When Doutzen jumped double clear to win a 1.30-meter class at the Lake Placid Horse Show (New York), the human team behind her didn’t just celebrate a job well done at a competitive show, they celebrated seeing years of patience pay off after rehabbing the mare through a series of injuries.
“That blue ribbon represents everyone’s dedication to this special mare,” trainer Jennifer Januzis said. “I am so grateful that this happened. It’s validation for all of us for sticking with her and not giving up.”
“Lucy’s” groom Katie Plummer echoed Januzis.
“Lucy, more than any other horse I’ve ever cared for, deserves to wear a blue ribbon,” she said. “No matter what happens, you don’t want to give up on a horse if they have the heart or the drive. You cannot create that; they have to have that on their own—and Lucy does.”
Januzis’ journey with Lucy has not been an easy one since the 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Zirocco Blue VDL–Luander, Carthago) arrived at Januzis’ Double J Farm in Pittstown, New Jersey, in 2015 with her owner Irene Briggs. Briggs got involved with horses when her daughter Madison started riding in 2013; when she decided to invest in horses from Europe in 2015, Lucy was one of those purchases.
“Originally, I was thinking that this would be a fun side business: buy a couple of horses in Europe, import them, train them, then resell them and repeat,” Irene said. “One of the horses we bought on the same trip as Lucy was Private Life, a very successful hunter that Scott Stewart purchased the minute we imported him.”
Irene sent Lucy to Wellington, Florida, with another local trainer to gain some mileage and exposure. Lucy picked up some good ribbons, but—at some point, unbeknownst to everyone—sustained a 50 percent tear of her left hind suspensory. In normal circumstances, that would be a career-ending injury. But the stoic mare continued to compete, not showing many signs of discomfort. After Irene and that trainer parted ways, more research, phone calls and suggestions led her to Januzis, who was happy to take on rehabbing the mare.
“When Lucy first arrived at my farm, she was on handwalking and stall rest for about six months, from July to December 2016,” Januzis said. “There was not much we could do at first but try to allow everything to heal a bit. Lucy was not easy to deal with during this rehab process; she was quite flighty and wild. I cannot blame her—she wasn’t allowed much movement.”
With the winter season on the horizon, Januzis sent the mare to Dr. Tiffany Marr, DVM’s, farm in Millbrook, New York, to continue her recovery on a walker and with small round-pen turnout. When they reunited in May 2017, Lucy slowly restarted under saddle.
“She was a little bit of a handful, but there was an immediate bond between Lucy and I,” said Plummer, who joined the Double J Farm team that May. “I was tack-walking and trotting her when Jenn didn’t have time. Lucy gives you that feeling of a horse with a lot of heart and courage.”
Now, Plummer knows Lucy from top to bottom, but things didn’t start that way.
“She’s like a stallion in mare form,” Plummer said. “You can’t pick a fight with her and win. The best way to get on her side is to work with her. She’s the queen bee. I can see a sweet side of her, and I genuinely love her and care about her. And it works.”
Thanks to the guidance from Marr, Dr. Kristen Darragh, BVM&S, and farrier Ira Green, Lucy was back in the show ring in low jumper classes by September.
“We took it so slowly; we couldn’t believe that she was back competing again because of how bad her injury was,” Januzis said. “I didn’t know Lucy at all—she had a show record prior to this injury, but I didn’t know if she would be suitable for an amateur. Unanswered questions kept popping into my brain: Is she too careful? Will she tolerate a rider’s mistakes?”
By the following April, she was ready to return to the 1.30-meter classes. But at Old Salem (New York), Lucy kicked at a horse in the stall behind her and got her leg—up to the stifle—caught in the bars.
“It was one of the scariest things I have ever dealt with,” Januzis said. “We were stabled next to Louise Serio that week, and her main guy came running over. Katie, me and a couple of guys had to hold Lucy up until everyone was able to disassemble the sides of the stall and then cut the bars on either side of her leg. When they were able to lower the wall, Lucy was able to slide her leg out. Everyone moved so quickly and efficiently—it looked more dramatic and drawn out than it actually was.”
Plummer held the mare’s head and tried to help her keep her balance.
“It felt like I was holding her there for four hours,” she said. “At one point, her right hind leg started to give out and I was worried that she was going to fall. There were several grooms who came over and held her up on her right side, since I was on the left. They cut six bars before we could get her out.”
Lucy only needed a few sutures for minor lacerations, and Januzis gave her some time off. But when they started back up, the mare was not quite right. They discovered she’d bruised her left front fetlock, and getting hung up in the bars exacerbated the lameness.
Lucy spent nearly a year recovering, but when she was cleared to restart, Irene and her husband were leery of spending more money on a horse that was often lame. Since Madison needed her own horses, Januzis suggested letting their daughter take the mare for a spin in the low children’s jumpers.
“It was a better job for Lucy; a lower-level job meant much less stress on her ligaments and her joints,” Januzis said. “But because of Lucy’s previous injuries, it was hard for Madison to practice a lot at home or compete in more than two classes per horse show. We were afraid of Lucy getting injured again, so her owners and I were really careful with her.”
The pair earned the low children’s jumper championship at the Devon Fall Classic (Pennsylvania) in 2019.
“When the last person went and we realized that Madison won, I burst into tears,” Irene said. “All of everyone’s hard work had come together and paid off. Madison did the victory gallop, and you could see her grinning from ear to ear.”
While the mare was recovering, another of Januzis’ mounts Calvin was injured. Because the Briggs family was hesitant to have to foot the bill on two horses, Januzis offered to take on some of Lucy’s expenses in exchange for ring time.
“Lucy is so fun to ride on a daily basis, even just to flat. I wanted to see if she could do a bigger job, other than the low children’s jumpers,” Januzis said. “Lucy is the horse of my dreams that I could never afford. She doesn’t have to be prepared for a professional. She shows up to work every day and is happy about it.”
For Irene, the situation was a win-win.
“Jenn knows what the horses need,” she said. “I didn’t know anything about horses—I put my trust in her. Lucy’s whole team have this cohesion; they all work together. They don’t fight over it. I am in awe that Lucy is doing as well as she is. It’s incredible. It’s not always about winning—it’s about doing your job successfully.”
The mare returned to the show ring in late March.
“Lucy didn’t feel any different to me than she did three years ago,” Januzis said. “She is one of the most special animals I have ever met in my life. If she can only show four or five times a year, I am perfectly happy with that. Even with all of these injuries, how athletic she remains is absolutely incredible.”
Plummer manages the mare’s routine carefully at home and shows. They make sure her ligaments are warmed up before competing and then ice liberally followed by salt-water spa boots on all legs. At home, Lucy gets as much turnout as she wants.
“I have to physically go get her from the paddock now—she used to hate turnout when I first met her,” Plummer said. “She gets her legs wrapped every night so her tendons are supported and I ice her daily. In addition, we keep Lucy on the vet’s schedule to make sure we don’t miss anything and that she’s sound.”
Going forward, Januzis will continue to show Lucy sparingly to keep her comfortable and happy.
“I can’t afford to show a gazillion times a month because I’m a professional, and she can’t show a lot because of all of her extensive injuries,” she said. “So in the end, it all works out.”
“Lucy has nine lives—she lives for horse showing,” Plummer added. “She’s like Seabiscuit; I always quote the movie. ‘It’s better to break a man’s leg than it is to break a man’s heart.’ As her people, we have to be her advocate and speak for her and keep her happy. She’s doing her job because she wants to. How do you give up on a horse like that?”
Do you know a horse or rider who returned to the competition ring after what should have been a life-threatening or career-ending injury or illness? Email Kimberly at firstname.lastname@example.org with their story.