Friday, Apr. 19, 2024

Allison Springer Is Really Ready For Rolex Now

Every setback she’s encountered is just one more learning opportunity for this talented young professional.

Allison Springer began her eventing career with guts, ability and big dreams. She planned to go straight to the Olympics with her first big-time horse, Tenacity.
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Every setback she’s encountered is just one more learning opportunity for this talented young professional.

Allison Springer began her eventing career with guts, ability and big dreams. She planned to go straight to the Olympics with her first big-time horse, Tenacity.

But, like many young professionals, she quickly learned that anything can, and will, happen in eventing. Springer took those roadblocks in stride and used them to further educate and prepare herself, so that now she believes she’s more prepared than ever to break into the elite ranks.

Springer, 33, has big plans for 2008. Aboard Arthur, her horse of a lifetime, she was named to the U.S. Equestrian Federation Winter Training List, and she’s headed to Rolex Kentucky with high expectations and the experience to back up those expectations.

“I’ve worked really hard, and I’ve put in a lot of effort,” said Springer. “I’m always putting a lot of effort into continuing my education and understanding the animal. I think this is what’s supposed to be happening. I’ve been working for this sort of year for a long time, and I hope it just continues.”

Phillip Dutton, Springer’s trainer of two years, said, “She’s got a lot going for her. She’s competitive, but she keeps that in check with her horsemanship. She tries every day to ride correctly and train her horses correctly. I think it shows up.”

So far, Springer has placed third in every advanced outing she’s made this year with Arthur, starting with the Pine Top Spring Advanced Horse Trials (Ga.) and continuing at the Red Hills CIC***-W (Fla.) and the Fork CIC***-W (N.C.).

“But there’s so much stuff I can do better,” said Springer. “There’s so much more I have to learn. I had a good dressage test at Red Hills, but I was thinking, ‘Man, I could have done so many things better.’ I’m so excited for the future. Not for a minute do I think I know it all or have it right yet.”

Springer, started her eventing career in Barrington, Ill. She first rode with Helga Revenaugh, mother to a U.S. Equestrian Team veterinarian Mark Revenaugh. Lisa Anderson took Springer to her first one-star, and she continued on with Ralph Hill.

“He teaches you how to kick around and get the job done,” said Springer.

She also worked with Peter Gray. “I think Peter is amazing because he’s big into classic position. That’s what I teach a lot. You communicate clearly with the animal through good position,” said Springer.

After her stint with Gray, she moved to Virginia to continue her education with Karen and David O’Connor. Along the way she rode on the gold-medal team at the North American Young Riders Championship in 1994 and graduated from Bowdoin College (Maine) with a degree in government and legal studies.

“I wasn’t allowed to take a horse my freshman year,” said Springer with a laugh. “I had been doing young riders and had a horse I did my first advanced on. I wanted to take it out East, and the owner, Nancy Roth, DVM, said I could, but my dad said no. Freshman year was about doing college.”

Education is something Springer takes seriously, whether she’s on a horse or not. “The horses are always here. If it’s meant to happen, then you can always come back to it. No one ever goes back and properly finishes college once you’re in the horse world,” she said.

Her Silver Lining

As Springer returned to the world of horses, she received a different kind of education. In 2001 and 2002 she attempted Rolex Kentucky on two different horses, Tenacity and Bonfire, but she didn’t complete either year.

“Way back then I had a blind young joy about it all,” she said. “I can’t say I’m old and wise, but there’s definitely a maturity that comes with all the lessons learned, and you generally learn lessons in this sport by things not going well.”

More About Allison Springer

Age: 33

Hometown: Marshall, Va.

Groom: Sarah Fitch

Horses: Arthur: ch. g., 9, Irish Sport Horse
                 by Brandenburg’s Windstar, owned
                 by Springer.

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                 Destination Known: gr. g., 10,
                 Thoroughbred, owned by Springer.

                 Tiamo: b. g., 6, Thoroughbred by A
                 Fine Romance, owned by Kaiti
                 Saunders.

                 A Jack Of Hearts: ch. g., 7,
                 Thoroughbred by A Fine Romance,
                 owned by Eric and Sheryl Williams.

                 Mozart: gr. g., 6, Irish Sport Horse
                 by Brandenburg’s Windstar, owned
                 by Jeff and Jamie Hedges.

                 Gold Dust Moon: dun g.,
                 Connemara, owned by Nancy
                 Winter.

Springer tries to maintain her positive outlook no matter how badly things go wrong, and one of her most crushing disappointments led to an important learning experience.

In 2004, Springer rode Kaiti Saunders’ Presto at the Fair Hill CCI*** (Md.). They fell at fence 9, a ditch
and wall, and “Spot” had to be euthanized that evening with two fractured vertebrae.

“After that happened I had Arthur and another young horse, Folklore, so I didn’t have any really going horses,” said Springer. “He was my upper-level horse. It’s so sad. It’s the hardest thing in the world to say goodbye to your friend. I took the opportunity to do a complete do-over.”

Although Springer was training with the O’Connors and placing well at competitions, she spent the
following two winters in Wellington, Fla., working with Grand Prix rider J.J. Tate and Olympic show jumper Anne Kursinski.

“I’d been winning the dressage at the advanced level, but there’s so much more than eventer dressage,” said Springer. “[Tate] is such an amazing instructor, and she just turned 30.

She’s completely changed my world as far as flatwork and how to produce a horse correctly.

“I took the attitude that I wanted to completely start over, redo my position, learn a proper dressage seat. I did everything, changing my saddle pads, changing my length of stirrups, getting more in the middle of the saddle, getting more body awareness, everything,” she continued.

And that education has paid off with Arthur. Springer bought the challenging chestnut Irish Sport Horse by Brandenburg’s Windstar as a 5-year-old.

“My friend Randy Ward called me,” said Springer. “He said, ‘I know you’re looking for a horse, and I just rode this horse, and it is phenomenal. It’s not an amateur’s ride. I’m not even sure he’s every professional’s ride. He’s a bit spooky, but he’s the most athletic animal I’ve ever sat on. You have to go and try him.’ ”
At the time Springer was looking for a horse with more experience, not a spooky young horse just starting out at training level.

“But I rode him and went back and rode him again,” said Springer. “This is a horse of a lifetime, and I knew that way back then. This is the horse. So I bought him.”

Although Springer achieved good results with Arthur from the beginning, the gelding had a difficult side to him.

“As a 5-year-old he had a proper spook. He could wheel on a dime,” said Springer.

She credited Tenacity, who Diane Senese gave to her, and Bonfire for teaching her many of the skills she needed for Arthur.

“Bonfire taught me a whole lot about riding a difficult or hot horse and the patience and understanding you need with that,” she explained. “Tenacity is a sensitive and sassy sort of horse. He’s got sass in his pants and is a little spunky, but you learn so much from every animal. Everything’s happened the way it was supposed to happen. There’s a reason for everything, and it’s all coming into place.”

Springer sought out Dutton’s help with Arthur. “I was drawn to Phillip, especially for Arthur, because he’s a sensitive and spooky sort of horse, and Phillip has such a good understanding for all different sorts of horses like that. He’s been really helpful in producing this horse correctly,” she said.

Dutton returned the compliment. “She’s got a promising up-and-coming horse that isn’t the easiest to ride,” he said. “It’s rewarding for me to see, and it must be hugely rewarding for her. She’s brought him along from a reasonably precocious young horse to one of the most promising horses in the country.”

Springer is especially proud of Arthur’s growing maturity. “Up until this year it was impossible to ride him on the day after a day off. I always had to ride him the morning of cross-country, not to tire him out, but to just take a little bit of the top off,” she said. “But what’s been so great about this year is that the half-halts are coming through, and I can get through it. If he gets a little nervous, I can ride a half-halt, and he focuses back on me. I took him to Red Hills for the atmosphere, and he was brilliant with the crowds.”

A Maturity Of Her Own

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While Springer has worked hard to educate herself and her horses by seeking out top professionals, she’s also learned some unexpected lessons from her own students.

Eric and Sheryl Williams, Lucketts, Va., met Springer when they were looking for an instructor to teach at their Rubicon Farm.

“We invited her to the farm so we could take some lessons, and we just fell in love with the way she teaches and rides as well as her innate ability to see what’s happening and communicate it,” said Sheryl.

“She doesn’t let you get away with anything. She’s a no-shortcut person,” said Eric. “When it comes to understanding flexion and bend and all those things, it’s always done the proper way. You might have to go backwards and learn the fundamentals to get the correction.”

As the Williamses got to know Springer better, they wanted to do whatever they could to further her career.

“She had serious goals between the Olympics and wanting to make a living in horses. You can’t do that without a plan,” said Sheryl. “Eric and I both come from a business background, and everything has to have a plan. She knew how to get there from a riding and a training perspective, but she didn’t really know how to get there from an overall financial preparedness perspective. We challenged her on a lot of things. How are you going to get there on one horse? What happens if Arthur trips tomorrow, and he’s done?

“We sat down and made her really think about how she spent all of her money,” Sheryl continued. “Was she spending it on the right things? If she got somebody to sponsor a horse, how much did she really need to do that? What does it really cost to train, compete and manage a horse? We made her sit down and think about all of those aspects of her business.”
 
Springer said it was a good wake-up call for her to realize that she’d have to do more than run a successful horse business to reach her competitive aspirations.

“I can make a lot of money doing lessons and have a nice life, but whatever I’m doing to make money has to support that ultimate goal,” said Springer. “It doesn’t make sense for me to teach a ton of people who need me to be at all the local events. That’s not something that’s going to fall into the business plan well.”

But she also said that teaching is one of her strengths, and it’s opened doors for her and allowed her to start building the string of horses that might take her to the Olympics. Now the Williamses own a horse for Springer, Jack Of Hearts.

“She found ‘Jack.’ He’s a super talented horse, and she’s a tremendously talented rider and trainer. It just seemed like the perfect combination. It was great to be able to help her out,” said Sheryl. “I can’t wait for a couple more years to go by and see what she does with him.”

Teaching also led her to Saunders, who first brought Presto to Springer for lessons, and then continued to buy horses with her after Presto’s death.

“If I had to go through it, if we had to have the bad luck, I couldn’t imagine it being anyone other than Allison,” said Saunders. “I didn’t want the insurance money. I wanted a horse in the barn. So we bought Folklore and Tiamo.”

Saunders, a litigator in Washington, D.C., is an amateur rider herself and didn’t plan to become an owner, but Springer’s integrity and horsemanship won her over.

“The process has always been an ongoing one of finding the right horse that will fit,” said Saunders. “Either it’s principally for me, and she ends up taking the ride on it, or it’s a special one for her that may later become an amateur ride for me. It depends on the particular horse. There’s a lot of trust in this business. I do this because it’s my hobby, something I love, but you have to trust the person who has your
horses. I’m so incredibly lucky that she has my horses.”

And it was teaching, as well as the business plan that helped Springer find her current situation at Foxlease Farm in Upperville, Va. The farm belongs to Julia Steiner’s family, and Steiner is Springer’s student and now rides Tenacity at the preliminary level.

“It’s been such a godsend to train at a facility like that,” said Springer. “That’s another huge worry that you have—how will I properly train? Foxlease Farm is so wonderful. It has a great ring, and all my horses are so happy there. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity.”

Even though all the pieces seem to be falling into place, Springer won’t take anything for granted this season.

“I want to go to the Olympics. That’s the big goal this year,” she said.

So far things are going according to plan. Springer continues to build her string of horses, which includes another talented advanced horse, Destination Known, as well as her promising young horses. Her results to date have been in line with her goals.

“Things aren’t going to go perfectly, that’s just life,” she said. “My hope is that every challenge I meet with is an opportunity to learn and do it better. I want to ride well. I’m OK with a lot of pressure to do well and people watching me. I’ve worked so hard for this, and I feel like my time is now.” 

Sara Lieser

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