It doesn’t seem possible that Jacob Fletcher has already been competing for 12 years, but the 18-year-old did his first event when he was just 6. It was an inauspicious beginning; he was eliminated from the Green As Grass division when his pony ran out of the dressage arena.
But Fletcher’s holding his own in the sport now, despite his still-young age and having grown up in Arkansas, far from an eventing mecca. Aboard The Prof, Fletcher most recently finished second at intermediate to Buck Davidson at the Ocala Horse Properties Winter I Horse Trials (Fla.). The rider also has Young Rider team and individual silver medals to his name after three trips to the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships (Ky.).
Past successes aside, Fletcher’s still on his way up. He’s eyeing his first advanced this spring with The Prof, or “Theo,” a 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding by Augha Beg Patch. He’s also working on a degree at the University in Arkansas and wants to major in finance.
“It’s wherever the road takes me,” said Fletcher, who hauls almost five hours for lessons with trainers Mike Huber and Heather Morris in Texas when he’s at school. “I’d like to be competitive at an international level, and I’m definitely not denying being a professional down the road. I’d love to run around a four-star track, but I’m leaving other options open. I’m being open-minded at the moment.”
The Perfect Mount
After a few years on his pony, Fletcher upgraded to riding a horse when he was 8. He competed through training level on a few different mounts before getting his first big horse in 2008. Falcon Splash, a now-16-year-old pinto Australian Warmblood (Falcon Jigsaw—Tia) gelding, had gone advanced with Boyd Martin before Fletcher started riding him. “Splash” and Fletcher quickly became a formidable team, and Fletcher moved up to preliminary after completing a few trainings with the gelding.
“The plan [in 2009] was to do the one-star at NAJYRC,” said Fletcher, who is originally from Little Rock, Ark. “Looking back, I don’t know what I was doing. I knew nothing. But David O’Connor hooked us up with Mike Huber, and I’ve been riding with him since.”
Even though he was new to the level, Fletcher racked up a string of good placings with Splash. He was fourth in his first CCI*, at the Colorado Horse Park, before going on to finish 14th individually at the 2009 NAJYRC. The next year, Fletcher moved up to intermediate, finishing fifth individually in the two-star at NAJYRC after taking fifth at the Red Hills CIC** (Fla.).
“Splash was just an unbelievable young rider horse,” Fletcher said. “He has so much heart. At Red Hills, it was the year everyone was falling off [nine out of 19 starters fell, retired or were eliminated on cross-country in the two-star], and he took me, a 15-year-old, around. Mike always wants his kids to move up, but he always makes sure we’re ready to move up too.”
But Splash wasn’t done proving his heart. At the 2011 NAJYRC, he finished on his dressage score in the two-star, and Fletcher earned a silver individual medal and helped Area V to team silver. “Nothing could have gone better that year,” said Fletcher. “I owe so much to Flash. He never stopped or ran out with me the whole five years I had him, and that counts lessons too. It gave me so much confidence, and it helped me develop into a better rider.”
A New Partner
In the summer of 2011, with Splash getting older, Fletcher began the search for a new upper-level partner with the help of Huber and Susie Pragnall. When they first saw Theo, he had been in light work only for a few months.
“When we tried Theo, he looked like he was 1,600 pounds—like a giant pony. Mike loved him and said, ‘Jacob, this is the horse for you.’ I said, ‘Are you sure?’ But he’s been a dream come true,” said Fletcher.
Fletcher and Theo started out at training together and then did a few preliminaries. It was going well—Theo finished second at both prelims he did with Fletcher—but Fletcher was still harboring some concerns.
“Towards the end of Splash’s career, I was riding him well on the cross-country, and I was much more accurate, but I had such a saint in him. I didn’t know what would happen with a younger horse who didn’t already have an intermediate track record. But we went slow, and he won his second intermediate,” said Fletcher.
Theo and Fletcher were one of only three pairs to make time on cross-country at the 2012 Red Hills CIC**, finishing third. Fletcher found Theo wasn’t quite fit enough at the NAJYRC CCI**, and the pair picked up some time penalties on cross-country but still finished seventh individually.
“It was his first CCI, and he really showed Mike and I what a great horse he is there,” said Fletcher. “It was a tough track, and he did it great. In the dressage, he’s not a fabulous mover, but he’s very well schooled now. He’s just not a hard horse to ride; he’s a workman. He’s got a high neck, but he just goes on a lovely rhythm at all times.”
In addition to his anticipated advanced move-up, Fletcher is riding Theo in a U.S. Equestrian Federation Eventing 25 training session with David O’Connor, Jan. 27-Feb. 1 in Ocala, Fla. Fletcher’s ridden with O’Connor before, and enjoys feedback from him and from his main coaches, Huber and Morris.
“Just about everything I know I’ve learned from Mike and Heather. It’s really just a blessing that we found ourselves on Mike’s doorstep. People of his status don’t necessarily always have the time and effort to put into people my age, but since I’ve been with him, he’s put 100 percent time and effort into me. I can’t say enough positive things about him and Heather. We’re also just a huge family at Gold Chip, and I don’t think you see that at a lot of other places,” said Fletcher.