Ariana Marnell vividly remembers the first time she saw Ocean Road. It was during the $100,000 WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular at the 2020 Winter Equestrian Festival (Florida), and his owner and regular rider Keri Kampsen had offered “Roady” to fellow professional John French, who finished ninth in the highly competitive class with him.
When Marnell started looking for her next junior hunter, she and her parents kept thinking back to the stylish gray. Near the end of that year, they were in Florida for a horse-shopping trip when he caught their eyes again. But Kampsen and co-owner Lexy Reed were reluctant to sell the gelding.
“They kind of didn’t want to sell him because he’s so special,” Marnell said. “We came to the show actually to watch a different horse, and when Roady won that day we were like, we really want him. We’re still so thankful that they let us have him. He’s the best.”
Marnell found instant success with the 10-year-old Belgian Warmblood (Canatano Z—Taquina Van De Waasdonck), earning reserve championships in the small junior hunters in back-to-back shows at the 2020 ESP New Year’s and 2021 WEF Premier (Florida). During WEF 12, they won the national hunter derby on the grass field in their first derby together and the small junior hunter, 15 and under, championship. More championships followed at venues including Upperville (Virginia), Great Lakes Equestrian Festival (Michigan) and the 2021 Adequan/USEF Junior Hunter National Championships—East (Pennsylvania). They were sixth in the Section B standings of the 2021 Platinum Performance USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship (Kentucky). They also earned a reserve championship at Capital Challenge (Maryland). In 2022 they earned top ribbons at Devon (Pennsylvania). He’s started the 2023 season strong, earning reserve in the small juniors, 16-17, behind barnmate Babylon during WEF 3.
“He’s such a gem,” Marnell said. “He’s never put a foot out of place ever. Every mistake is always mine, and he tries so hard all the time.”
We caught up with Roady and Marnell at his home in Wellington, Florida, at Team KPF, where trainer John French is based.
• Roady is like the guy in the office who is Mr. Professional on the clock and the star of happy hour afterward: At work he’s always serious, always focused on the job at hand. But after hours he’s the guy telling jokes and making people laugh.
“As soon as you get on he knows it’s serious, and he’s very serious,” Marnell said. “And then on the ground he’s kind of goofy. He’ll pick up things. If you’re in the barn aisle and someone’s hat is on a tack trunk, he’ll pick it up and play with it.”
• Roady loves his job—so much so that you’ll see him power walking up to the ring.
“[He] walks so fast up to the ring, and once he gets there, he takes a big sigh,” she said. “I think he just loves it. He loves to show, and he loves to jump. I think he loves people.”
• If you’re nearby, don’t even think of ignoring him. Clearly all humans are intended to keep him entertained.
“He just always wants someone to cuddle with him,” Marnell said. “If you’re near him and you’re not giving him attention, then he’s really unhappy. Once you go up to him he’ll walk away—it’s kind of funny. [One day] I was cleaning my boots by him, and he was sticking his head out and kind of kicking like, ‘Give me attention!’ ”
• Just as he’s never met a person he couldn’t befriend, Roady adores all four-legged creatures. He loves Babylon, and the two enjoy turnout next to each other. He is interested in making friends with the dogs he meets at shows, but his true fascination is goats. Yes, goats.
“In the Hamptons [New York] the barn we were laying over at had baby goats, and he had a ball with the goats,” she said. “He would watch them. We brought him over there and let the goats lick him. He likes all animals really. He’s so fascinated. He went right over there and put his nose in the little gated area.”
• Roady might not be the biggest horse in the barn at 15.3 3/8 hands, but he’s got one of the biggest jumps.
“He’s a little guy, so it’s really kind of deceiving,” Marnell said. “There’s nothing he can’t jump. All the high options easy for him.”
• He’s an old soul. He doesn’t need to be longed, and he doesn’t ever need to do a schooling division. His easy-going nature makes him a barn favorite.
“Roady’s always been so mature, but he’s so funny,” she said. “He has a personality which is nice, but everybody loves Roady that meets him, like, ‘Oh this is the best horse.’ He’s a lot of fun. Everyone that rides him is like this horse is so much fun because he’s really simple, and he just really enjoys it.”
• Being so cute on the ground while also being a professional in the ring is hard work, so Roady enjoys his naps—a lot.
• “Picky eater” is not a term to describe Roady. He’ll eat just about everything, but bananas are his favorite.
“He’s a hungry hippo,” Marnell said.
• There’s a stereotype that gray horses enjoy being filthy, and Roady perpetuates it to a T.
“Whenever he gets his grain he makes sure he gets it all over his face, up to his ears,” said Marnell. “If you put him in his stall for 10 minutes unattended, you come back he’s covered—he’s green.”
He also believes manure makes an excellent pillow, so if he’s been cleaned up for a class, someone better keep an eagle eye on him. Turn your back for a second, and you’ll be pulling him out for a spot clean.
• Roady’s got an eagle eye of his own.
“He notices everything, and maybe that’s why he’s so brave,” said Marnell. “There’s nothing he misses. Every person, animal, flower—everything, he sees.”
• Roady is a big fan of the stuffed animal that lives in his stall, but Marnell admits she’s not entirely sure what it is. Her best guess: a dinosaur or dragon.
“He really likes it,” she said. “You walk up to him, and he’ll be playing with it. I don’t know if he thinks it’s maybe his kid or something, but it’s pretty funny. He loves it.
“We had a bunch of stuffed animals as options for the horses and put them out, and Roady picked that one, so we gave him that one,” she added.