A Quirky Thoroughbred Came Into Arledge’s Life At Just The Right Time

Oct 29, 2021 - 1:53 PM

Mill Spring, N.C.—Oct. 29

Holleigh Arledge wasn’t looking for a horse when she first met McNick. After withdrawing from college to seek treatment for her mental health, she started riding at a farm in Connecticut. “Nick” was two months off the track, and the farm owner offered to let her restart him because the two got along.

A few months later she moved back home to Virginia, and for a while she didn’t think much of the gray Thoroughbred she’d befriended. But as she resumed competing her own horse Donner Vogel, who she described as a “packer type,” she realized she missed the rewarding nature of working with the young, green gelding. Her dad agreed to purchase McNick as a project.

“We went up, and he’d really not been given the light of day after I left,” Arledge recalled. “The new assistant trainer that they’d hired had supposedly sat on him once or twice, decided she didn’t like him, and he sat in his stall for the four months I was gone.”

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Holleigh Arledge first partnered with McNick in the summer of 2018. Kimberly Loushin Photos

She spent a few months getting Nick back in condition before the two entered their first jumper shows together. They progressed from the .80-meters up to the 1.00-meter classes in the spring of 2019.

“He’s just a really good jumper in general,” Arledge said. “He puts in a really good effort, and he’s really careful. He never really says no, which is nice. He’s just really sweet. When I first met him, he was really, really shy, kind of head shy, super flighty. If you went into the stall while he was eating, he would stop eating and go stand in the corner. He didn’t want to be touched, but he’s really come around with his personality.”

When Donner Vogel fractured his pelvis in a pasture accident that spring and required a lengthy rehab, Arledge stepped Nick up to the adult amateur jumpers, and while the gelding had a lot to learn, he held his own. Under the tutelage of Caroline Adams, by fall 2020, the pair was confident enough to start jumping in some low amateur-owner jumper classes.

“Caroline’s great. It’s nice to be in a program that isn’t one size fits all,” Arledge said. “She’s very much accommodating with his quirks. He’s a little wild. He usually plays after he has a rail at home. He’s just kind of funny, fresh, wild all the time. He’s great.

“I’ve never met anybody that didn’t like him once they sat on him,” she added. “Mostly people don’t want to sit on him because they’re like, ‘Oh my God, he’s so hot; he doesn’t look like fun,’ but I think he’s really fun.”

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The Thoroughbred gelding raced 37 times before Holleigh Arledge began restarting him.

When Donner Vogel came back from a lease in September, Arledge entered him in the WIHS Regional Horse Show in Leesburg, Virginia, to regain their rhythm, and she brought Nick along to do the adult jumpers just for fun. They were second in their speed class and won the classic, taking champion in the division and punching their ticket to the Washington International Horse Show, being held this year at the Tryon International Equestrian Center, for today’s $10,000 WIHS Adult Amateur Jumper Classic.

“I was optimistic about [getting to come to WIHS],” said the 24-year-old from Broadlands, Virginia. “I had kind of talked to Caroline about possibly coming down here if either one of them did well, and she was totally game. He was on top of it. It was like crossrails for him at that point because I’ve been jumping a little bigger.”

Before Arledge got Nick (Giacomo—Desert Sunrise, Came Home), the now 10-year-old gelding raced 37 times, won six races and earned just over $100,000 before retiring in 2017. Arledge did some research and connected with his breeders, Helen and Caroline Stearns, and she keeps them updated on how he’s doing.

“It’s just nice to see people actually interested in keeping up with the horses they breed,” Arledge said. “You always hear that breeders are like, ‘I love hearing how things are going and keeping up with our horses,’ but it doesn’t always work out that way.”

Since they haven’t even hit the top of Nick’s scope, Arledge hopes to step into the medium amateur-owners in the future.

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“It all worked out for a reason,” said Holleigh Arledge.

“But if he wants to jump bigger, that’d be great,” she said. “The dream would be to do my first grand prix with him. It’s kind of hard because I’ve never jumped that big, and he hasn’t either, so it’s like, do I want to have somebody else do that first with him or what, but you know, I enjoy riding with him. I think he enjoys me well enough. I think he would do it, but we’ll see what he wants to do.”

And though they came together at difficult times for them both, Arledge doesn’t regret the circumstances.

“I’ve always struggled with my mental health,” said Arledge. “I ended up not doing very well, and I ended up leaving to get treatment for all that stuff. I just happened to be relocated to Connecticut in the end. And then it worked out. It was obviously worth it; I found Nick. It’s OK, I don’t really regret doing it. I think about it sometimes and I wish I had stayed and pushed through [college], but I wouldn’t have him otherwise, and he’s been really great. It all worked out for a reason.”

See full results.

The Chronicle will be on-site all week bringing you stories and photos on all the big winners. See our coverage here. Want more? Don’t forget to pick up a copy of the Nov. 22 issue of the magazine. What are you missing if you don’t subscribe?

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