UN has spent plenty of time at the Fair Hill International in Elkton, Md., twice finishing in the top 10 in the CCI***. But this year, having just recently retired from her upper-level career at the age of 22, she was more of a spectator, keeping UNanimous, a 4-year-old mare she foaled, company as she contested the USEA Young Event Horse East Coast Championships, held Oct. 12-13.
“Being a 4-year-old and going over to that venue is a little challenging,” Sleeper said. “UNanimous hasn’t been out a whole bunch, and I haven’t done a lot of the young horse classes myself. So UN [went] over as her companion, which [was] fun. People always like to see her.”
Sleeper, 67, purchased UN, a 16-hand Irish Sport Horse (Cavalier Royale— Never Ever, Bahrain) as a 2-year-old from John Brennan, a breeder of show jumpers in Ireland. She wanted a mare out of the Thoroughbred Bahrain line that she could compete for a while and then use as the foundation mare for an Irish Sport Horse breeding program in the United States.
But UN’s competitive career surpassed Sleeper’s wildest expectations. They completed five CCI****s, including Rolex Kentucky four times and the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials (England). In 2013, Sleeper handed the reins to her assistant trainer, Ashley Norris, who rode the seasoned mare at intermediate.
But this spring, UN officially retired to teaching lessons on Sleeper’s farm in East Fallowfield, Pa.
“She loves all the attention,” Sleeper said. “She’s gained a little weight, like we all seem to do! But she is a great horse to teach on if you know your basics pretty well. This one young rider came for a lesson on her last year, and [UN] really got her confidence going. Afterward, she was able to get on her off-the-track Thoroughbred, put her hands down, and ride a little bit more forward rather than always checking. UN was able to teach her that.”
In 2006, Sleeper produced UN’s first foal via embryo transfer. The foal, a filly named UNO by Harry The Hat, was born the same day Sleeper and UN won an advanced horse trial in Maryland, which happened to be held on Mother’s Day that year.
Sleeper started and produced UNO, which she’s done for four out of UN’s five offspring; the fifth, Her Majesty (by Kannan), was sold in utero to an amateur rider.
“The fun thing about UN offspring is that they’re all pretty kind, so I can still ride them,” Sleeper joked. “I’ve always broken babies to make money on the side for my eventing career. In the past it was lots of race horses, but I really enjoy having these homebreds. All of them are good jumpers, and they’re good movers—although they’re just a little self-willed, so the dressage is a little tough. They’re a lot of fun, though. I sort of wanted to take them up the levels myself, but I didn’t plan on aging out!”
Sleeper sold UNO to four-star competitor Colleen Rutledge, who rode the mare to sixth in this year’s Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International CCI**. UNO’s full sibling, 9-year-old UNder Your Hat, sold to Amber Levine this spring as an intermediate horse.
But not all the kids are following in mom’s hoofprints. UK, also by Kannan, trotted out as a jumper for the first time this fall under Olympian Anne Kursinski, who used to give Sleeper lessons on UN.
“Jane brought him to the farm wondering if he might make a show jumper, and I said, ‘Yeah, actually!’ ” Kursinski said. “He’s very careful, very smart, athletic and eager to please. So I started him in the 1.20-meter and then 1.30-meter, and he got nice ribbons, might have even won a class. The more I rode him, the better he got.”
After only six weeks together, Kursinski entered UK in the $25,000 7-Year-Old Princeton Young Jumper Championship (N.J.), held Sept. 27-Oct. 1.
“I didn’t know if he’d really be ready—it’s a 1.30-meter that ends up at a 1.35-meter, which we had never done before,” Kursinski said. “Well, he jumped clear, clear, clear, and he won the whole thing.”
Sleeper regrets that she didn’t start breeding UN sooner. Because UN can no longer carry an egg for a full week, traditional embryo transfer isn’t an option anymore. But Sleeper’s talking with veterinarians at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center about innovative procedures that might bring more UN babies into the world.
Although with five foals on the ground, the mare’s legacy seems secure.
“It’s amazing to me the luck that was involved in selecting UN as a 2 1⁄2-year-old,” Sleeper said. “I just feel so lucky with how she turned out, and then to have her babies give me more than I ever expected. It’s just been a grand ride.”
This Finish Line article appears in the Chronicle’s Nov. 6 print edition, which also includes in-depth coverage of the Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International CCIs, the Dover Saddlery/U.S. Hunter Seat Medal Final, the Pennsylvania National, the Midsouth CCI*, and more. There’s also a compelling Between Rounds by Jonathan Holling, “We Need To Stop Lying To Ourselves.” See the Nov. 6 Table of Contents. What are you missing if you don’t subscribe?