Dr. Maria Brazil and Amanda Bray found themselves sporting quite a bit of blue throughout the awards ceremonies at the Hill N’ Hound Fall Horse Trials, held Oct. 23-24 in Kane, Ill. The two women were members of both the winning novice and preliminary teams of The Chronicle of the Horse Central Adult Team Challenge, and Brazil won individual titles in open preliminary and a division of open novice.
Brazil, an anesthesiologist who purchases most of her horses through friend and mentor Julie Ulrich of Friar’s Gate En France, took a little gamble with her preliminary mount, Lottery Ticket, a 9-year-old Thoroughbred she purchased off the track for $500 five years ago.
“As I put him on the trailer one of the trainers at the track said, ‘Well horse, you just won the lottery!’ ” she recalled. “I said, ‘Nope, I just bought a lottery ticket.’ “
The black gelding is starting to pay out big time, winning at Hill N’ Hound a few weeks after taking second place at Queeny Park (Mo.). They led their team, Passion of the Prelim, although theirs was the only team competing at the level.
Brazil was second after dressage to teammate Jill Wagenknecht, a master of the Bridlespur Hunt (Mo.), and Lord Yac, a 13-year-old, off-the-track Thoroughbred purchased from Bray seven years ago. In this, their second preliminary outing together, they scored fifth place. Wagenknecht, 42, of St. Louis, Mo., trains with Jim Graham during the summer, and, like Brazil, gets dressage help from JoAnne Bonnell.
Adding only 4.4 cross-country time penalties to her dressage score, Brazil, 48, of Pacific, Mo., secured a lock on first place. “That horse of Jill’s is hard to beat [in dressage],” she said. “Cross-country [Lottery Ticket] was fabulous, but stadium is his best. He could be a hunter. He’s like a metronome–he’s the easiest horse I’ve ever had to find a distance on, he’s so even.”
Brazil spent 18 months training with David and Karen O’Connor, while working in Virginia. When she sent one of her preliminary horses home for a rest in July, she brought Ubiquitous to Virginia and started her back into work. The 6-year-old homebred mare by the Trakehner Amethyst, out of an Abdullah mare Brazil used to compete, stepped up to the plate this year, taking an individual novice blue at Hill N’ Hound in addition to helping secure the Novice Nags’ team win.
They finished on their winning dressage score of 29.5, earning the low score award. “She’s a young horse, and this was the first time she spent her entire focus on me [during the dressage test],” said Brazil. “I knew she could do it. Before, we’d get 8s and then 3s or 4s when she was being bad! She’s a very brave jumper. She must get that from Amethyst [who competed at advanced]; she doesn’t look at much of anything.”
Brazil now owns 10 horses, but her success and her herd didn’t form overnight. “I went to nursing school and then put myself through medical school working as a nurse,” she said. “I bought my first horse with my first paycheck out of medical school. I’ve always loved horses.”
Bray, who boasts only four years of eventing experience after doing hunters and jumpers her whole life, returned to her new home near Memphis, Tenn., after sharing the novice and preliminary spotlight with Brazil.
Her preliminary mount, High & Mighty, competed with her in the jumpers until a friend introduced Bray, 36, to eventing.
The 8-year-old, off-the-track Thoroughbred gelding took to his new vocation pretty easily, placing third individually at Hill N’ Hound in his third outing at that level. “The dressage we’ve really started working on, for me, to be more competitive. I haven’t ever had a stop with him–knock on wood–you just know it’s going to happen.”
She originally picked out “Ely” for a friend but purchased him from her when the friend became too busy with law school. “I’ve been into horses my whole life, but he’s the first horse I’ve bought specifically for me to keep and improve myself. I didn’t buy him to sell him; I bought him for me,” she said. “He’s part of the family.”
Bray’s husband, a New Zealander, is a professional polo player, and she takes care of his ponies, in addition to her own horses. They recently moved to Tennessee from St. Louis due to his work.
The Novice Nags boasted the winners of both open novice divisions–Brazil and Sharon Null with Tain–in addition to Bray and Leslie Granger, who placed second behind Brazil with Black Diamond Run.
Tain, a homebred, 10-year-old, Thorough-bred-Quarter Horse cross by Youknowwhat-imean, finished on her dressage score of 31.0 to win her division. Null, 43, of Wentzville, Mo., bred the chestnut mare for the hunters, but she switched to eventing five years ago.
“I was thinking of doing training here, but Leslie called and asked if I wanted to be on a novice team. I said, ‘Oh, what the heck.’ And it was really a lot of fun,” she said. “I got here and it was more of a bigger deal than I thought it would be.”
Null, who trains with Mark Thompson of Aiken, S.C., stressed the bond she and Tain share. “We both have a lot of faith in each other,” she said. “Tain is my really good friend.”
Finishing in second with the same score as Null in the other novice division, Granger and her 9-year-old, homebred American Paint definitely earned the top prize for “most laid-back mount.” The gelding can be seen nodding off in the awards photo.
“He’s a trier. He really likes to do dressage. He’s really lazy in the warm-up, but he goes in the ring and he knows it’s time to work,” said Granger, 45, of Wildwood, Mo. “We can have problems making the time cross-country, but we were well under here–55 seconds–so that was really exciting.”
Granger, an engineer, works as program manager of Minuteman Missile Upgrades and doesn’t have a trainer right now. “I haven’t had time to take lessons, working 50-hour weeks, so it’s pretty much just myself,” she said. “I drag him out of the pasture and go to an event.”
Dimples N Dapples, Bray’s novice ride, is owned by Garry Pregler and David Jeffries, the Hill N’ Hound organizers. The 12-year-old, off-the-track Thoroughbred mare was Pregler’s foxhunting mount but is now for sale. Bray has been working with the fleabitten gray for six weeks, taking her in her first event at Queeny Park before finishing eighth individually at Hill N’ Hound.
Bray, who takes clinics with riders like Graham and Greg Best, has passed some of her knowledge on to preliminary teammate Lara Nickles, whose main trainer is Sheila Hamlin of Prairie Oaks Equestrian Center, Glen Carbon, Ill. Nickles, 25, rounded out the preliminary team with her 10-year-old, off-the-track Thoroughbred mare Trill Me Love Me. The pair have been competing at preliminary since last August, and she is hoping to do their first one-star next fall.
Bray had a hat trick after her Ladies and the Tramp team was awarded the training-level ATC win in a tight finish; however, a scoring error discovered in the weeks following the competition dropped them to second place, by just .5 penalties. Their team included Bray and her 5-year-old, Thoroughbred mare, Why; Katy Wilson and Picture Perfect, a 12-year-old, off-the-track Thoroughbred gelding; Britt Callahan and her 18.1-hand, 7-year-old Clydesdale-Thoroughbred gelding, Pistolero; and Tom Neese and King’s Lady In Black, a 7-year-old, American Saddlebred mare.
The actual winning team was Take No Prisoners, composed of Susan Herrington, Cynthia Wiseman, Susan MacQuiddy and Hamlin. Event organizers purchased addit-ional coolers for them, so the Ladies and the Tramp riders could keep the ones they were mistakenly given.
With Hamlin and Meshach eliminated on cross-country, a vital component of the Take No Prisoners’ effort was produced by Herrington and her 18-year-old, Thorough-bred gelding, Catch That Turtle, who placed first individually. Their win came only a few weeks after taking their first victory at Queeny Park.
Herrington, 49, of Lawrence, Kan., was seriously considering quitting while she was ahead for the season, but friends Wiseman and MacQuiddy convinced her to push her luck with another run at Hill N’ Hound. The three women train with John Staples of Windermere Stables.
Herrington also gets help from her two daughters, whose participation in eventing got her involved in the sport. She inherited “Turtle” from daughter Tarah, 23, four years ago after she went to college, and she now helps Wendy, 21, with her new training business, PonyUp Equestrian.
For Wiseman, 31, of Miller, Mo., and her 10-year-old, Thoroughbred gelding, Agitated Hawk, this is their third year eventing. Wiseman purchased the former race horse five years ago at a slaughter auction for $600.
Although they managed to produce a clear cross-country trip, Hawk gave Wiseman problems throughout dressage and cross-country, normally his best phases. “I had a horrible ride cross-country. He just wasn’t listening and wasn’t himself,” she said. “I would have given up if it weren’t for the team. They were so amazing.”
Wiseman and her barnmates were originally thrilled with their second-placed finish and kidded that they were happy they hadn’t embarrassed Staples. “We’ve had a rough year, and I’d joked about wanting to call our team ‘The Bottom Third’ because that’s where we kept finishing!” she said. “Poor John has to deal with us and all of our mental issues. I’ve only been working with him a year, and this season went much better than last year! He is a fabulous coach and has sure helped Hawk and me progress.”
Wiseman and her husband are both small animal vets and work out of the Springfield Veterinary Center, which they opened last year.
MacQuiddy, 49, of Omaha, Neb., contributed to Take No Prisoners’ winning performance with her 7-year-old, 17.2-hand Shire cross, Oliver. She explained that their team name mirrors the tongue-in-cheek motto they use to psyche themselves for cross-country.
Competing has long been an unofficial team effort for these women, who usually have to haul long distances to find events. “To be honest, if it wasn’t for the two of them, it would be hard to get fired up to compete,” said MacQuiddy, an emergency services doctor, who pays in the aftermath of every competition with a condensed schedule of her regular 12-hour shifts. “With them, even if we do poorly, we still have fun.”