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People’s Choice – CH Candle Dan and Dun Haven Phenomenal

(Editor’s note: A complete list of all People’s Choice winners is posted in a separate news item.)



by Ann Bullard


One stands almost 16 hands; the other barely 48 inches. One is chestnut, the other bay. Both are what some old-timers would call ‘leg-waving dudes.’


Owning – much less showing – either would be a high point in many a Saddle Horse exhibitor’s career. Driving CH Candle Dan while cheering on Dun-Haven Phenomenal and Maureen Lydon helped make Carl Nichols’s 2007 season one he and his wife, Kathryn, will never forget.


So much has been written about the one, the many-times world’s champion of champions, CH Candle Dan. Phenomenal’s show ring history is just being penned. In his first year of competition, the powerful bay harness pony took second place but once, being tied the reserve world’s champion of champions. At Asheville, Midwest and Lexington, everything came up blue.


Dun Haven Phenomenal and Maureen Lydon

created quite a stir their first year out with

only one defeat to their record.


Lee and Beverly Dunn of Dun-Haven Farms in Ohio crossed their Cadetson’s Choice daughter, Dun-Haven So Lovely, with the Dun-Haven Bandolier son, Dun-Haven Center Attraction. The foal more than lived up to their expectations.


“Center Attraction is a terrific sire but has never shown. He produces terrific necks and a very, very good carriage,” Lee Dunn said. “Phenomenal was outstanding when he was just a few days old.”


Although the Dunns didn’t ‘work’ the youngster, they did exercise him. “I used to put a pair of light chains on him and watch him in the paddock. I was amazed at his natural, free motion,” Lee Dunn said.


When the Nichols decided to get into the pony – as well as the horse – business, they looked to the Dunns for a foundation sire. Certainly, the pony’s bloodlines more than qualified him. His talent and charisma helped seal the deal. After being in partnership with the Dunns for a few months, the Nichols assumed sole ownership in August 2006. They brought him home to Georgia’s Crystal Creek Farm, entrusting Phenomenal’s care and ‘green’ training to their home trainer, Eduardo Lopez.


Lopez took the pony from simply exercising to being ‘green broke’ to driving while the pony continued to do his ‘main job’ in the breeding shed. The following spring, the Nichols asked trainers Rich Campbell and Maureen Lydon to come evaluate Phenomenal. It wasn’t long before he was at Majestic Oaks in Simpsonville, Ky.


“He was eight years old and green-broke to drive,” Lydon recalled. “He is one of the most willing ponies we’ve ever worked. He’s a good-hearted pony with a lot of work ethic.”


Watching Phenomenal in the show ring, one might wonder about his size. “He’s right at 48-inches. People think he’s bigger,” Lydon said. “His attitude, his expression… he never drops and ear and loves his job.”


Majestic Oaks is home to more than one world’s champion. Phenomenal’s next-door neighbor, Free Willy, is something of a character. “Willy lets you know he is there – and doesn’t stop talking until he gets a peppermint. Phenomenal knows he’s next in line. He’s very much a gentleman; there’s never been a day when he acted studdy with us.”


Carl Nichols spoke of his and Kathryn’s champion. “He always wants to know what’s going on. When he goes to work, he sees everything. Kathryn has sat behind him. He’s so laid back and relaxed [at home]; he’s easy to drive. In the ring he’s more of a powerhouse.”


“He definitely has a personality. He’s nice to get along with but has plenty of fire. That pony just wants to be a show horse. His leg placement is unbelievable, so much of it is natural,” Dunn added, crediting Lydon and Campbell with showing the pony how to be all that he can be in the arena.


Campbell credits Phenomenal’s personality, his charisma, with helping put him over the top. “He’s that way all the time. He always thinks it’s a horse show and goes out and does his thing. He’s eager to please – and thinks a lot of himself.”


With a name like Phenomenal, the little bay had a lot to live up to. He began to build his reputation at Asheville, winning the Harness Pony Limit and championship.


“A lot of people came up to compliment us there. At Midwest, pony people went up to watch him show,” Lydon said pointing out Phenomenal again won a pair of classes. “We didn’t know if Lexington would be the right ring, but we think that was the best thing he’s ever done. So many people came back to congratulate us.”


At Louisville, Phenomenal won the Harness Pony Stallion and Gelding World’s Championship. He finished the show – and season – as the Reserve World’s Champion of Champions.


“Phenomenal is off for the winter. They’re collecting straws on him now,” Lydon said, adding that the Majestic Oaks family is looking forward to his return in March. “He’s just a little trooper who never has made a bad show.”


Phenomenal has been bred comparatively lightly. The Dunns have several offspring, including Touch Of Class that Beverly showed lightly last season.


“His babies are just beautiful,” Lydon said, adding that two at Crystal Creek stand out in her mind. “Hopefully, he will continue to improve the Hackney breed.


Then there’s his counterpart: CH Candle Dan.


Collecting nothing but blues in 2007

and 2006, CH Candle Dan and Carl Nichols

have dominated the show pleasure driving

division for the past two years.


The date: April 2006. The site: The J.D. Massey Classic at Clemson, S.C. The situation: Carl Nichols and CH Candle Dan made their debut in show pleasure driving after the gelding’s three-successful years in open and amateur fine harness. The result: a sixth-place tie in a class of 14. Two night’s later, they came back to win the grand championship. That qualifier was the last time Candle Dan and Nichols came home with anything but a blue or tricolor. In 2006, the United Professional Horseman’s Association voted him their Show Pleasure Driving Horse of the Year.


Certainly the late Alvin and Hilda Ruxer and their nephew, Bob, would have expected little less from the offspring of the Yorktown son, Talent Town, and Reserve World’s Champion CH Candle Dance. Big, bold, willing and talented, the gelding lives up to his pedigree.


“He’s the greatest horse in the country,” Nichols said quietly. “I never saw his dam, but heard she was outstanding.”


Billy Greenwell introduced Candle Dan to the fine harness division, earning the Junior Fine Harness blue at Asheville in 1999. In August, Glenn A. Werry added the youngster to the Glenmore Farm show string. Steve Joyce showed him to his first world’s title, the Junior Fine Harness Stallions and Geldings Championship. Werry made several successful shows before Carl and Kathryn bought him in the fall of 2003. Nichols qualified Candle Dan in the American Royal’s Amateur Fine Harness class. On Saturday night, trainer Bill Waller stepped into the harness buggy to drive the gelding to the Fine Harness Championship.


Nichols and Waller continued to share drives, with the trainer teaming Candle Dan to win Lexington’s Stallion and Gelding and Championship in 2004. Nichols showed him at Louisville, winning the Amateur Gentleman’s Fine Harness Stake and a pair of reserves at the Royal.


“When we bought Candle Dan, I didn’t know anything about showing a fine harness horse,” Nichols said, explaining he came from a Tennessee Walking Horse background. “He taught me to sit back there, drive and let him do his thing. All I had to do was be quiet and he would take care of business. He was the same horse every day – at the barn or in the show ring.


“His groom has said he is a kind and gentle horse. He is that – and he loves to show. I can’t do anything [more] with him than we already have done,” Nichols added.


Time came when the Nichols faced a choice. Next year, CH Candle Dan will hit the ring with a new owner, a new rider or driver, while the family concentrates on their Hackney business.


“We need to be promoting these ponies,” Carl Nichols said. “We have a young three-year-old by Twin Willow’s McMillan at Rich’s [Majestic Oaks] now. I think he has the athleticism and quality to be a breeding horse. Bill Waller has a four-year-old harness pony by McMillan that we think is going to be real good. Crystal Creek’s Commander (the 2007 People’s Choice Reserve Amateur Gentleman’s Harness Pony) and Crystal Creek’s Starlet probably will show in pleasure driving.


For now, Carl Nichols will head his wife’s cheering section as she shows most of their ponies. Will he miss CH Candle Dan? Certainly.


“It was such an honor to own that horse. He has done more for us in the show ring, representing what great is supposed to be. I won’t say I’ll never get another fine harness or show pleasure driving horse. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. But it’s time for Candle Dan to let someone else enjoy the thrill,” he said.



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