Seven months ago, it was uncertain if Natalee Haggan would return to the show ring. In a freak accident, a 2″ x 6″ board fell on her head, knocking her out and to the ground. When her head hit the cement, the back of her skull fractured, earning her a brief stay in the ICU.
“The doctors [told] my husband [they gave me] like a 50/50 chance,” she said. “It was serious. It took me a while to get with it. I was out of it. It was hard to describe—I just lost like a month and a half of my life. I was only in the hospital one or two nights because the bleeding in my brain stopped, but I don’t remember the first 10 days at all. Then it was just a long slow road.”
While thankfully she had no lasting symptoms of the incident, it wasn’t easy returning to her normal life.
“It just was slow,” she said. “I was having trouble stuttering and remembering words. I did speech therapy, and that came back pretty fast. I was pretty lucky.”
She was back in the tack in July, and on Sept. 9, she tacked up MTM Full House for her first show since her injury. The show proved to be a fruitful one when the 9-year-old gelding jumped to the top of the of the $25,000 Ride For The Roses Grand Prix held during the Texas Sport Horse Cup in Tyler, Texas.
“The beginning of the week was a little rough for me,” said Haggan. “I was pretty wound up and nervous and being pretty hard on myself. But after the welcome stake on Thursday I felt a lot better about doing a class on Saturday. He ended up third [in the welcome stake]; he was double clean. He probably would have won, but I was being a chicken and not pushing enough.”
The Texas Sport Horse Cup marked Haggan’s first show aboard the Hanoverian (For Pleasure—Costa Rica) owned by MTM Farm. Tracy Fenney and Mike McCormick imported him in late 2015 as a sales horse. Fenney and “Fuller” jumped in a handful of grand prix classes in 2016 before he was put on the back burner while Fenney was traveling with some of her top mounts. Fenney handed the ride over shortly before Haggan’s accident, so the gelding waited around until Haggan was back in form.
“He’s not very big, but he doesn’t know that,” said Haggan. “He’s very, very confident in himself, and he loves his job, so we’re pretty excited about doing him. He doesn’t have the best style, but he’s extremely careful.
“He’s always the first horse to neigh at you,” she continued. “It doesn’t matter what time you come to the barn, how many times you’ve been at the barn that day, he is like ‘Hello. I am here. Pay attention to me.’ It’s all about him.”
Haggan, 36, came to work for MTM Farm in Flower Mound, Texas, three years ago by accident. She borrowed a young hunter from them for a show, and she brought it back the following week, Fenney asked her if she knew anyone who could take care of their farm while they were on the road. Haggan’s response was: “Yeah, me.”
Haggan’s main responsibilities include managing the farm and riding the young horses. And every once in a while, she gets to compete.
“My goals for myself are basically to just do what I did on Saturday,” she said. “And just to have the opportunities to get in the ring to do as much as possible. I have a super supportive husband who lets me do what I want. I would like to go on the road with them at some point and stay on the road with them for a little while and see if I can get out of our area to show. But as far as big goals—a big goal for me is just making sure everyone at the farm is good and going well and top notch.”
Haggan is used to working her way up. The only horse-crazy member of her family, her parents would drop her off for her lesson and then she’d spend a few hours doing chores around the barn to earn extra rides.
Then in 2000, she took a job working for the Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament. A friend worked in the gift shop and tipped her off when they were looking for another rider for the show. Though the main trainer Marcial Contreras informed her that the show didn’t typical hire women for the show riding positions, he liked her enough that he hired her anyway. While there, Haggan worked with a long-rein horse trained to piaffe and levade as well as riding in a quadrille and performing some Grand Prix dressage movements. She worked for the company for three years before returning to the hunter/jumper world.
“I had another one of those lucky breaks—I happened to be at the right place at the right time and Marcial took me in,” said Haggan. “He’s an unbelievable trainer. He took me in, taught me how to push all the buttons right off the bat and practice on all of these horses that know all these things, and I picked it up pretty quickly. It was for sure fun, but I love jumping. I love the thrill of it.”