When Stephanie Bulger bought Hemingway five years ago, the green horse wasn’t as cool, calm and collected as he is now.
“He was a little more nervous,” said Bulger, Long Island, New York. “He would over-try a little bit, and then he would get himself a little worried. But [trainer] Karen [Caristo is] famously extremely patient with the horses, and I think that first year we did two horse shows. He just needed to take a deep breath and get that confidence and sort of trust us that we weren’t going to throw anything scary at him. Once he realized life is good, he’s just been so steady.”
Sandy Ferrell got the ride on “Ernie” in 2016, and she has since piloted him from the pre-greens to the 3’9″ green division. In August 2018, they earned the winner’s cooler in the Platinum Performance USHJA 3’6″ and 3’9″ Green Hunter Incentive Championship in Lexington, Kentucky. Go behind the stall door to learn more about Ernie, a 9-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Edward—Goldpuppe).
• Bulger is a former English professor, and her father Leonard Riggio is executive chairman of Barnes & Noble, so when Caristo called saying she’d found a 4-year-old by the name of Hemingway, Bulger was sold. Hence the barn name Ernie.
• The first thing that comes to Ferrell’s mind when she thinks about Hemingway is his eyes.
“He just has these big, beautiful doe eyes,” Ferrell said. “I don’t think his mood ever changes, but every day you come to him he has the same beautiful expression on his face, every time he walks out of the stall. And it’s amazing how consistent he is with it. It just goes to show how solid his brain is. He’s never in a hurry to do anything, but yet he is, I think, very sure of himself, but not in an egotistical way. [He’s] a very wise soul.”
• Carrots, mints and apples are his staples, but Ernie eats everything, including children’s snacks.
“I have a 3 ½-year-old, and we sort of joke with him like, with all his little toddler snacks, which of the horses will eat peanut butter crackers or which one will eat tortilla chips,” said Bulger. “Ernie will kind of just eat anything.”
• Just as consistent as Hemingway’s personality is his presence in the ring.
“He’s a winner; he wants to go in the ring and win,” said Ferrell. “All of his talent is pretty much God-given; we don’t have to train on him a lot to get him to be a winner. I think he loves what he does, and I think Stephanie can attest to that. Every year he’s just gotten better and better. He has yet to plateau in his willingness to succeed, and I don’t think that’s ever going to be in him. I think he’s always going to be a horse to win.
“So, when you go in the ring, and all the stars are aligned, you know it’s going to be amazing,” she continued. “His jump—he probably is the straightest horse as far as his flight pattern, when he leaves the ground and lands, that I’ve ever ridden. He never goes left; he never goes right, and his shape never changes. Every part of his body does the correct thing.”
• Hemingway was no rocking horse when Bulger first bought him.
“When he came, he had the most uncomfortable canter of any horse I have ever ridden in my entire life,” Bulger said. “I used to say it was like doing Pilates because he was so bouncy and so animated that to hold yourself in the saddle was very challenging. Now that he’s much stronger, he’s much smoother and much easier to stay with. I actually feel like I hit a milestone recently where I was cantering on him, and I was like, ‘I actually feel like he’s comfortable now!’
“The first year we showed Ernie consistently, Sandy was actually hurt, so Holly Orlando rode him for a minute, and I think she just said it was like turbulence. It was so bouncy,” she continued.
But his jump makes any discomfort totally worth it.
“Once you jump him, you’ll forget all about the canter,” Ferrell said.
• Ernie was a bit unsure of himself when he was first imported to the States.
“He had just been in the country for a very short amount of time,” said Ferrell. “We bought him in the middle of the year, and he was a baby green horse, so there weren’t a lot of options come the fall. So, I think we only showed him twice. And he made mistakes as a baby when we first got him, but really I feel like after that initial getting to know him, by the time we got to Florida the next year he was circuit champion three years straight once he started to be a show horse. It was all business.”
• He’s the hard-working, humble sort.
“He’s not very impressed with himself,” said Bulger. “He’s a real worker, and you could ride him for two hours and feel like you still had horse left. But yet you could also ride him for 10 minutes, and he wouldn’t be wild. He just wants to do right and do what you want of him.”
• When it comes to Hemingway’s routine, Caristo keeps the focus on fitness.
“We jump if we need to jump,” said Ferrell. “You don’t have to train his jump, so his jump doesn’t need to be worked on like some of the horses might have to be. [The horses] are very fit; they do the treadmill. These guys have all the things they need. But they’re in a steady six-day-a-week work routine. There’s nothing crazy, just keeping him fit and healthy.”
• What’s Ernie’s biggest quirk? Well, he doesn’t really have one.
“I always joke that Ernie’s quite boring; he’s very straightforward,” said Bulger. “My horses are very spoiled, and they’ll kind of hear me coming and start nickering at me or kicking the door or pawing, begging for treats. And Ernie will kind of just stand there quietly, not really making too much of a fuss until I actually show up with the carrot. Then he’ll wake up a little bit. He’s not one to go running amuck in his paddock. He’s just very professional, and I think what he has in looks and talent he maybe lacks in personality, but we love him for it.”
• Ernie loves a hug or two.
“He loves you to wrap your arms around his head, and he’ll just kind of let you hold his head like that,” Ferrell said. “On the crossties once in a while, he might give you a look like, ‘Just don’t.’ He’ll pin his ears a little bit, and it’s like, ‘OK, just give him his space.’ But again, he doesn’t require a lot of things. It’s very simple.”
• Ernie’s tranquility and straightforwardness carry over to trail rides.
“I’ve never experienced a horse with that much talent and scope and ability who is so brave and easy out on the trails,” said Bulger. “He loves going out around the properties, and at our farm, at home [in New York] we have much more space than we do [in Wellington, Florida]. At least two days a week we just hack him out around through the paddocks, and he loves that. He’s so brave about stuff like that. Certainly other horses I’ve had who have been excellent jumpers have been just way too spooky and way too careful and nervous to do that with. But really Ernie is kind of like a trail horse at heart.”
• Ernie might be named after Ernest Hemingway, but that wouldn’t be his celebrity counterpart.
“He reminds me of George Clooney,” said Ferrell. “George is pretty cool. He kind of just does his thing; you don’t hear anything bad about him. He’s very successful; he makes good choices. People seem to really like him.”
Bulger agreed, “And he’s a gorgeous, talented, stand-up guy. And charismatic too. Ernie is very charismatic.”