Looking for an inspirational pair to cheer for on Saturday’s cross-country at the Rolex Kentucky CCI****? Take a good look at Daniel Clasing and Houston.
Clasing has shaped Houston’s career since the chestnut gelding stood on stilt-like foal legs, having bought him as a foal and trained him from initial breaking to the advanced level 12 years later. In addition, Houston is a U.S.-bred Anglo-Arab—part of the fourth generation of breeder Ann McKay’s program in Maryland.
To top it all off, Clasing, 27, and Houston are on the rebound after some disappointing results last year. How could you not want to clap for them?
Last spring, Clasing had Rolex Kentucky in his sights when a bout with Lyme disease sidelined Houston. It took some time to figure out what was wrong with him, because Clasing admitted that the pair tend to start out slowly at the beginning of the year. “Last year at the beginning of the season, he wasn’t great, but I didn’t necessarily think anything of it,” he said. “He wasn’t getting better as he normally does as time goes on—he was actually getting a little bit worse. He was jumping very flat and there was no power to his jump.”
Things came to a head in May, after Clasing rerouted Houston (Reputed Testimony—Amnesty, Quartermaster) to the Jersey Fresh CIC*** (N.J.). “Even though he wasn’t going great, I figured he’d be well enough to do the CIC at Jersey. He was OK in the first two phases. He’s a very genuine and stoic kind of horse,” he said. “When I got to the show jumping, he was so body sore everywhere. He acted like he just couldn’t get up over the jumps and had seven rails down.”
After tests revealed Houston’s Lyme antibodies were “off the charts,” Clasing treated him with antibiotics and gave him time to recover. “It was a huge relief to find out what was wrong with him and know that we’d be able to treat it and he’d be fine. I wasn’t terribly disappointed. I wanted to make sure if I was going to do my first four-star that I had a horse that was going well and in good form,” he said.
They rebounded with a strong fall season, culminating in an eighth-place finish at the Dansko Fair Hill International CCI*** (Md.).
Growing And Learning
Both Houston and Clasing got their start at breeder McKay’s farm in Monkton, Md. Clasing met McKay when he was just 8 and he started taking lessons with her. McKay inspired his interest in eventing. “We used to go to all the three-day events in the area,” he remembered, listing the Radnor Hunt CCI** (Pa.) and Fair Hill as favorites.
A trip to Rolex in 1999 as a spectator spurred him on to continue on a path to the upper levels. “Ever since, it’s been something that I’ve always wanted to do. Rolex has such a larger-than-life atmosphere and there’s so much going on and the horses are amazing,” he said. “From a young age, getting to see the best riders in the country [was amazing.] It certainly had a very lasting influence and I think it had something to do with me deciding to do this full-time and make that a high priority in my life.”
Clasing’s first serious event horse was Yardley (Carlost—Jane Morganroth, Sunset Enzio), a homebred Holsteiner-Anglo-Arab cross of McKay’s. He got the gelding as a 2-year-old when Clasing was just 8 and brought him through the advanced level. While he wasn’t the most fancy mover and could be challenging, Yardley taught Clasing the ropes. “He did have a bit of a buck in him. It never really bothered me. Ann never taught us to be afraid of the horses; it was kind of more of a rough and ready style of growing up. You get on a horse and you go,” he remembered.
Clasing also pursued training with Packy McGaughan, who helped him to the advanced level. “I had to sort things out at preliminary and learn to ride a little better. [Yardley] did tend to be a little bit cheeky. I had to learn to sit down and make him pay attention,” he continued. “Being young and naïve, I don’t think I ever doubted [making it to the upper levels] for a second. I always thought if I rode better, there would always be that extra level and I’d always be able to go there. When you get older, you realize that’s not always the case.”
Clasing earned an animal science degree at the University of Delaware and began training with Phillip Dutton at his True Prospect Farm in West Grove, Pa., where he polished his skills with both Yardley and Houston. “When I started working with Phillip, I was very much riding off of my feel and riding to the jump off my eye. In his program, the way he teaches people to ride is much more about developing the horse’s canter and [having] a good, balanced canter to the jumps,” he said. “The thing he stressed the most to me was that you’re riding the horse underneath you and not just looking for a spot and going to it.”
When he graduated college, Clasing started his own business, Yardley Hill Farm, located in White Hall, Md. With the help of his girlfriend, Olivia Stringer, he teaches a bit and breaks and trains sport horses and Thoroughbreds. He’d galloped racehorses throughout high school and college and was able to make good money, so it was a natural career move. “It’s very much a part of the culture in our area—a lot of steeplechasing and flat racing. At this point in my life, I still think it’s great for fitness work,” he said.
He admitted that while it’s tough for him to afford a made horse, his relationship with Houston is worth the time spent, and now that they’re facing the biggest competition of their career, he feels more prepared than ever. “He’s probably the only person or horse that I’ve seen every day for the last 10 years or so. It’s a very close relationship,” he said.