With a horse show happening every weekend, and sometimes multiple major events taking place in locations around the country on the same day, the Chronicle reporters spend countless weekends on the road.
But regardless of how many horses we see winning championships and cantering down centerline, a few special moments always leave a lasting impression long after the story is written and the results are old news. As we head into the new year, here are a few of our favorite moments from 2017.
Kimberly Loushin’s Moment: Bunny-Eared By A World Cup Winner
It’s undeniable that one of the biggest perks of being on the Chronicle’s editorial staff is experiencing many of the world’s top events in person. I’ve been blessed to not only attend two World Cup Finals, but also to be in Omaha, Nebraska this year to watch McLain Ward finally earn the victory he’s been chasing his entire career.
Typically, I don my reporter cap and don’t get too wound up by the final results, but when McLain and HH Azur entered the ring for their final round I started sweating with anticipation and nervousness, and I held my breath for most of the course. It was an out-of-body experience when they crossed through the timers, and McLain cast aside his reserved poise and showed uncharacteristic emotion. But then it was back to work. We had coverage to put up, and we certainly wanted to do the moment justice.
When the frenzy quelled, my co-worker Molly Sorge, photographer Amy Dragoo and I headed out to enjoy the best meal Omaha had to offer after an exhausting week. About midway through our meal a familiar face passed by our table—turns out McLain and his family picked the same downtown steakhouse as us.
Sometimes you just have to revert back to the forgotten fangirl that led all of us to a career covering this sport. We asked McLain and his longtime groom Lee McKeever for a photo, and they readily agreed. As we lined up and sported our most ridiculous grins I felt movement behind my head.
I’m pretty sure the thoughts that raced through my mind went along the lines of: “Is that? No! It can’t be!” But when we sat back down to review the pictures it was clear as day.
I. Had. Bunny. Ears. Courtesy. Of. McLain. Ward.
Cue silent screaming mingled with childish laughter.
Bragging Rights Achieved.
There’s no doubt about it that this year’s World Cup will forever be a highlight of my journalism career, but the bunny ears take the cake.
Ann Glavan’s Moment: Have A Drink And Just Keep Swimming At Jersey Fresh
I ended up going to the Jersey Fresh CCI*** last minute when my colleague who was planning to cover the event had a riding fall and ended up with two fractured ankles (she has since recovered, thank goodness!).
I mostly cover show jumping and hunter competitions and had never covered a three-day event by myself, but I had recently decided to retire my hunter princess crown and try a beginner novice event with my own 4-year-old horse, so I thought why not, let’s go to Jersey Fresh!
Cue the frigid temperatures, high winds and driving rain for cross-country day. I don’t think I have ever been so cold in my life, but despite the terrible weather every event fan you ran into walking around the cross-country course was in excellent spirits! Fellow photographer Stacy Lynne offered her SUV’s tailgate for cover to shoot the water fence from, Eventing Nation’s Shelby Allen helped me figure out who was who and how not to get run over on course, and a complete stranger who happened to be tailgating nearby walked up and offered us both mimosas in pink plastic cowboy hat sippy cups.
I have since competed in a few different recognized beginner novice events and now know that this bright, chipper have-a-drink-and-just-keep-swimming attitude in the face of misery is eventers through and through, and I still have my pink cowboy hat sippy cup sitting on my bookshelf to remember the occasion!
Mollie Bailey’s Moment: Watching A Grand Prix Alongside Two Legends
This was the first year I got to attend the Rolex Central Park Horse Show along with my co-worker, Kimberly Loushin. Kimberly volunteered to photograph the class, and I hung out in the press tower with a few other equestrian journalists, but mostly New York society types who were there, I’m guessing, to write about famous people were at the event.
As I’m getting set up to watch the class, who should walk in together but a pair of World Cup Finals winners. Melanie Smith Taylor was there to watch the class so she could do voice-over for the NBC broadcast later in the week, and she’d brought along her friend (and former student) Katharine Burdsall Heller to enjoy the show.
While most in the pressroom didn’t recognize the two legends (the security guard barely let them through), my heart started pounding like crazy. But Melanie somehow, miraculously, remembered who I was and with whom I trained as a junior and couldn’t have been more gracious. Best of all, they asked if we could watch the class together (surely in part so I could pull up horses’ records on my computer). I even convinced them to enter the pool to guess who would win the class.
Melanie’s commentary during television broadcasts is pretty elementary, because, of course, there’s a civilian audience. But boy was it different when she and Katharine talked through the class in person! What an extraordinary treat it was to listen to them analyze the horses and riders and note exactly why faults occurred.
While both still follow the sport (“That one did well at Aachen,” said Melanie when Confu and Laura Kraut went on course—something I couldn’t clearly remember), I was able to help a bit as I’d had the privilege of talking to several of the riders personally recently. For example we all struggled with the name of Shane Sweetnam’s wonderful mount, Indra Van De Oude Heihoef, and, having spoken to Shane last week about the horse, I was able to share her barn name “Ivy” for easier discussion on TV. (“They all have such tricky names now!” said Katharine. I got what felt like a sincere laugh when I responded, “Yeah! Why can’t they be called ‘Calypso’ or ‘The Natural?’ ”)
Best of all, they were incredibly positive. There was no “kids these days don’t do things right,” they were impressed by the competitors and clapping after great rounds. How inspiring to know that decades after they both dominated international competition, they still had the same infectious enthusiasm for the sport.
Lindsay Berreth’s Moment: A Star’s Farewell
Ballynoe Castle RM, or “Reggie,” has always been one of my favorite top event horses.
I’ve spoken to his rider Buck Davidson over the years more times than I can remember, as Reggie was a prolific winner at the upper levels in the United States, and it was always so clear how much Davidson loved the gelding. He repeatedly told me how much the gelding meant to his career, and how he brought together so many people.
Reggie had a special relationship with his groom Kathleen Murray too (holding him in the background), and she got to compete him a bit this spring, which must have been the thrill of a lifetime.
He became a member of Davidson’s family, and so it was fitting that his whole team was there at this year’s Rolex Kentucky CCI**** to send Reggie off into retirement to his owner Carl and Cassandra Segal’s New Jersey farm.
I captured several moments during his ceremony—meeting his fans, getting a kiss from Davidson, and taking one last lap around the Rolex Stadium, but this one was my favorite.
It’s been a privilege seeing Reggie and Davidson compete over the last several years, and I hope he’s enjoying his retirement!
Molly Sorge’s Moment: Watching A Dream Fulfilled
I’ve worked at the Chronicle for far longer than I’d like to admit, and I’ve seen a lot of show jumping. A LOT. And I’m still able to be thrilled by a win that obviously transcends “another day at the office” for a rider. I did actually cry when I witnessed Rich Fellers and the game little horse Flexible win the Rolex FEI World Cup Final in 2012, 25 years after the last U.S. victory.
But McLain Ward’s victory in the Longines FEI World Cup Final in March of this year that really will go down as one of my favorite memories in my career. I’ve been interviewing McLain for decades (literally!), and I know very well just how badly he wanted this win, and just how close he’d come in the past.
McLain is not one for post-round celebrations—we at COTH joke that a quick fist pump from him is like seeing a unicorn. “Stoic” is a pretty apt word for his competition demeanor. That’s why the display of pure, unabashed joy that McLain put on after his last World Cup Final round on HH Azur was so remarkable. He threw his hands in the air, leaned forward and hugged Azur, pointed to the sky in tribute to his late father, and then—on the way out of the ring—turned and gave the crowd one last jubilant fist punch. It was just so much fun to watch a rider take so much joy from a win.
Check out all of our best of 2017, including the top 10 Behind The Stall Door articles, the most-read Amateurs Like Us blogs, 10 great Throwback Thursday posts, some our our favorite photos from the year, and more!