It’s a funny thing in our warped reality of professional riders that big moments in our life are often marked by competitions. Jessica Hampf said “yes” to me the Monday before the Richland Park CIC in August. I’m incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to spend my life with my best friend. Family comes first, and now that Jessica and I are beginning ours I would like to dedicate the first paragraph of my new blog for the Chronicle to her and our future.
Being as this is my first blog with the Chronicle, some background would be appropriate. I am from a very horse-centric family. Both parents ride and my mom, Marilyn, has judged the Olympics, World Championships, World Cups and every CCI**** in the world. My sister is also a professional equestrian; she and I rode at our first four-stars two years ago at the Rolex Kentucky.
Growing up, I never thought I would be in the position I am today. I have a degree in mechanical engineering from the Rochester Institute of Technology (N.Y.). I had all intentions of pursuing a career in forensics. But one thing leads to another and upon graduation, I took the chance to start an equestrian venture knowing I'd regret not trying to ride for a living later in life.
I really don't like losing, and I find it incredibly rewarding to watch our horses develop over time from the unknown into something special. Although it’s still tough to watch for me following his sale to England, Running Order's video gives you an idea of what is possible:
At the moment the furthest along is a horse by the name of Crown Talisman. He is a Holsteiner/Thoroughbred cross bred in Maryland by Martha Thomas. He initially came to the farm to sell. He is an athletic freak of nature! I've never ridden such a naturally strong horse.
I was unable to sell him, since the moment you got on he'd throw it in full reverse until nearly running into the wall or fence behind us. Then a rear/buck maneuver sent us quickly in another random direction. But I was able to barter with Martha for him, and the rest is history. He has won countless events including the preliminary division of the American Eventing Championships in 2010.
Late in that same year Larry and Amelia Ross joined in a partnership to support “Tali.” Without their help, he certainly wouldn't be here with us today. They have been great friends who share my long-term vision of consistently contending on the international stage. I can't thank them enough.
Tali was on his way to win his first intermediate in 2011 at Pine Top Horse Trials when two jumps from home, he hit his stifle jumping into the water complex. Galloping away I knew something wasn't right and pulled up. Somehow he managed to fully rip a ligament clean off of his patella (knee cap). With surgery, great vet care, and some luck he returned from what was thought to be a career-ending injury. He has continued to improve with two top-10 CCI** finishes last year.
This spring Tali was named to the U.S. Equestrian Federation national training list. He moved up to advanced at Millbrook (N.Y.), where he impressively tackled the course to finish ninth. He then jumped very well at Richland Park, his first CIC***.
Last weekend was an exciting one. We had six horses competing at Plantation Field (Pa.) We finished without cross-country jumping penalties for all; three of the four preliminary horses were in the top five, and it was a good first intermediate for Royal Tribute. Which brings us to Tali, who was the last to go.
In just his second CIC*** and third advanced, his dressage was not perfect by any means, but showed many signs of improvement. He is an exceptional mover, and once put together I think he's going to be a tough one to beat.
New for 2013, the traditional sequence of phases during CIC competitions has been controversially reversed. Show jumping followed dressage, and not many clear rounds were posted over Mark Donovan's course. I couldn't have been happier that we were able to be one of the few, which moved us from 10th to fifth.
Change is never easy and many have criticized the modification of the CICs, but with the exceptional circumstances of Sunday's cross-country I'm even more certain that this is a good thing for the sport. Cross-country was run in reverse order of placing, so the top 20 percent of the field ran at the end of the day. The pressure is definitely on when leaving the start box.
For some reason, which many have theorized but none completely understand, there were a number of falls jumping over the first element into the water. Just after I walked into the warm-up, the course was held for the ground jury's inspection. The decision was made to pull the first two elements of the complex off the course and modify the time allowed. It's never easy being one of the first pairs on course, and for the few who were caught out I feel terrible. I have been there before and will most likely be there again in the future, but this format allows the best horses to win.
After the delays, Tali warmed up great. I went out on course looking to put the pressure on the leaders. Tali jumped around like a total rock star. He's very quick on his feet and maneuverable, which allows us to take a bunch of inside lines, cutting off precious seconds. We crossed the line just 2 seconds over, moving us up one spot to fourth. Not bad for his third advanced out of 50-plus entries! I couldn't be happier with him. It’s scary to think that he could be competing at this level for another six or eight years. I'm one lucky person!
Our fall schedule will bring us to Morven Park (Va.) in two weeks, concluding at the Fair Hill CCI*** in October. Updates are sure to come soon.