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July 16, 2014

Amateurs Like Us: Molly Matthews Works Hard To Play Hard With Her Cutting Horse Turned Eventer

Balancing competing her Paint horse Blue Moon Alibi at preliminary level with a full-time job and a side job building jumps challenges Molly Matthews, but she enjoys it. Photo by Amy K. Dragoo.

The average amateur eventer searching for a competition partner probably isn’t looking at failed 15.1-hand cutting horses, but then Molly Matthews is not your average amateur eventer.

A senior biologist of biodegradation at Wildlife International in Easton, Md., Matthews bought Blue Moon Alibi, a 10-year-old registered Paint gelding, after watching him go from buyer to buyer at a sale barn where she was boarding her horses.

“He showed up, and he was just turning 4, and he kept being sold and returned for being naughty for various reasons,” Matthews said. “By the time he came back the second or third time, he was cheap enough that I could actually afford him, so I bought him.”

Matthews, who grew up in Seaford, Del., riding hunters and jumpers, had ridden “Blue” a few times while he was in and out of the sale barn, and she said something about his quirky nature appealed to her.

“I love his brain and how he gives his all when he trusts you,” Matthews said. “It’s hard to explain, but it was just one of those things that clicked. I was thinking about trying eventing, so I thought we would have a lot of fun together.”

Stretching Daylight

Matthews had gotten to thinking about eventing after she was introduced to the sport by a friend, Teresa Martinoli, who took her on a course walk at Seneca Valley Pony Club Horse Trials (Md.).

He might have been bred as a cutting horse, but
Blue Moon Alibi has a pretty cute jump, too.

“She was riding training level, and at least every other fence I told her she was absolutely insane,” Matthews said with a laugh. “The jumps were humongous; it was crazy! I remember this one table on the training course—the first time I ran training at Seneca I was jumping over the top of this table, and I thought, ‘I remember this from walking the course with her!’ ”

Neither Matthews or Blue had ever evented before their first recognized beginner novice run in 2010, and they have spent the years since progressing through the levels together, currently competing preliminary. Matthews works once a month with trainers Kelly McGinn for dressage and Mogie Bearden-Muller and Phil Ake for show jumping and cross-country, but most of the day-to-day work she handles herself. Keeping a young horse on a training schedule to event has been a challenge, especially as Blue has moved up the levels, but it's one Matthews is happy to tackle.

“Trying to run at prelim with Blue, I’m constantly having to work on keeping him fit, and I can only ride in the afternoons during the week, so it’s kind of tough,” Matthews explained. An average day has Matthews working at the lab from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., skipping lunch to ensure she has enough time after work to ride. “If I have a gallop set scheduled on Wednesday, and it’s pouring after work, we still have to go out and do it.”

It’s a lot of work, but for Matthews it’s all worth it.

“There are reasons you go and work hard—so you can play hard!” she said with a laugh. “I’m sure there are people who have a lot more time to train than people who have a full-time job, but I think for me it makes it even more worthwhile because I work so hard for it.”

When Matthews says work hard, she means it. Along with her full-time job as a biologist, she also builds and sells jumps on the side to pay for some of her eventing expenses.

“When I was a kid my dad and I would build jumps together, and whereever I board my horses I usually try to build a few jumps for the ring,” Matthews said.

“It’s spread through word of mouth, and every time I finish a big order I say I’m never going to do it again, because I hate painting,” Matthews said with a laugh. “But it’s nice to see them in people’s rings and being used.”    

Working all morning and afternoon and riding for most of the evening means Matthews is not spending a whole lot of time at home with her husband, Tyler Matthews. Luckily, Molly says her husband understands the horses have always been a part of her life and knows they keep her happy. 

“Every time I move up a level, he makes sure he’s at that event to support me,” she said. “I did prelim at Kelly’s Ford [Horse Trials (Va.)], and it was the first time he had been with me to a prelim. We walked the course, and he looked at me, and he said, ‘I’ve never feared for your safety, but I’m a little concerned now.’ The upper levels have him a little shaken.”

Never Imagined

Horses have been on Molly’s radar from the time she was 3 years old, when she first met neighbor and riding instructor Jennie Mezick. Her mother allowed her to start taking lessons with Mezick when she turned 5, and Molly got her first pony when she was 9.

“My parents only wanted one pony, so they got me the largest pony they could find,” she explained. “I had a 14.1 7/8-hand Welsh cob pony named Lickity Split, and I was pretty little on him. He taught me a lot, and he threw me off a lot, and so that was how I learned to stick in the saddle.”

Molly has gotten to put her stickability training to work with Blue this year. After a run at Seneca Valley Pony Club Horse Trials in June, Blue was a bit off. An inspection from the veterinarian showed Blue had a lesion in his right check ligament, and he was prescribed six to eight weeks of controlled riding exercise at the walk.

“We’re on Week 2, and I am remembering how Blue is when he’s not in hard consistent work. He’s been testing the Velcro on my butt!” Molly said. “It’s nice that I can still go out and walk him and do stuff with him; I’m very thankful he’s not just on stall rest for six to eight weeks.

“It’s been interesting; it’s been the first big injury I’ve had to deal with. I’ve been lucky through the years. We’ll get through it,” she continued. “I’m hoping we’ll be back by the fall, and if not we’ll just do some dressage at the end of this year and get back up and rolling next spring.”

Blue and Molly moved up to the preliminary level this May after an impressive year competing in the training division. In 2013, they finished fourth in the Area 2 open training championships at Morven Park (Va.) and were the Area 2 adult amateur training champions.

“I was proud of my little horse,” Molly said. “It was pretty cool because we walked out to get our ribbon, and everybody is on 16.2-, 16.3-hand horses, and Blue's like 15.1, so that was neat. It was definitely not something I had imagined in my wildest dreams.”

But it's not just Blue's unusual size and breeding that make him stand out. “I’ve never had a horse with a heart as big as Blue," said Molly. "He’s never ever stopped at a fence; he’s jumped everything I’ve ever pointed him at. He might look at it and make big eyes and dance, but he’s always gone for me. He trusts me, and I trust him, so it’s been an awesome partnership. He’s been a good one for me to learn about eventing with.”


This is the fifth in "Amateurs Like Us," a series of articles about amateur riders juggling busy careers with show ring success.

Read about tutor and mom Brooke Mallin

Read about emergency room doctor Barbara Blasko

Read about eventer and businesswoman Sue Church

Read about veterinarian and amateur show jumper Hope Batchelor 

Are you one of those inspiring amateurs? Do you know one? Email us and tell us more and maybe you'll be next in the series!

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