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August 7, 2013

From Cross-Country To Culpeper

Stephen Bradley’s former four-star mount, From, has a new life as a hunter, and he won the novice adult hunter championship with Tracy Mathews at the HITS Culpeper Showday National. Photo by ESI Photography

It’s not often you find a hunter that’s competed at the advanced level of eventing. But both From and In The Fog competed at the upper levels with Stephen Bradley and now have successful second careers in a different discipline. 

For amateur rider Tracy Mathews, getting the ride on Bradley’s former four-star ride and 2007 Pan American Games (Brazil) gold medal winner, From, was the opportunity of a lifetime. They earned the novice adult hunter championship in the pair’s first show together at HITS Culpeper (Va.). It was a feat made even more impressive because the bay gelding is 20.

“He makes you feel like you’re a winner. I’m still not even processing this!” said Mathews, Lovettsville, Va.

Mathews, 40, got the ride on the Russian Thoroughbred (Mif—Floema, Elfast) two months ago with the help of trainers Dale Crittenberger and Peter Foley, Bradley’s partner. She’s  ridden at their Woodhall Farm in Aldie, Va., for 18 years and ridden other former eventers of Bradley’s over the years, including Deltry Regality, who she rode in the jumpers until he retired this year at 24.

“I don’t have an unlimited budget, and Peter always seems to come up with horses for me to ride,” said Mathews. “[Deltry Regality] was quite unconventional. He wasn’t as well broke as From. From goes in a rubber snaffle. He went cross-country in a rubber snaffle.”

After Bradley stopped competing From in 2008, the gelding competed at advanced with Jane Jennings before dropping down to training level with Beth Durden. He spent a few years doing lower level dressage before transitioning to the hunters.

“He’s not the easiest schoolmaster because he’s definitely opinionated, and he has a really strong personality,” said Bradley. “You have to be able to work with him and ride a real Type A personality horse. If you can do that, he’s a fantastic schoolmaster.”

In Culpeper, Mathews and From topped two jumping classes and finished second in the hack for the tricolor.

“We’re still figuring some things out,” she said. “From internalizes a lot of things, and he’s very quirky. He really doesn’t like to go in the schooling area. We had a not-so-great go on Friday, so I took him home and turned him out and came back Saturday morning to do my class, and we literally walked from the barn to the show ring and trotted a 20-meter circle in each direction in an area separate from the other horses. The first time I picked up my canter, I was cantering to the first jump.”

Since she’s ridden her fair share of ex-eventers, Mathews realizes they all come with quirks, and figuring out From has proved a fun project.

“It’s not about getting him quiet; it’s about having him in the right frame of mind,” she said. “He’s definitely a top three hack prize, if not the winner, once we figure out what we jokingly call ‘the group dressage.’ He’s not used to being in the ring with a lot of other horses cantering in the same direction. He just needs to take a breath.

“It’s funny that we joke about training a 20-year-old horse, which we’re obviously not doing,” she continued. “We’re reprogramming him to realize that this is the easiest job on the planet.”

Mathews’ good friend and fellow amateur Holly Sorensen also competed at Culpeper aboard In The Fog, a 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Larino—Idjora, Damiro). The pair took home their first amateur-owner championship after several reserves.

Sorensen rode as a junior and returned to riding after an 11-year break. She bought “Simon,” who competed through advanced with Bradley before transitioning to the hunters in 2012.

“I knew from the first moment I rode him, he had to be mine,” said Sorensen, 37, of Fairfax Station, Va., who bought him in December. “Simon has changed my life. I believe wholeheartedly that everything in my life and his life happened as it was supposed to so that the two of us could come together and form this amazing partnership. As strange as it may sound, he is a familiar soul to me, and I’m honored to be a part of his world each and every day. He makes life so much better.” 

For Bradley, who watched both horses win in Culpeper, seeing his former mounts excel in their new jobs is the ultimate reward.

“I love it,” he said. “I think it has to be hard for these horses that have been fussed over and taken immaculate care of all their lives to suddenly just be retired and do nothing. So far, all of my horses have been able to do this and help somebody else along. At the end of the day, they’ll always come back to me when they’re ready for their final retirement.”  

 
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