Show Jumping

The (Temperamental) Wind Beneath Karen Polle’s Wings

Marion Coakes and Stroller. Lisa Carlsen and Kahlua. Mario Deslauriers and Aramis. 

Every now and then a rider lucks into their “horse of a lifetime,” the one special mount that will make their name in the international ring, while they’re still just a junior climbing the ranks.

Japan’s Karen Polle is one such rider.

Her super horse: the aptly named With Wings—a 15-year-old KWPN gelding that has taken her from the low junior jumpers to winning 5* Grand Prix.

“I love all my horses, but Wings is a horse I don’t think I’ll ever be able to replace,” gushed Polle. “I always say he’s my once-in-a-lifetime horse. He’s very, very special.”

Here are 12 things every show jumping fan should know about Japan’s top ranked rider and her capricious partner.

1. They’ve grown up together 

With Wings found Polle in a manner of speaking. His previous owner approached the young rider about trying him when they were both relative unknowns.

“I found him in Wellington, Florida when he was seven-years old. I was still a junior rider at the time and we just got really lucky,” said Polle.

“I remember that first time I rode him and exactly how it felt. I really was not a very good rider at the time. He had so much ability but he had the right mentality for me as well. He was understanding when I made mistakes. I just knew that he was going to be the right horse for me.”  

2. Wings has never been short on “attitude”…

“I think we gelled pretty quickly from the start,” recalled Polle.

“I started showing him in the low junior jumpers. The jumping part was always good. He just had a lot of attitude and spirit. He still does. So there were times when he was very opinionated and he would buck and he would play and sometimes he didn’t want to go into the ring. The actual jumping part was always very good though.”

3. But he‘s calmed with age 

“At home, he’s a little lazy [now]. He doesn’t always like to work,” she conceded. 

4. (Unless he’s at a show)

“At the show, he’s fresh, he’s alert, he’s all business. He’s the smartest horse you’ll ever meet. Then when he’s really fresh, he has a lot of attitude—he bucks, he spins, he rears,” laughed Polle.

“I like that he has spunk. I think it makes him a fighter in the ring too.” 

(Karen Polle and With Wings)

5. Sometimes it can be a trick to get him into the ring  

Jumping massive fences? No problem. Getting With Wings into the ring to jump? Well, that’s another story, said Polle.

“It depends on the show. Some shows he’s fine at and will walk right in the ring. Others he’s doesn’t like it,” she revealed.

“We tried to work with him. We tried the treat method. I’ve tried trotting him in, getting there a little faster, but that makes him more nervous. In the end, we decided it was easier not to upset him and just to get on in the ring. Maybe it’s a little bit distracting, but it’s better than getting him upset before we compete, I think.”

6. Also, he’s afraid of white horses… 

“He doesn’t really like horses coming at him in the schooling area. But he’s especially afraid of white horses,” emphasized Polle. “White horses freak him out.”

7. And ponies… 

“Ponies freak him out as well,” she continued.

8. But white ponies are The Worst

“White ponies—they really scare him a lot.”

9. Polle falls off Wings “not infrequently” 

“One time we led him into the International Ring at Spruce Meadows, I got on and he promptly bucked me off. So, I fell off before we even started! I had to get on again and then I finally started my course,” she laughed. “I think it was good? That’s the part that stands out for me.

“I fall off him not infrequently, I would say.” 

10. But she wouldn’t have him any other way

“He’s perfect. I wouldn’t change anything about him,” she said. “Whatever he wants to do, he can do really.”  

11. Every big win is memorable at this point in their career

“Because I’ve had him for so long and he’s so special, every big win we have is such a big deal to me. It makes me really proud that we can achieve it together,” continued Polle.

That said, there are a few that are particularly so.

“In Florida [last year], when we won both the Grand Prix Qualifier and the Grand Prix during a 5* week, that was memorable. Winning at Spruce Meadows last summer was equally special. Every accomplishment that we have is just really, really cool for me.”

12. His (eventual) retirement will be equally so

“Wings is 15 now and still bucking and playing all the time, so I think he feels really good in his body. I’ll just do my best to keep him healthy and happy and fit. Hopefully, we can compete for a long time more,” she smiled.  

“I always say he’s going to live with me one day. I just have to figure out a way for him to be happy living with me. Maybe it’s not practical. But a girl can dream!”