It’s not often that you hear about someone buying a sport horse off a two-minute Internet video. But Liz Hutchinson did just that with her horse Glow, who, only a year after commencing his jumping career, took home tricolor honors in the first year green division at the HITS Sundance Festival Horse Show, held Feb. 7-11 in Tucson, Ariz.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like that!” said Hutchinson, who usually goes shopping for horses in Europe every few years.
Unable to make the trip from her home in California to Virginia to look at Glow in person, Hutchinson relied on her intuition and a short video clip of the chestnut gelding doing second-level dressage in Germany. With only two schooling shows under his belt, Glow was still a newcomer to the hunter ring, but Hutchinson believed the then 6-year-old would be able to make the transition.
“In the video, he had a commanding presence and was a great mover, so I figured I’d take a chance on him,” said Hutchinson, who’s always had an eye for horses.
“I was obsessed and used to beg my mother for riding lessons when I was a kid. She finally agreed and started taking me to Andrew Lustig for lessons once a week,” recalled Hutchinson, who rode with Lustig through her junior years.
After graduating high school, Hutchinson attended the University of Santa Cruz (N.M.), where she majored in American literature while continuing to ride intermittently. It wasn’t until the end of her senior year that she realized there was absolutely no way she would be happy working in an office.
“I just couldn’t fathom the idea of a desk job, so after college I started working at a Quarter Horse hunter/jumper barn and just sort of built my way up into the business,” admitted Hutchinson, who has owned Stellar Farms Inc., in Temecula, Calif., for seven years.
In an effort to build her new business and support herself until she got her head above water, Hutchinson commuted several hours to ride horses at Quail Run Farm in Los Angeles before returning to ride and teach at her own barn.
“Showing is the most important thing in the world to me, and by showing and having people see me, I was able to get clients of my own,” explained Hutchinson of her decision to spend hours in the car each day. “Finally my business took off and I didn’t have to make the commute [to Los Angeles] anymore.”
And while the blossoming of her business has many benefits, perhaps the most rewarding benefit of all is the privilege of owning her own horse. “I don’t like to buy and sell horses, but I do like to buy! It’s nice to have my own horse so I can do what I want division wise,” said Hutchinson, whose goal is to have a regular working hunter.
“A lot of people want to do the grand prix [classes], but my dream is a winning four-foot hunter,” she proclaimed.
And while Glow may not be the horse to take her to that division, she has worked hard to make him the best horse he can be. A ton of flat work, with a focus on getting him balanced and off his forehand, is the center of Hutchinson’s focus with Glow. The flat work strengthens his hind end, in turn helping improve his jump. But his commanding ring presence and good movement forces the judges to stop marking their class sheets and stare.
“I felt like I might be pushing him by doing the first years at only the seventh horse show of his career, but I was really happy he came here and went so nicely,” Hutchinson said.
A plethora of blue, red, yellow and white ribbons flapped against the Stellar Farms banner at the horse show, and they didn’t all belong to Glow. Hutchinson’s student, Jenny Calandra, earned championship honors on both of her horses, and her father, Tim Calandra, captured the reserve championship low adult amateur jumper title with his horse, Little Joe, as well as a second-placed finish in the Marshall & Sterling Low Children’s/Adult Amateur Jumper Classic.
“Both of my parents ride, and my father and I have lessons together sometimes,” said Jenny, 29. “We’ve even competed against one another at horse shows!”
Jenny’s parents put her on her first horse when she was 5, and she’s been riding off and on ever since. While her father tends to stick to the jumper ring, her mother, Jerrie Calandra, prefers the softer ride she finds in the hunter ring.
“My mom took over my old jumper, and he’s much happier doing the green rider hunters than he was in the jumper ring,” admitted Jenny, who showed her new jumper, Pikador, to multiple blue ribbons in the modified junior/amateur division.
“His main strong point, which we just realized after giving him time off, is that he loves his job. It’s so nice to have horses that, when they go in the ring and compete, are happy and want to do it. Pikador jumps great, but it’s also very helpful that he wants to do it,” she emphasized.
Not only did she manage to top the standings in the modified junior/amateur jumpers, but she also took the tricolor ribbon aboard Riccochet in the amateur-owner division back to her home in Murrieta, Calif.
“I’ve had Riccochet for a little over two years now. When I first sat on him, I really liked how he went and his great attitude,” said Jenny.
In a strange coincidence, Tim and Jenny Calandra weren’t the only parent-child winners during the Sundance Festival. Marlena Carlson and her daughter, Audrey, also topped the standings in their respective divisions.
Marlena rode a horse she’s leasing from Denise Wilson, A Thousand Words, to the adult amateur, 36-49 championship, while Audrey held her own in the small junior hunter ring with Limoges.
“He’s a wonderful performer,” said Marlena about A Thousand Words, or “Sweetie.” “At first, he was a little tense about being outdoors, but he settled down. He’s a great guy in the show ring, just a little hard to deal with on the ground–he likes to bite people. But he does so well at horse shows that the rest of it is worth putting up with!”
During a horse-buying trip to Kentucky last year, Marlena sat on Sweetie just as she was ready to give up hunting and head back to Colorado. “The horse I flew out to look at didn’t work out, so at the last minute my trainer, Michael Dennehy, came to me and said there was a junior hunter I should look at. We clicked right away in the schooling area in the pouring rain,” recalled Marlena.
While the majority of 15-year-old girls bicker with their mothers, Audrey and Marlena have a unique relationship. “It’s really cool,” said Marlena. “Riding together is not only fun but also nice because we have something to share. At the horse shows, we have a friend and competitor relationship as opposed to a mother and daughter relationship.”
“I definitely have a better relationship with my mom because of the horses,” said Audrey. “We have a lot of time to talk.”
Soon after giving birth to Audrey and her twin brother, Craig, Marlena started taking her daughter to the barn with her. Unable to keep her hands off the furry creatures, it wasn’t long before Audrey was on the back of a horse and begging her parents for her own pony.
“I used to go to the barn with my mom and hang out. I wanted to ride, partly because my mom did it, and partly because I just really love horses,” admitted Audrey.
“Over the years she’s become a much better rider than I am, but she had a better start with horses. I’ve always tried to make sure she’s mounted correctly,” said her mother.
By the time she was 12, Audrey was showing in the junior hunter division with a horse named Rift-Raft. And in 2006, at the age of 14, she won the small junior, 15 and under under-saddle at the Pennsylvania National, with Limoges.
“I spent my first few years of riding learning how to ride correctly and not really being competitive,” said Audrey, who now confesses that she can’t help thinking about the possibility of being champion when she knows she’s ridden well. “I try not to think about being champion, but most times I do anyway. The first day [of the Sundance Festival] I won two classes and was second, so the next day I just went in and tried to focus on what I had to do to win. Once I did that, I knew it didn’t matter if I won or not because I had done what I set out to do.”
A competitor at heart, Audrey also finds time to devote to her school’s soccer team. “It’s getting harder to go to the games because of horse shows, but I really enjoy it. But if I had to choose, I’d pick horses over soccer. I love traveling to shows and getting to meet new people and see different places,” she said.
Unfortunately, the barn is more than an hour away from the Carlsons’ Boulder, Colo., home, which cuts down on Audrey’s soccer time, but it gives her a great opportunity to practice driving.
“She just got her driving permit, which is both nice and scary,” said Marlena. “She shared the driving with me to Arizona, but she’s still inexperienced so I stay watchful!”