When Matthew Metell entered the ring to tackle the $30,000 Vermont Summer Special Grand Prix in East Dorset, Vt., on July 9, he had no real expectations. His mount, Donchalant, a 9-year-old, gray Dutch Warmblood, was still in quarantine just a few weeks ago, and this was only their second show together.
While the mare has an extensive European resume at the 1.50-meter grand prix level with her former rider, Rodrigo Silva Morgado, this was Metell’s first time jumping in a grand prix class.
But sometimes having no expectations gives the freedom to produce the best of performances.
Metell and Donchalant were the only pair to go clear over the Paul Jewell-designed track out of a field of 20. “She has a lot of international experience and she made it feel easy out there,” said Metell. “We bought her as a horse to do exactly what she just did today and, obviously, couldn’t be happier with her.”
Mettell is the first to acknowledge that their win came as a surprise, but at the same time proved that his faith in the process and this horse was well founded. Donchalant is owned by Wolver Hollow and was purchased by Mettell’s mentor and employer, Theodore “Teddy” Demetriou, at the end of their Florida season.
“We bought her with the hope that she would be my first grand prix horse,” said Metell. “She has lots of experience at this level. But you don’t want to jinx it.”
Metell credits Demetriou with helping to put the pieces together to help bring him to this victory. But in reality, Metell has been working toward this goal for many years. He grew up in Massachusetts and starting riding at Grazing Fields Farm, near Cape Cod, under the tutelage of Kathy Fletcher at the age of 7. In his 10-year career with Fletcher, Metell started in the ponies before entering the 3′ equitation classes and eventually competing in the big eq classes at the 3’6″ level. But it was always the jumper ring that drew his attention.
“I had a junior jumper, but when I was ready to jump bigger courses, Teddy came into the picture to help with the specific technique needed at that level,” Metell said. “For about a year or so, Kathy and Teddy helped me together. I did whatever I could in the jumpers on whatever I could ride. I haven’t always had the best horses.”
Metell competed in the junior section at the 2007 North American Young Riders and Junior Championships (Va.) and also won the 2009 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals-East (N.J.), which earned him a place in the George Morris Horsemastership Training session the next January. Supplemental coaching from Geoff Teall and an influential working student experience with Andre Dignelli at Heritage Farm (N.Y.) further helped to refine his skills in both the equitation and jumper arenas.
“I did my last junior year in the equitation with Andre,” said Metell. “I then worked for him part-time while balancing college, and finally spent several years working for him full-time after graduation [from Sacred Heart University (Conn.)].”
Metell has been able to pull from all of this experience and education in his role as a rider for Wolver Hollow in Chester, N.Y. “I have been very fortunate to have the help of many outstanding trainers at various stages in my career,” he said.
When it came to preparing for his first grand prix, Metell credits Demetriou for calculating the perfect formula. “Teddy is really good at coming up with a specific schooling plan,” said Metell. “He is good at setting the schooling jumps and getting us ready, so you do just enough and no more.”
Metell looks forward to competing at the Vermont Summer Festival, where he has shown for many years, and says that its relaxed, friendly atmosphere helps with minimizing show nerves. “We had competed in the Welcome [Stakes] earlier in the week, and that gave me confidence,” says Metell. “I got a chance to know the ring. We are still figuring out the tack and getting to know the horse, but I felt really relaxed and confident in the work we have done so far.”
Metell plans to compete Donchalant in the welcome stake and grand prix in Week 2 of the Vermont Festival before giving the mare a week off. “We might aim for HITS Saugerties after that and see how we stand in a slightly bigger class,” he said. “She may go to the [Hampton Classic]. We are definitely aiming for the [American] Gold Cup. We are still forming our final plan.”
It is said that luck is the combination of preparation and opportunity. Whichever path they choose, Metell is looking to create his own luck by using his years of preparation and catch riding to maximize this opportunity. “We were lucky enough to try [Donchalant] at the right time, and the owner decided to sell,” says Metell. “She is a special mare and I look forward to developing this partnership.”