When Bridgette Miller and Tsunami III crossed the finish line Sunday at the MARS Essex Horse Trials in Far Hills, New Jersey, there were happy tears all around. Not only was this Miller’s first time completing all three phases at the advanced level, but she did it with Sally Cousins’ five-star mare, a horse she’s idolized for over a decade.
“It’s just been such a Cinderella story,” said Miller, who fell in love with the now 20-year-old mare when she first met her in 2007.
Miller, 27, met “Sue” at one of Cousins’ first events with the “hot, opinionated” Thoroughbred (Roanoke—Tsu Tsu Slew, Tsunami Slew). “She was really, really wild in the warm-up,” Miller recalled. “But then I went to watch a couple of rounds, and she had her ears forward, looked amazing and jumped just a phenomenally clear round. So I ran down—I was only 15 at the time—and I talked to Sally and said, ‘That’s the coolest horse ever. I just love her!’ ”
From that moment on, Miller, whose mother is eventer Mikki Kuchta, followed Cousins’ journey with Sue. The pair evented at the advanced level for nine years, completing the Land Rover Kentucky CCI5*-L four times.
Cousins was well aware of how much Miller admired her stormy steed. “I never saw Bridgette [where] she didn’t tell me how much she loved Sue,” she said. “I thought it was a little unusual because she even said that when Sue was being a nincompoop!”
Sue “is not an easy horse,” Cousins admitted. “And it’s not like she’s just difficult at events; she’s difficult every day!”
But with the right rider, Sue is “absolutely spectacular” and a “reliable partner,” said Cousins.
The mare has quite a history in the sport. She got her start at the Penn National Race Course, and Kim Severson found her as a prospect. She was purchased by Severson’s supporter at the time, Linda Wachtmeister of Plain Dealing Farm in Scottsville, Virginia, and Severson competed her to the advanced level.
Cousins ended up getting the ride on Sue when Severson left Plain Dealing Farm to start her own business in 2007. “Kim was very supportive,” Cousins recalled. “She was helpful to me in figuring out how to get her going and stuff like that.”
And 12 years later, Cousins would do the same, helping Miller get to know this majestic mare.
“It was very hard on me to make that decision,” said Cousins, who leased Sue to Miller in May 2018. “I decided it was in Sue’s best interest maybe to take a step back, and I know that sounds odd to take a step back and to still be going at that level, but Sue really needed to step down from doing 11-minute [long-format] courses is the bottom line. To do 6 or 7 minutes is fine for her.
“I am very happy watching [Miller] ride Sue, but part of why I thought it was important to send her to someplace else was it was going to force me to get the younger horses going,” she added. “Because as long as I could tack her up, it was just too easy.”
Cousins knew it was going to take a special person to ride Sue. “It would be too easy to get frustrated with her and forget that in fact, when you missed some big table, she’s gonna fix it for you,” she said. But Miller, who’s ridden horses all her life, fit the bill perfectly.
Miller rode on the dressage team at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, graduating in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology. From there, she began working as an assistant trainer with her mother at Aiken Bach Farm in New York. She helps train the horses in their program and teaches lessons. She’s been competing at intermediate and preliminary with her own Special Agent, or “Salsa,” since 2016.
“One of the things I love so much is how even when Bridgette’s on course, she’s saying things like, ‘You’re such a good girl,’ or she’s patting Sue or something like that,” said Cousins. “That means a lot to me that she appreciates her as much as I did.”
Miller is based at her mother’s farm, but she still rides with Cousins in Oxford, Pennsylvania. “I’m lucky,” she said. “My mom’s a five-star rider, and Sally’s a five-star rider, so I’m constantly trying to use that. It’s amazing to have their support.”
And Miller, who came in eighth place in her advanced debut at Essex, couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to compete with Sue.
“Numerically, it wasn’t great,” she says of her score, which included a glance-off at two different corners on cross-country. “I’m still green at this level, but it was such an awesome experience, and I feel so much more ready for the next [competition]. I love this mare—I love everything about her. We’ve had a wild year getting here, and I couldn’t be more excited.”
Miller is looking forward to what comes next, but she knows it’ll be on Sue’s terms. “Fingers crossed, if everything goes well, I’d like to run Millbrook Horse Trials [New York] in August, and then I don’t really have a plan past that,” she says. “I kind of let Sue tell me what she wants to do.”
Cousins has the same philosophy when it comes to Sue’s future. “I think Sue will let everybody know when she’s had enough,” she said. “Right now, she certainly seems happy in her job.”
And Sue has Miller trained pretty well, too. “This horse runs my farm,” she said with a laugh. “Whatever she wants, she gets. If she doesn’t want it, it gets changed. She’s a total queen at our farm.”