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November 12, 2013

Cheaper Than A Golf Cart, And A Better Jumper

Cathleen Driscoll turned her giveaway off-the-track Thoroughbred into a winner in the adult amateur jumpers. Photo by Lindsay Berreth.

Four years ago, Cathleen Driscoll was on the hunt for a golf cart to haul hay around her family’s 40-acre farm in Elk Mills, Md. Instead, she found an off-the-track Thoroughbred who’s now a winning adult amateur jumper.

Driscoll, 20, went looking for a golf cart to expedite her morning chores caring for seven horses, solo, in order to make it to biology class on time at the University of Delaware.

“I saw in the paper an advertisement by the manager of a Thoroughbred retirement facility, [Williams Grove Farms in Chesapeake, Md.], who was selling a golf cart,” she said.

When she went to check it out, the two got to talking about riding. The manager said he had 90 Thoroughbreds who were just going to live out in the field for the rest of their lives.

Driscoll picked up on the opportunity, immediately placing the golf cart idea on the back burner, and asked, “What do you have that’s under 5 years old and came off the track sound?” She was in the market for a new mount.

Figuring that she had nothing to lose from bringing home a giveaway, she picked out a 4-year-old scruffy-coated mare without even a vet check. “I just took his word that she was sound,” she said.

It took 20 minutes to coax “Annie” onto her trailer that day, and the chestnut mare screamed the whole time to her long-time field mates.

Turning Over A New Leaf

A month before this golf-cart-turned-horse hunt took place, Driscoll went out on her own after having ridden with Renee Kidd through her teenage years.

Driscoll had boarded her horses at Kidd’s Tuckaway Farm (Md.). “One summer I decided to bring them home,” she said. “It seemed more economical, and it was just a bit of progression to go off on my own.”

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Once established at her “family and friends barn” with five of her own horses and two boarders, Driscoll managed them and trained herself. She decided to pursue the jumpers and picked out horse show goals through personal research.

Driscoll was new to the jumpers, and Annie, who Driscoll renamed Forever Blue (her breeding is listed as unknown in U.S. Equestrian Federation records), was new to just about everything save her six starts on the track and a year of turnout. Driscoll played to her strengths to move the pair into the new discipline.

“I’d only had hunters before, and one of my particular strengths is making a horse go really quiet,” she said. “In the beginning, it was definitely a learning experience for both of us. She’s naturally hot, which helped me because she carries herself, and I don’t have to fuss with her too much.”

Driscoll noticed that the mare was a bit weak on the right side, but she was expecting far more serious physical aftereffects from Annie’s racing career. “I was expecting her to be a little dead in the mouth or heavy on the forehand from racing,” she said. “But she seemed surprisingly well-broke and very balanced for a Thoroughbred. She was easy to start.”

Driscoll rode Annie on the flat mostly, focusing on lateral work. When she had a question, she’d ride over to visit her neighbor, Florence Wetzel, a dressage trainer at Reinbow’s Edge Farm (Md.).

“[Wetzel] comes over here a lot too and keeps hay in my barn,” said Driscoll. “We work together pretty frequently because she has a background in hunters, so we have a lot in common.”

The jumping came quite naturally to Annie after learning some dressage basics. “She’s always been incredibly brave,” Driscoll said. “Liverpools never bothered her; combinations never bothered her.”

This fall, Driscoll and Annie won the NAL adult amateur jumper finals at the Pennsylvania National and took fifth in the adult amateur finals at the Washington International (D.C.).

Stepping Out Of The Shadow

While Wetzel has supplemented some of Driscoll’s dressage background, her older sister, Stacey, has given her some advice in the jumping realm.

Stacey, 24, is a working student for upper-level eventer Ryan Wood. “I kind of followed in her footsteps when I was younger,” said Cathleen. “But as I got older, I started to step out of her shadow.”

Although Stacey is able to help Cathleen once in a while with the horses at home, she’s busy with her own priorities helping with Wood’s 25 horses at his Woodstock Eventing facility (Pa.).

“She’ll help me some afternoons,” said Cathleen. “But I can’t rely on her to help me or expect her to. She leaves at 6 a.m. and doesn’t get home until 6 p.m.”

Cathleen tries to schedule her classes—focused on her major in biomedical engineering—in the late morning so that she can do all her chores before class and still have enough daylight to ride in her outdoor arena after class.

The girls’ parents don’t ride. “It’s sort of a mixed opinion,” said Cathleen. “My mom tolerates it, but I think in the back of her head she wishes we’d picked a cheaper sport!”

On The Fence

Although Cathleen has bought and sold horses in the past, she’s uncertain as to whether or not she’d like to pursue an equestrian business after college.

She funds most of her own show entries with prize money and is determined to remain self-sufficient in caring for her four-legged friends by finding a job in the field she’s aiming for after graduation—prosthetics.

“My original horse I had when I was 12,” she said. “I sold her and got to keep some of the money from that. I don’t buy and sell for a business but I try to keep enough in my bank account and make a profit when I sell them so that I can keep up what I’m doing. I have two horses that are boarded with me as well. And since I do all the barn work, I get a little bit of extra money to cover my horses’ costs.”

Cathleen will continue riding Annie for the time being, but she isn’t against the idea of a future sale. “If somebody made the right offer I might sell her—you hear professionals say, ‘Every horse is always for sale,’ but as of right now, I don’t have any plans of marketing her,” she said.

Cathleen has never competed at a Florida winter circuit, so this winter she’ll be loading Annie onto the trailer by herself to practice in some local indoor arenas until next spring.

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