Kathryn Currey loves a good Thoroughbred. In fact, she becomes overcome with emotion trying to describe their heart, spirit and inherent raw athleticism. After seeing her family’s Thoroughbred, the immortal Touch Of Class, go from racetrack washout to Olympic double-gold medalist with Joe Fargis, there’s never been a doubt in her mind that the breed deserves respect.
But it’s Currey’s relationship with her diminutive chestnut mare A Lil Evil that has driven that belief home. Currey, 35, and “Evie” topped a field of nearly 70 to collect the blue ribbon in the 1.10-meter amateur jumper class at the Hampton Classic Horse Show (New York), held Aug. 25-Sept. 1. They went on to finish third in the adult jumper classic and took home a tricolor in the division.
This special victory was the result of several years of hard work and perseverance—and the fact that Currey was willing to take a chance on a run-down long shot.
Currey and Evie have been a team since the fall of 2016, when the mare was 4. Currey traveled from her home in Franklin, Tennessee, to the Thistledown Racetrack in Ohio to pick up a Thoroughbred she’d purchased online. While there, she asked the trainers to show her everything else they had available for sale, as she also founded a Thoroughbred re-homing venture called The Horse Rescue. (The rescue is currently on hold while Currey focuses on her children, Sammy, 9, and Margaret, 4.)
“We went to one barn, and they pulled out bay geldings,” said Currey. “Then we went over to another barn, and they pulled some other stuff out, and then we went to this other barn. It was dark and dank, not appetizing at all, and in the very back corner, there was this very dark stall, and they pulled out this little rat of a mare.”
Evie hadn’t been out of her stall in seven days, and the skinny youngster spent most of her time on her hind legs or kicking out. As the trainers trotted her up and down, it was clear she was also a little lame. And she kept trying to bite her handlers.
“I just said to myself, ‘No one is going to take this horse,’ ” said Currey. “They had her for $700. I said, ‘What about $200?’ And they said, ‘What about $400?’ and it was done.”
Currey was buying horses from the track with the goal of finding new homes for them, but when it came to Evie she knew she likely couldn’t even give her away. Though she was throwing the dice on the mare, Currey recognized she had few prospects otherwise. But in the positive column, when Currey looked at her pedigree—by Hear No Evil out of Lil McTee, who is by Lil E. Tee—she couldn’t believe her luck that Evie is a direct descendent of the 1992 Kentucky Derby winner, Lil E. Tee.
“I rode a son of Lil E. Tee when I was in my early 20s that was given to me by a dear friend who has since passed away,” said Currey. “He gave him to me saying, ‘I believe this one can jump.’ And I rode him until he had a career-ending injury in 2009. I had been looking for this bloodline for years, but you don’t see it very often anymore. Then I looked at her birthday, and it was the same day as my husband [Christian Currey]. I just thought, ‘This is meant to be.’ ”
When Kathryn got the mare home, she realized just how nervous and scared she was. For two months, she only worked Evie indoors, until the mare started to settle. Little by little, Kathryn saw the mare grow more confident.
“I think it is really about the basics,” said Kathryn. “I take Bert de Némethy’s teaching and go through the book one step at a time. You trot the cavaletti and trot the cavaletti and trot the cavaletti. You have to put those basics on a horse and not cut corners.”
Kathryn also turned to the guidance of Hungarian coach Frank Gombolay, a de Némethy disciple. “I’ve been very fortunate to have some good trainers,” said Kathryn. “When we’re at home, Frank comes once or twice a year for 7 to 10 days. With him, you walk over poles 10 times, then trot over the poles 10 times. For an amateur, you need to have a trainer, someone on the ground, and I think that is the formula for success.”
Kathryn began competing Evie in the spring of 2017 in 0.85- and 0.95-meter classes; though she jumped around, Evie pulled rails constantly.
“She just didn’t understand it yet,” said Kathryn.
So Kathryn’s husband Christian started setting gymnastics for them, and Kathryn religiously rode Evie 45 minutes a day, six days a week. Sticking to the teachings of the masters, Kathryn and Evie practiced cavaletti and worked through grids. The exercises gave Evie quicker reflexes and taught her to snap her knees up.
“It was like one day everything just clicked with her,” said Kathryn. “A lot of the time with Thoroughbreds, people pull them off the track, go jump to a certain height, then take them to the shows. But they don’t really put any background training in.”
Over the course of two seasons, Kathryn moved Evie up into bigger classes, getting help from Fargis at some shows and relying on their previous practice at others. Sometimes they finished in the ribbons. But what was always most important to Kathryn was that her little mare was gaining confidence with each outing. In the spring of 2019, the pair competed in some 1.20-meter classes—the first of Kathryn’s career. She was nervous at first about her ability to guide the mare around a track of that size.
“We did Upperville [Virginia] in the spring, and we did the 1.20-meter and went clean, and I thought, ‘OK, I have a 1.20 horse,’ ” said Kathryn. “Then she completed a 1.30-meter at Culpeper [Virginia], and I just knew this horse is one of a kind. I’ve never jumped in a 1.30-meter class. I had never even jumped a 1.20-meter class until she jumped it. We are doing it together.”
Kathryn believes that varying the class heights helps keep Evie’s confidence in top form. “Depending on the place I’m going, I can take her all the way from 1.10-meter adult amateur classes up to the 1.30-meter and be competitive,” said Kathryn. “Before I went to the Hampton Classic, I had jumped the 1.30-meter at Culpeper. So when she went into that ring at the Hampton Classic at 1.10-meter, she was like, ‘I got this.’ ”
Suffice it to say, Evie is no longer on the resale list—for Kathryn, this formerly unwanted chestnut Thoroughbred mare is irreplaceable. In fact, Kathryn is hoping to literally reach new heights with Evie.
“The goal is to start next year with regional grand prixs at the 1.35- and 1.40-meter level,” said Kathryn. “We’ll see how she does, then go back down to 1.20 meters. It is one step forward, then two steps back.”
Kathryn hopes that others will see Evie and recognize that in the heart of a Thoroughbred, nearly any goal is possible.
“It’s a special feeling for sure, to be able to develop this horse that I know no one would have taken the chance on,” said Kathryn. “Thoroughbreds are sitting in our backyard, and you do not need to pay an astronomical fee to get them from Europe. I am an amateur rider, and to start a horse from a crossrail to competing up to 1.30 meters is a dream come true, really. And it is a dream that’s attainable for other people, if they just take the time.”
Do you know a Thoroughbred that is excelling in it’s second career? Email Kimberly at firstname.lastname@example.org.