably bringing home the top check in the 2014 Zoetis $1 Million Grand Prix in Saugerties (N.Y.). Her list of wins in top level competition is longer than your grocery list when your cupboards are bare and your fridge is empty. She’s won from Wellington (Fla.) to Washington, D.C., to Bromont (Quebec) and everywhere in between, including triumphing at the inaugural Global Champions Tour of Miami Beach last year. She’s finished first or second in at least one grand prix at the Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.) every year since 2013. Most recently, she and Minikus won three big classes in one week, topping the $130,000 Mary Rena Murphy Grand Prix, the $35,000 Welcome Stake and the $35,000 Hagyard Lexington Classic at the Kentucky Spring Classic.
Quality Girl makes her presence known in the ring with her fiery demeanor, but back at the barn, she’s just the girl next door: laid back, amicable and nonchalant. In fact, those around her refer to her as “the dog” because she’s so complacent and obedient. The Chronicle went behind the stall door at Minikus’s farm in Lake Worth and spent a morning with “Quality.”
- There may be a large family of Rhodesian Ridgebacks on the property, but Quality Girl is the real dog in the barn. The mare hardly needs a halter in her grooming stall, and she follows groom Shannon McDonald around like an attached puppy.
“She definitely tells you what she does and doesn’t like, but as far as taking care of her, she’s really quite easy,” said McDonald, 22. “We kind of call her a dog around the barn, because she’s so easy. She lets you do whatever. I can take a bridle off of her, and she’ll just stand there. I’ll bring a bucket of water over to her, and she’ll drink her water without a halter on and just stand there until I decide to put a halter on her.”
Speaking of dogs, McDonald’s actual dog Cooper is one of Quality’s closest animal companions. The mare isn’t a fan of befriending other equines, but she welcomes Cooper in her space.
- “She doesn’t seem to have any interest in making any [equine] friends,” McDonald said. “She doesn’t care about other horses. She’s not bad with other animals. My dog comes with me to the shows, and a lot of the time, it’s just her and my dog. He’ll go in the stall, and with any other horse, I wouldn’t allow it, but with her, she just doesn’t care.”
- But don’t be mistaken: Quality wasn’t always so mellow, and she still wakes up as soon as a rider gets on her back, especially when it’s time to compete.
“When she first came over, she definitely wasn’t like a dog!” McDonald said. “She’s definitely gotten a lot easier to take care of. She wasn’t very trusting. She was difficult to ride, difficult to handle, and you couldn’t touch her face — she was very, very funny about that. She’s gotten a lot better about that now that we’ve gotten to know each other.
“As long as you’re not doing anything with her that she doesn’t like, she’s easy, but it took her a long time to get her to relax,” she continued. “But she definitely gets lit up when somebody is on her [back]. She’ll spin, and adjusting any sort of tack or anything on her is pretty difficult once somebody is on her. I just try to make sure that everything is all [set] before [Minikus] gets on, because once he gets on, it can be a little bit difficult. She’s kind of a different animal in hand than she is with a rider.”
Quality’s least favorite thing: traffic.
- “When there’s a lot of traffic, it’s a little bit of a stressful situation, and in turn, I’m not a fan of the traffic, either!” McDonald said. “I love riding her, though. She’s really good, and she’s super quiet as long as there isn’t any traffic. She’s a lot of fun and my favorite, definitely.”
- In fact, when the surroundings are quiet, Quality can be surprisingly lazy.
“When I’m just flatting her around at home, it’s hard to keep her going,” McDonald said. “She’s definitely a leg ride, so much so that it can be hard to keep her going. She’s lazy, for sure. You wouldn’t expect it, but she’s definitely lazy when she’s quiet.”
- With Quality, it’s all about compromise.
“She still has her mare moments,” McDonald said. “If she doesn’t like something, there’s no way she’s going to let you do it. No way. But we’ve figured her out as to what she likes and doesn’t like and what we can compromise on with her.
“When I brush her face, I can only stand on a certain side of her,” she continued. “She will not let me stand in front of her to brush her face. I have to be on the side of her, and as long as I’m on the side of her, she loves it. She’s a little funny about touching her around her poll area. If she is showing me that she doesn’t like it, I’ll either stop, go to something else and try again or try to figure it out with her so that we can compromise.”
- Compromise also comes into play with her post-round routine.
“The first thing she does when she comes out of the ring is walk in a circle around me,” McDonald explained. “She just stops where she feels comfortable, and I just let her stop there. I know as soon as I’m going to take the girth off or anything like that, she’s going to walk in a circle. That’s the compromise. Instead of making her stop and making her stand there, she doesn’t want to stand there, so I just let her make a circle. And once she stops, she will not move. As long as she does that circle, she’s good.”
- But the true mark of Quality Girl — excited, angry, spooked or content —is her lovable “bug eyes.”
“The bug eyes are sign that she doesn’t like something, but they’re also just a typical look from her,” McDonald said, laughing. “She’ll get bug-eyed if she’s looking at something; she’ll get bug-eyed if there’s a carrot in front of her; she’ll get bug-eyed if you’re walking in her stall with her grain; she’ll get bug-eyed if she’s looking at something she doesn’t like.
“She has her moments when she gets a quiet eye, but she’ll have a bug eye toward something she likes, doesn’t like, anything,” she continued. “That’s just her look. I don’t know why she does it, but there are a lot of pictures of her with her eyes like that!”