Fortunato H20, the smallest kid on the block in Herning, wins para team bronze and gets the Oldenburg Lifetime Endorsement

US-bred Oldenburg stallion Fortunato H20 was the youngest kid on the block at the World Para Dressage Championships in Herning (DEN) this summer and has made great strides towards the greatness of the sport and the breeding of American dressage.

Not only did he secure a bronze medal on the team, but his quality and achievements have now been recognized by the German Oldenburg Verband (GOV), who have granted him a lifetime breeding approval.

The best of American breeding

Bred by Kendra Hansis of Runningwater warmbloods in New Jersey, Fortunato H20 is by Floriscount and out of Raleska WF (by Rascalino x Warkant x Argentan) and represents the best of American breeding.

Raleska’s breeder, Linda Woltz of Walnut Farm, Ohio, brought strong Hanoverian lines to America when she bred the female Raleska WF. Hansis built on these lines by mating her to the Grand Prix stallion Floriscount.

With a strong interest in high-performance bloodlines bred on American soil, US Grand Prix rider Lehua Custer felt he didn’t have to cross the Atlantic to find an international-caliber dressage horse or breeding stallion.

“I wanted to find a potential North American-bred stallion and see if I could get him approved,” Lehua told Eurodressage. “I love training horses and it’s more financially feasible for me to find them here in the US”

A stroke of luck and a fairy godmother

Fortunato H20 as a newborn foal. The picture
which sparked Lehua’s interest

For Custer, it was serendipity when he came across a photo of Fortunato on a Facebook scrolling night.

“I shopped online and met local breeders to see their puppies,” Lehua said, “but then I came across a photo Kendra posted of ‘Tuna’ and told my colleague camera that this is my horse”.

Lehua immediately contacted Hansis and was able to purchase Fortunato H20 as a one-month-old colt.

“A client of mine knew I wanted this colt and knew I didn’t have the funds, so he offered to lend me the money,” Lehua admitted. “She’s his fairy godmother now.”

Horseback Riding: From Hawaii to California to Florida

Born and raised in Hawaii, Lehua has spent her entire life under palm trees and on horses. Her full name is Lehuanani Limahuli Custer and she started riding in Hawaii. Lehua moved to sunny California to pursue a BA in Psychology and graduate school at Pepperdine University in Malibu. Immediately after graduation, she received a lesson with US Olympian and judge Hilda Gurney as her graduation present. This lesson led to Hilda taking her under her wing in 2001.

Lehua and FJ Ramzes in California
(Photo © Gina Falcone)

Lehua became an assistant coach at Gurney’s Keenridge for 10 years. A move to independence followed when Lehua set up her own business out of the Equestrian Center in LA before moving to Wellington, Florida in 2019. She was enrolled in the US Development Program with warmblood FJ Ramzes USA-bred Dutch gelding (by Juventus x Rampal) and recipient of the 2019 Carol Lavell Advanced Dressage Award, a training scholarship he has received two years in a row.

To represent the US in international sports, Lehua would need a pipeline of horses.

“I always buy young stock and train them myself,” she said. “My current FEI FJ Ramzes was bred at Cornell University and purchased by his owner as a yearling. Now we compete in the CDI, most recently winning the Grand Prix and the 4* Special at Terranova.”

A triple and grand champion Devon title

Young star Fortunato H20 competed as a colt at the 2016 Devon Breed Show in Pennsylvania where he finished fourth.

“I sent him to California to be raised by Hilda, and when I moved to Florida in 2019, I left Tuna in California until I settled down,” Lehua said. “I then drove him around the country with my mum and my pit bull when he was three.”

Fortunato H2O (photo © private)

The Custer saddle broke Tuna herself and in the autumn of 2019 sent him back to Devon, where he became reserve champion at the Colts/Gestration Championship as a 3-year-old, scoring a 10 in his gait.

Breeder Kendra enjoyed the Devon success of “her” Fortunato had to convince Lehua to enter Tuna once again in the 2021 Devon Breed Show.

“The 2021 training at Devon didn’t happen according to any well-thought-out plan,” Kendra recalled. “Actually, it almost didn’t happen at all. As the late entry deadline approached, I told Lehua that I would pay for the entire show if he brought Tuna from Florida for it. If Tuna wins something, I might have the prize money to cover his travel expenses and I would keep the ribbons.”

Lehua caved and Fortunato H20 traveled back north to Devon for the third time, but the trip paid off. The 5-year-old stallion was named the 2021 Devon Breed Show Grand Champion, the highest title a dressage horse can earn at a breed show on American soil. In addition, Lehua competed in the Material classes and won every class entered.

Preparing for the future

Groom Molly O’Brien and Fortunato H20 who competed for Team
USA at the 2022 Para Dressage World Championships
Photo © Shannon Brinkman

Lehua trained Fortunato H20 slowly and carefully, working his way up the levels and easily competing in open dressage classes up to level three, with scores almost always in the mid-70s.

In 2020, they were invited to ride in the USDF Young Horse Prospect Symposium and received positive feedback from Willy Arts.

“Willy said he is a good horse for the future for breeding and sport because of his positive attitude and quality gaits,” Lehua said proudly.

An adventure in Denmark

In 2022, an interesting offer arose when Para Dressage world record holder Roxanne Trunnell approached Lehua if she could borrow Fortunato H20 for a CPEDI. She agreed as long as she could continue to reproduce when needed.

In their first outing together, Trunnell and Tuna won the FEI Para Equestrian Team Selection Test at the Gold Coast May Dressage. The pair went on to compete at the Tryon Summer Dressage CPEDI3* in June 2022, where they won all three Grade I tests.

Trunnell and Fortunato H20 at World Para 2022
Championships (Photo © Hippofoto)

“At Tryon they qualified for the World Para Dressage Championships in Denmark and I knew she would do well for her as she has a fantastic temperament,” said Lehua. “I had no idea how they were going to score as he was new to the para, but I knew he had a walk for a 10 and Grade I is ridden in gait.”

At Herning, Fortunato H20 ended up being the youngest horse in the competition and earned a team bronze medal in his US Parade Team debut. “They had the second highest score for Team USA and helped the USA win our only medal,” added Lehua.

Lifetime approval

This para team medal, along with his third level performance under his owner, gave him his final approvals for breeding.

In 2020, he was licensed for the German Oldenburg Verband (GOV) and Westphalian-NA in Hilltop Farm stallion performance testing, and the WFFS negative stallion is also AHS approved. After the World Championships, Oldenburg confirmed his lifetime endorsement.

The Fortunato H20 is approved for life for the German Oldenburg

When asked what her future plans are for Tuna, Lehua replied, “I plan to train and race him in the FEI and I will allow Roxie to continue to appear in the CPEDI when she chooses. Of course, he will continue to be available for breeding.”

Photos © Gina Falcone – Hippofoto – Shannon Brinkman – Melissa Fuller

Related links
Fortunato H20 named Grand Champion of the Devon Breed Show 2021
Lehua Custer received the 2019 Carol Lavell Advanced Dressage Award
Lehua Custer and FJ Ramzes win 2021 CDN Wellington Grand Prix, US-bred horses ahead

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