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Drago comes to America


I’ve been lucky enough to own several horses over the years, and they’ve all been purchased here in the United States. This past year, I decided that I would really like to buy a young, green horse from Europe and have a fun project to work on. I started talking with my trainers about this a year ago in February 2012. I was leasing a really nice horse. so I was in no hurry. I told them if they found the perfect horse that I absolutely couldn’t live without then we should talk.

We kind of kept our eyes open throughout the year but didn’t really look seriously. In late November, one of my trainers went to Europe for a week. Before she left, we again talked about this “can’t live without it” horse and off she went. It was the last day of her trip, and I hadn’t heard from her. As excited as I was about possibly buying a young horse, I really was quite content with my lease so I remember thinking, “Phew, I haven’t heard from her so I guess that means I’m leasing for another year.” Then the phone rang, and she was absolutely giddy. As we talked, she e-mailed me a picture and a couple of videos. Drago, she said, was THE perfect horse for me. The funny thing is that he wasn’t even one of the sale horses that she was supposed to look at that day. She saw someone riding him and the rest is history.


Drago is a 16.2 hh, six-year-old Irish Sport Horse who was supposed to be a big jumper. He didn’t quite have enough “fire” for that career, so his owners essentially stopped seriously training him and just let the “girls” in the barn ride him and play with him. I get the feeling that he became the barn pet.


I’m kind of a control freak, so committing to buy a horse that I’d never seen or sat on was a bit unnerving to say the very least. Also unnerving was the whole process because it was handled by my trainer and the agent in England. I’m used to organizing, planning, yes controlling everything, so sitting back while everything was arranged—vetting, blood work, shipping, quarantine, etc.—was really, really hard. So many questions went through my head: did I need to insure him before he got on the plane or did the carrier’s insurance cover him while he was traveling? Did I need his FEI passport number to get his insurance? How long would the trip be? Was he going to travel on the plane OK? Would he arrive in one piece? I actually thought several times during this process that I had actually lost my mind.


We were trying to coordinate his trip over with some other horses that my trainer was buying, so the time frame kept getting stretched. We were originally thinking that he would be home the first week in January, but he didn’t actually get on the plane in Amsterdam until January 15. He arrived safe and sound in quarantine in New York and was supposed to be released on Friday the eighteenth. The trailer was in New York at the quarantine barn waiting to pick him up when we got the call that he had spiked a fever and couldn’t be released. Big, fat bummer. So a weekend of calls with the vet ensued. He wasn’t showing any symptoms other than having a fever, so he was just getting antibiotics and hanging out.


At one point the vet said to me, “What are you going to do with him?” I said, “Well, we’re hoping that he will be an Adult Hunter/Equitation horse. Why?” The response was, “He is very tall and very athletic—and he doesn’t like needles.” At this point, I’m thinking, “Hmmm, he is 16.2 hh, and how does she know he is athletic when she has only seen him standing in a stall?” Well, I would soon find out,


Drago was finally released from quarantine on Tuesday, January 22, a week after his plane touched down. He arrived at the barn that night at about 7:30 on one of the coldest nights we’d had all winter—it was about 10 degrees. I pulled into the barn right behind the trailer and waited while he was unloaded. At this point, his journey had been about two weeks long from the time he left his barn in England: no turnout, no work, standing on trailers, on a plane or in a stall—I was expecting a fire breathing dragon. He walked off the trailer like a perfect gentleman and strolled casually to his stall. But something was amiss—this horse was HUGE. This horse was not 16.2 hh, this horse was much, much taller and had the longest legs I’d ever seen. I looked at my trainer and just started laughing. This was going to be an adventure! We took off his blankets to inspect him (much like you do with a newborn baby). He had lost a lot of weight while he was in quarantine, and his coat was a mess from the stress of the trip, but all 4 legs were in the correct place, and his attitude was wonderful. A couple of my awesome barn friends showed up with champagne, we toasted, walked around the indoor for a bit, and then tucked him in for the night. Finally, Drago (all 17.1 hh of him) was safe and sound at home.

The training has begun. We’ve got a great foundation with a lot of hard work ahead of us. I describe Drago as being like a giant Labrador retriever puppy—he would definitely sit in my lap if he could. He wants to please, never says no, and just generally tries very hard to understand what is being asked of him. He forgives my mistakes, and I forgive his. I find myself laughing a lot when I ride him. He is so very curious about absolutely everything that is going on around us, just like a puppy. I hope his enthusiasm and curiosity continue on our journey together. I also really hope we figure out how to get all of those legs under control and going in the same direction.

Happy Riding!!!

– Melissa

Melissa Hamlet

Melissa as a rider: I grew up in Virginia and started riding when I was about 7. I never looked back...riding and horses have been a part of who I am since that first ride all of those years ago. I’ve fox hunted a little but have spent most of my time competing in Hunters and Equitation. I rode on the IHSA Team in college and even competed in some IHSA Alumni classes after graduation. These days you’ll find me in the Adult Hunters, Hunter Derbies and Adult Equitation. Melissa as a SmartPaker: As VP of Merchandising, it is my job to oversee all of our product selection and development. Me and my team travel the world to find and develop things we think are worthy of being in your barns, on your bodies and on your horses. How cool is that?!

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12 comments on “Drago comes to America
  1. Kathy says:

    Love it! I hope we get to read more about your journey with Drago! I’ve been experiencing the fun of a young horse also – he was 3 when I purchased him and he had 12 rides on him. We started in Western Pleasure and are are now adding Hunter Pleasure. I’ve enjoyed writing about our journey and periodically going back and seeing what we’ve accomplished. Thanks for sharing your story.

  2. Melissa Hamlet Melissa Hamlet says:

    Hi Kathy –

    Thank you so much for reading Drago’s story. This has been such a fun adventure, and I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for us. Good luck with your four legged man. Sounds like the two of you are getting a lot accomplished together.

    Happy Riding!!!

  3. Lea Rash Johnson says:

    LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your story! First pic should be in an equitation encyclopedia – PERFECT!
    As one of your fellow IHSA teammates and friend, I’m so happy for you! How lucky can you get to have a successful career doing something you love?
    Hope to see you and Drago soon!

  4. Ellen Wilhelm says:

    Wow! Waiting for him to arrive must have been very nerve wracking! I have been looking at horses in the UK and I was wondering about how much it was to ship a horse to NY. I can’t wait to hear the journeys you have with Drago! 🙂

  5. Melissa Hamlet Melissa Hamlet says:

    Hi Lea – Thank you so much for the kind words. Don’t think I’ve ever had anyone tell me that my picture should be in an equitation encyclopedia:-) I am very, very fortunate to have been able to combine my passion for horses with my career. I am thankful every day for the opportunities that I have been given. See you at Alumni Weekend????

  6. Melissa Hamlet Melissa Hamlet says:

    Hi Ellen –

    Yes, the waiting was EXCRUCIATING!!! The worst part was when he got held in quarantine for that extra week. He was well worth the wait though. Good luck with your shopping! Thank you for being interested in reading about Drago’s continued adventures. I’ll be sure to keep blogging about him. We’re planning his first show in May. I’m feeling a blog titled “Drago’s Debut” 🙂

    Happy Riding!!!

  7. Becky says:

    Great story…do stay posted!

  8. Melissa Hamlet Melissa Hamlet says:

    Hi Becky – Thank you so much for being interested in Drago’s adventures! I will write more blogs about him for sure.

    Happy Riding!!

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