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August 13, 2014

Tate's Tale

Sinead said that part of what makes Tate so special is his "Frenchy," diva attitude (shown here). Next month, this French-bred gelding will have a rendez-vous in his native country, but representing the U.S. for the WEG.

If someone had told me on that day back in 2007 that the leggy, shy chestnut that I was on a day trip to Cherbourg, France to see would be the 2011 USEF National Champion, the U.S. first reserve for the 2012 London Olympics, and ultimately return to France as part of the U.S. eventing team at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games...I would have told that person to invite me to the land of make-believe they were living in!

When Manoir de Carneville, or as we call him, "Tate," first made the ferry trip over to England from France, I walked him onto the lorry at Gatcombe where I had been based for six months, and made the trek down to Dorset, England to start my new job with William Fox-Pitt. Three hours later I arrived late to be greeted by William’s staff who had been politely waiting at the barn after hours to greet me.

I was eager to impress, so quickly ran around back, dropped the ramp and a puff of steam and one sweat-drenched, skinny chestnut looked at me. A few four-letter words might have escaped under my breath. It seemed that in my hurry to get on the road I had forgotten to open any windows in the lorry. Let’s just say neither William's staff, nor my new horse, was very impressed with me.

For that first month, I turned Tate out with William’s then-two-star mount (and eventual Rolex Kentucky CCI**** winner), Cool Mountain, in a field filled with puffy white sheep, before we started our career together. When Tate came back in to start work I realized that this “Frenchy” was totally cool with stuff—until he was not. The only way I could describe his personality was to call it “French.” (No offense to anyone who is French; I’m sure you get it.) 

For example, Alice Fox-Pitt’s secret Christmas present (a very fat palomino hunter) escaped his stall and wandered to check out the Frenchy in stall number 3. Tate promptly let him know his opinion by kicking his leg out in protest, straight through a metal door, severing his hind extensor tendon… in half. That put a halt to our next six months of work. I was very lucky Tate turned out to be quite resilient.

Seven months later I had him on a plane headed back to the United States after competing at a mere two events in England. It was 2009. Two years after I'd gotten him.

Tate carried on his French ways for the next few years. Kicking pads became our friends and this French character would often show up in the dressage arena, at wash racks, if a paddock was too small or if it was far too big, if he was left alone or if he felt crowded, in response to quick-moving vets. God forbid there be cows, metal bits, mud, poles on the ground, cracks in the concrete or funny lighting.

But other than all of that, he was a quiet as a church mouse! I honestly think I enabled his inner diva, but in years to come his French flair (or flare) has helped him become one of the most amazing horses in the world.

On American soil, Tate promptly jumped around Fair Hill CCI**.  I had concerns about his jumping technique and his distaste for the bit, but his gallop was to-die-for and although he never gave me the feeling of limitless scope, he certainly wasn’t struggling. So I guessed the next step was to aim for Jersey Fresh three-star. But, about a month before the event I got bucked off a young horse and broke my arm, so I couldn't go. But I do remember Karen O’Connor generously offering to ride Tate for me. In hindsight, I’m glad I politely declined. I’m sure she would have recognized his brilliance, and I may not have gotten him back!

Tate and I carried on to finish third at Fair Hill CCI*** the next year, which got us a ticket to compete on the Nations Cup Team in Boekelo (the Netherlands) in 2010. I went over there thinking we were going to nail it. Gotta love the naiveté of youth!

This trip was the first time Tate got a taste of crowds—and this horse was made for the stage! He pranced all over the place, and my 10-year-old ended up acting just like a kid an hour after eating four bags of Skittles and Pixie Sticks. But he crashed from that “sugar high” as soon as he cantered into the main arena for our dressage test! I literally had to Pony Club-kick him around the test, and we scored a mediocre, sleepy 50-something, which put us somewhere in the middle of the pack. But the next day, he went out strong on a muddy cross-country course sitting in anchor position—the pressure was on.

And man, did he prove that he was more than a pretty face; he dug deep and wrapped up a gritty, clear round with 1 time penalty. Most people don’t remember Team USA’s strong result there because it was just at the beginning of the social media craze that has really connected Americans to international events. Team USA finished in silver medal position behind a certain German team consisting of new phenom Michael Jung, and teammates Ingrid Klimke and Bettina Hoy.

The next spring (2011) Tate and I tackled our first four-star at the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** with a fairy tale ending—third place behind Mary King who was in first and second—thus securing the national title. I will never forget his hind legs hitting the ground after the last show jump; my eyes were closed, I just heard and felt them on the ground and emotions from years of ups and down were on display for all of the crowd and NBC to join in on.

The last few years have been such a transition period for us. We learned some hard truths about what it really means to be professionals, and the pressure of expectation. But we did it together and with every low we came out stronger and better, together. The low of not going to London [as a part of the 2012 Olympic team] was low but it did not define us—it took us to the next level. We had a career high at Burghley that year.

I remember Tate going into that ring and he took over the reins, went into extended trot, and it was HIS stage; I just sat tall and did my best to hold up my end of the show. We both knew what we needed to do on cross-country and this was not time for a dance; we did our job.

But show jumping was not our day. I knew it from the second jump. He was so tired and sore after a very long season of Olympic prep and then having to re-route our plan took its toll, and I felt nothing but compassion for him.

The end of 2012 and beginning of 2013 were stressful because the idea of syndicating Tate on the horizon. Until that point, I was so lucky to have Jim Cogdell as the sole owner of Tate. Jim is the only reason Tate and I are together. He saw I needed a leg up and one good horse back in 2007 and he made that happen. I am forever grateful.

In the end of 2012 we decided to syndicate Tate in order to relive some of the financial burden as well as get some more people involved in the journey. Around that time, there had been several cases of riders losing their mounts to foreign countries, and Tate had certainly made a name for himself. So we kept this as quiet as possible. Fortunately I got a phone call from a wonderful woman named Chris Turner, who is now a dear friend. She stepped up and bought a majority of the shares because she wanted to be a part of getting Team USA back to the podium.

She was followed by my great friend Kristin Micholaski. But Jim made sure my mom maintained a share to represent the Cogdell family. Tate has been part of the family from day one and my strong-willed Irish mother was going to stay on this journey come hell or high water!

More good luck came our way when a family I had met in Michigan at a clinic moved to New Jersey with their little girl, Kasey. The Callanans caught wind of the syndicate and jumped in at the opportunity to help the team. Then, through an introduction from Tim Holekamp, I had the pleasure of meeting Margaret MacGregor, her husband Jason, and avid riding son Parker—who also came to join the team. Tim had been a sounding board during the whole syndication journey, so he and his wife Cheryl snagged the last share. A perfect addition to finish out the Manoir De Carneville Syndicate!

So here we are. Its 2014 and my teammate Tate and I have been fighting all season (much longer, really) for our spot on the WEG team. We are no longer riding on blind faith and luck. We have been working endlessly to sharpen up every level of our game.

We have driven five hours for 45-minute dressage lessons; left the barn every four days at 4:15 a.m. to get to a perfect gallop by 7 a.m., headed to upstate New York for jumper shows; taken countless lessons, and learned everything seemingly possible about new-age veterinary therapies. I have put myself out there and gotten tough but constructive criticism about every phase.

And I have put everything I have—emotionally, financially and physically—on the line, and so has my team.

I now know that this way of life is Not Extreme, it is just what it takes. When that bit of luck and opportunity meet, you just do what it takes.

And when you have a horse like Tate, you just do what it takes. 

Go USA!

Sinead Halpin Equestrian

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