Karin Binz can’t help but tear up when she looks at the picture of herself holding a blue ribbon from Menlo Charity Horse Show (Calif.) earlier this year. It was her first big win with her 7-year-old bay Brandenburg gelding, Meant To Be, and the the show photographer captured the emotional moment. “I’m just so lucky to have this horse. I feel so, so lucky,” she said.
You might think that Binz is accustomed to winning big, as Meant To Be is ranked No. 1 in the country in the U.S. Equestrian Federation Young Hunter 3’6″ division national standings. You don’t get to that status without a fancy, scopey horse and without attending a slew of expensive horse shows.
But Binz, from Lomita, Calif., isn’t your typical champion horse owner. “I’ve always had to do it inexpensively,” she said. “My whole life I’ve bought them young and had to make them up myself.”
Binz started with a pony at age 12. She was able to ride with equitation trainer Karen Healey, and later trainer Archie Cox, but only by trailering in for lessons. After graduating from high school, Binz started braiding to make a living and to afford to show her horse, which she had purchased for $500. “Sometimes I would braid 10 manes and 10 tails in the early morning, and then groom and show my own horse later that day,” Binz recalled.
Fast forward a few decades to the spring of 2015, and Binz had recently lost her equitation mount Walnut Creek. She’d bought him inexpensively as a 7-year old because he couldn’t change leads. “He was a lunatic when I first met him, but we brought him along, and he was USEF adult equitation champion in 2014,” Binz said.
One of Binz’s friends kept telling her she needed another horse. She was resistant at first, but then she found out about Solitude, a 5-year-old who had just started showing. He was placing respectably but wasn’t a perfect match for his amateur-owner. Binz tried Solitude (Quaterback—Terra Inkognita) and then wrote the check to purchase him on the spot. After she found herself repeating over and over again how lucky she felt to be able to buy him, Binz started calling him “Lucky” and changed his show name to Meant To Be.
Lucky and Binz took things slow. They spent the remainder of Lucky’s 5-year-old year getting to know each other at home and entered just a few shows in 2016. It was far from smooth sailing: At one show they had trouble earning a hunter score higher than 60, and at the HITS Sunshine Series (Calif.) in November, Lucky was a little too fresh and spun Binz off, breaking her finger and her leg.
“In hindsight, it was probably the best thing that happened because that whole winter, [Brookway Stables’ emerging professional] Karli Postel got to ride him,” said Binz. “We had bided our time training him on the flat and getting him broke. That winter, Archie and Karli trained him up. Then this year he was able to come out and start doing the 3’6″.
Binz credits Postel as a crucial part of Team Lucky. “She’s a great, young, up-and-coming professional, and she has done a phenomenal job,” said Binz. “I get as much enjoyment watching Karli as I do showing myself.”
Binz had the horse and the training team, but the funds to show consistently was another story. Then she found out about the USEF Young Hunter Program. Terms vary per venue, but at Blenheim Equisports-managed shows, the young hunter classes have no entry fees, and horses in the division are offered their weekly stall at half price.
“I can’t stress to you enough how cool it is to have this young hunter program,” said Binz. Not only did they get free entries and a reduced-price stall, but there was also a $1,000 young hunter classic each week, so Lucky had the opportunity to win money. And he won plenty, more than $2,500 in 16 shows throughout the year. When you subtract that from what it cost for him to show, Binz was left with paying less than $6,000 in show fees for all of 2017. While Postel rides Lucky in the young hunter division, Binz herself was able to compete him in the low amateur-owner classes.
Of course, she still braids for others as well as braiding, grooming and riding Lucky. And to cut costs even more, she keeps him in a friend’s backyard in between shows, where he lives the life of a trail horse—complete with western saddle! Could Lucky have shown so much without this program? “Absolutely not, no, 100 percent not,” said Binz. “It was a very inexpensive way to get a lot of mileage.”
Next year, Binz plans to show Lucky in the 3’6″ amateur-owner division, and Postel will show him in the 3’9″ greens. But since he has aged out of the young hunter program, his show schedule will be more limited. “I have a budget,” said Binz. “If he wins money back, we can go to more, but we were only able to do that this year because it was so inexpensive.”
But Binz isn’t disappointed to be on a stricter show schedule next year. “To quote my mother, ‘It’s a rich man’s sport,’ ” Binz said with a laugh. “It’s an expensive sport; there’s no getting around it. But this rich person sport has been good to me. I can’t complain; I’ve made a living out of braiding horses. And at the end of the day, while I like horse showing, what I really love most is having a horse and having that relationship.
“It’s been a really fun year. I’m just so lucky,” Binz said again. “I feel really lucky to own this horse.”