Sunday, Mar. 3, 2024

Foreign Legion Conquers At Blue Ribbon Winter Festival

Frank Owens recovers from a rough summer to win.

The fact that Frank Owens III was physically able to ride at the Blue Ribbon Winter Festival in Glen Rose, Texas, on Jan. 23-27 was quite a feat.

That he emerged victorious aboard Foreign Legion in the $10,000 Jumper Classic was even more remarkable, given the string of debilitating injuries from which Owens has been mending since last summer.
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Frank Owens recovers from a rough summer to win.

The fact that Frank Owens III was physically able to ride at the Blue Ribbon Winter Festival in Glen Rose, Texas, on Jan. 23-27 was quite a feat.

That he emerged victorious aboard Foreign Legion in the $10,000 Jumper Classic was even more remarkable, given the string of debilitating injuries from which Owens has been mending since last summer.

Owens, 24, was initially sidelined last June at a show in Waco, Texas, where a horse fell with him during schooling and separated Owens’ shoulder. He had just recovered from that injury when he fell again in August at a show in Estes Park (Colo.), badly tearing his knee joint in two places and restarting the pain in his shoulder.

He hadn’t shown in five months and just started riding again six weeks before the Blue Ribbon show. “My knee feels good,” Owens declared. “My shoulder’s still pretty weak, but it feels fine.”

Owens’ post-win optimism matched the spirits of everyone connected to Oakwell Farms, the San Antonio, Texas, training barn owned and operated by Owens, his older sister Whitney (a grand prix rider like her brother) and their parents, Frank Jr. and Candie. Immediately after the event, both Owens and Foreign Legion, or “Frenchie,” got plenty of hugs from members of the close-knit family. Also elated was another Oakwell jumper rider, Diana Stumberg, who owns the 13-year-old Selle Francais gelding.

The long but relatively narrow arena and a winding first-round course that consisted of many broken lines and blind turns made Owens and Frenchie work for the win.

“Everything came up pretty quick off the turns,” Owens said. “A lot of horses just wanted to dive into those jumps. It was a challenge to stand them up and keep them straight.”

Still, nine of 18 entries managed to go clean and Owens had to come back second in the jump-off. Although his time was 3 seconds faster than the first horse, Owens had to endure watching seven more rounds in suspense. In the end, however, despite four more horses scoring double-clear rounds, it was Frenchie who posted the fastest time of 36.77 seconds. His closest rival was Tenfold (37.02 seconds), ridden by Sarah Busbice.

Owens cited Frenchie’s relatively compact size of 15.3 3⁄4 hands as an asset on the jump-off course, which called for particularly tight and twisty turns. “He’s small,” Owens said of Frenchie. “But he’s handy, and he turns really tight, which helped us to whip around pretty smoothly both times. And he’s a great horse—you hit the gas and he goes; you hit the brakes and he slows down.”

Owens has had several years of getting to know and show Frenchie, who came to Oakwell Farms from Germany in 2004. “He was one of those horses that just sort of clicked from the beginning,” said Owens. “He’s just super-easy—you pretty much get on him and go to the ring. Being French, he’s got a motor and a lot of fire in him, but it’s all manageable.”

Triple Play

Vicki MacNaughton made a clean sweep in the junior hunter divisons, winning the large junior, 16-17, championship on Palermo and the small junior, 16-17, title on Sonduetta.

MacNaughton’s mother, Sherry Atherton, bought Palermo, or “Pal,” in 2004 and showed the 9-year-old Holsteiner for a while in the adult amateur division.

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But last year, MacNaughton declared that, “He’s going to be my large junior hunter from now on. I might have stolen him a little bit from her… sorry, Mom!” she said. “It’s really nice because he’s basically always the same horse, lazy and kind of slow. But he has a big stride, so it’s never a problem getting down the lines—which makes my job a little easier.”

“Pal” and MacNaughton only showed five times in the junior hunters last year, but they earned a tricolor each time out.

MacNaughton has had a little less time to get acquainted with Sonduetta, who was imported from Europe in June 2006. The 8-year-old Hanoverian mare, nicknamed “Fluffy” for her ultra-soft coat, “is very forgiving of my mistakes,” MacNaughton said. “It took me a while to get used to her stride, because it’s different than other horses I’ve ridden. It made it really hard to see a distance on her, but now I can adjust my eye to her stride a lot better.” In 2007, the pair finished second in the USEF Zone 7 small junior hunters, 16-17, standings. 

MacNaughton, 17, lives with her family on their Sunset Cliff Farms in Burnet, Texas. There are 15 family-owned horses at Sunset Cliff and a handful of boarders. The farm also produces several homebreds each year. Ginny Joyner is the farm’s resident trainer, and MacNaughton also trains with Peter Pletcher.
Last spring, the hard-working MacNaughton graduated from high school a year early. She plans to defer starting college until second semester of the 2008-09 academic year, to allow more time to show during her final year as a junior rider.

“My main goal this year is to qualify for, and hopefully do well at, the indoor shows—both in the hunters and the jumpers,” MacNaughton said. While she intends to study business and political science, most likely at the University of Texas in Austin, she also said she “definitely” wants a future in the horse business.

A Balancing Act

Unlike MacNaughton, Amanda Goldman already has said goodbye to her junior years and hello to the amateur-owner 18-35, division, where she was champion on Maestro.

Maestro, or “Emmy,” has been Goldman’s partner for three years and has made the seamless transition to the new division right along with his 18-year-old owner from Shreveport, La.

Goldman, who with Maestro finished fifth nationally and first in Zone 7 in the USEF large junior hunters, 16-17, is now a freshman on the varsity equestrian team at Texas A&M University.

Formerly someone who rode at least six days a week, Goldman said she’s now finding it a bit of a challenge to balance the new requirements of her academic life, her equestrian-team life, and her regular horse- showing life, especially given the significant driving distance between her current residence in College Station and the barn of her trainer, Raegan St. John, in Shreveport.

But the fact that Emmy, a 15-year-old Dutch Warmblood, is such a veteran campaigner makes it much easier for Goldman to just catch up with St. John at the shows and virtually hop on at the last minute, if necessary.

“Emmy is so trustworthy, honest and dependable,” Goldman said. “He’s the same horse every time, no matter what. I can always depend on him to take care of me. He lets me learn, and he lets me make mistakes. Raegan’s been riding him a lot while I’ve been at school, and that helps too.”

Despite her busily divided riding schedule, Goldman said she hasn’t lost her personal connection to her 17-hand gelding. “We love to play tag in the paddock,” she said with a smile. “And he loves to eat anything—including meat, like hamburgers!” 

Goldman, who qualified for the 2007 Pessoa/USEF Medal Finals on Emmy, also topped the adult amateur jumper division aboard Principal at Blue Ribbon—winning all three classes.

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The Queen Reigns

Madison Billings may well be an Amanda Goldman in the making. The 11-year-old fifth-grader from Westlake, Texas, won the medium pony championship on her own Queen Frostine, and the small pony championship on Two Thumbs Up, a pony owned by Billings’ trainer, Laura Hightower.

Billings, who has only been riding for two years, topped it all off with victory in the Washington International Equitation Classic Pony class aboard Queen Frostine.

Queen Frostine, or “Paris,” earned her show name years ago when she got frostbite on her ears while living in Canada, Billings said. The tips of the mare’s ears had to be surgically removed, giving her a rather unique but distinguished look. Billings bought Paris last July from Colorado, so it seems that the 11-year- old Welsh cross is slowly making her way closer to the warmer realm of the equator.

“I like it that Paris is willing to take you around,” said Billings. “But she also makes you ask for what you need, like lead changes. You have to do your part. You also have to make sure she’s stepping out and on the bit—and you have to be ready to ride a buck!”

Billings loves it that Paris whinnies when she sees her young owner approaching, and that she’ll try to eat hay-bale jumps if given the opportunity.  The biggest reason behind their Blue Ribbon tricolor, Billings said, is that “Paris woke up and just felt like she wanted to win.”

The same might be said for her small pony champion, Two Thumbs Up, a 17-year-old gelding. Billings described the gelding as “willing to try 100 percent for you. He’ll also teach you how to ride to the base of
the jump.”

Billings had only been practicing on “Roger” for six weeks prior to the Blue Ribbon show. She wants to qualify for the indoor shows this year “and to try to make it there without falling off!” she said.

Sweet Rewards

The name Gimmesumsuga begs explanation, and Claire Kercher, 13, is happy to explain.

“Her barn name is Gracie, and her show name is a funny story,” said the seventh-grader, who trains with Charles McDaniel in her hometown of San Antonio, Texas. “When I was trying her out, she would get a sugar cube every time she was good. She ended up going through half a box! So when we brought Gracie home, she would spit out carrots, apples and peppermints. All she wanted was sugar!”

Kercher must have been feeding sugar non-stop at Blue Ribbon, as she and the mare topped the large pony division.

Kercher has owned the 10-year-old Welsh-Thoroughbred cross since April of 2005. “I liked her because she had a huge stride, a really sweet temperament, and she was cute! Gracie was different from anything I had ever ridden before, and I could tell she was going to be a good match for me,” Kercher said. “I have to remind her to go straight, and she can sometimes get really fresh, but I’ve got her figured out. I trained her to give me a kiss right before I leave the barn every day.”

Gracie and Kercher have qualified for the USEF Pony Finals every year since their partnership began. To further bolster her resume, Kercher is enjoying the fun and experience of catch-riding ponies for a number of trainers, including McDaniel.

Anne Lang

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