Ask Luciana Diniz about Fit for Fun 13 and chances are, she’s going to get a little gushy. After more than five years together, the 13-year-old Hanoverian mare has not only helped the Portuguese rider achieve some of her best results to date, she’s also become a treasured partner and teacher. “I cannot win with a horse that I don’t love,” she says, adding that “Fitti’s” special characteristics have actually changed the way she looks for future partners. ‘Fit for Fun’, Luciana explains on her website, is a more than appropriate name for the mare because “it’s pure pleasure to ride her.”

Owned by Diniz and Ralf Jünger, Luciana and Fitti have consistently placed at the top of the pack in some of the most competitive events in the world. Last year alone, they won the Grand Prix at CHIO Rotterdam, the CSI5* Grand Prix at Doha (for the second year in a row), and placed 9th individually at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. And while we will hopefully have many years to enjoy this pair—who have likely not yet reached the full pinnacle of their talent—we asked Luciana to share eight things she’s learned from her once-in-a-lifetime super-mare so far.

1. Lightness is everything. 

What I learned with Fit for Fun is about lightness, and now I am spoiled because her lightness is what I’m looking for in all other horses. She’s so light and does everything so easy, so smoothly. Now, when I ask if they have any horses like Fit for Fun, they’re hard to find. But what she has taught me about lightness extend into life as well—taking things in life with more lightness, and knowing you don’t alway need to produce or break horses with power, you should always [try to] go with them instead.

2. Take your conditioning out of the ring. 

At home, she goes a lot on the racetrack, which is good for her conditioning. She also goes a lot in the forest, because we have a lot of hills there and she can go up and down. [Fitti] doesn’t really like dressage work, and she’s not a horse that you really need to work on dressage with, you just have to keep her in good condition.

3. Design the program according to the horse’s terms. 

Along with some dressage work, we practice going forward and backward in training, but [always] in her way. I must say, with fun—[Fitti] likes to work with fun. She also loves to go in the paddock and really loves bananas, more than anything. Every time I go into the stable, she hears my voice and the first thing she does is look at me and say, Where is my banana? If I have nothing, she turns and goes into the back of the box. If I have a banana that she can see or smell then she comes—it’s really amazing she’s so clever, which is very interesting.

4. Appearances can be deceiving.

Inside, she’s not a quiet [horse]. She always seems very serene, but at the same time, she is very attentive. If there are noises or if something happens outside, [Fitti] is always looking and listening to everything, even though to look at her, she always shows calmness and serenity.

5. Expect the unexpected.

If you look at the photos after my round, you can see many times [Fitti] just freaks out and many times, she’ll just run out of the ring and I cannot stop her. She has this ability to go from zero-to-one-hundred very quickly, and then from 100 back to quiet, it takes a little bit of time. It is very challenging for us, sometimes, because she has this calmness and serenity when she goes in the ring, and she’s on a long rein, and from one moment to another, she can just freak out…This is something that we really have to handle when we come out the ring [after a good round].

6. Horses have complex social relationships.

Fitti prefers mostly to be by herself. She really loves Lennox, as they are often together and are stabled beside each other, but he loves her more then she loves him. She feels good with him, I must say—maybe he gives her a sense of security. He protects her and she feels protected by him. When she sleeps and lays down in her box in our stables, Lennox goes exactly to the side of the wall where she’s laying down. He’ll stand there while she’s sleeping, looking over her like he’s her bodyguard. It’s very interesting.

7. Horses can be as particular as people about the seasons.

[Fitti] has won inside and outside, and she’s one of those rare horses that can do anything. It’s nice, because she doesn’t care if it’s a small [ring] or a big [ring], you know you can always count on her. The only thing I could say, although she has won in the winter, she seems to prefer the summer and warm weather. It’s the same as me—we all struggle a little bit being cold!

8. Find a horse that will fight for you. 

In three words, what sets [Fitti] apart would be her passion, lightness, and connectedness, but all my horses have this sort of connection with me. Even, Winningmood; with me, he is a fighter. He also has this connected relationship with me, and he just loves to jump. Lennox also trusts me. My horses all have similarities, but the most is that strong connection [with them] that I need to perform. To really be at my best, I cannot win with a horse that I don’t love. Like I said, sometimes it doesn’t match perfectly with a horse. In maturing, we learn everyday, and I try to find horses now that really match me and will fight for me. I will fight for them, too, so that we are together and one. That’s my motto.

-Reporting by Megan Docherty. Photo by Erin Gilmore.