Kristy Taccone was studying equine science at Delaware Valley University (Pennsylvania) when the opportunity arose to lease a seasoned event horse named Ella. But three weeks before she was to take Ella home, the mare colicked and had to be euthanized.
A few weeks after losing Ella, Taccone learned about Juniper, a Standardbred yearling who had just had her eye removed due to an injury. After some convincing from a friend, Taccone agreed to take Juniper.
“She was kind of feral; she’d really only been led to and from pasture,” said Taccone, of Rochester, New York. “She had a little bit of handling, vaccinations and things, but she never had her feet trimmed. She was definitely a wild child, and I shipped her home six days after her enucleation surgery, so that was very new to her as well, just being blind on the one side.
“She had a lot of issues with narrow spaces,” added Taccone, “and she still doesn’t love them, but she tended to bolt through stall doors or gates; she was concerned as far as if she could fit or not. It took her a few months before she adjusted well to it.”
Giving vaccinations at school and handling young stock in an annual in-hand exhibition was the extent of Taccone’s experience with yearlings, and she’d never produced a horse. Her original plan was to train Juniper with the help of the friend who’d recommended her, give her ground manners, and sell her within the year. But when her Craigslist ad proved useless, and the friend relocated out of state, Taccone had to change course.
“I was just left with this horse,” said Taccone. “I remember it was snowing, and I was sitting in the snow—literally crying because I didn’t know what to do with her. I didn’t know what to do with a yearling — and I looked up, and she was standing over me with her stupid Cyclops face; I call her a Cyclops.
“I didn’t even hear her walk up, and she’s a clumsy horse,” added Taccone. “She was just standing there, with me having an emotional breakdown. At that moment, I was like, ‘Crap; you’re mine.’ ”
Although she has no regrets, it hasn’t been an easy road.
“She’s a sensitive mare, and I love mares, but she’s very sensitive for being a mare,” said Taccone. “But, it’s been really cool the last two years. She knows what I’m thinking before I know what I’m thinking, and I know her strengths and weaknesses, and she knows mine. It’s really cool. I’ve never had a bond with a horse as I do with her.”
After years of begging for lessons, Taccone talked her non-horse parents into sending her to riding camp in Scottsville, New York, when she was 11.
That early exposure blossomed into a full-grown passion, and Taccone, now 30, has tried everything from hunter/jumper to western riding.
However, when she started to train Juniper, she found the mare wasn’t interested in jumping.
“Losing the eye so young, her depth perception is a little off, so her confidence with jumps and poles is not there,” said Taccone. “I decided to switch to dressage and just work on building her confidence that way, and she’s very good at it. She’s very animated, very willing. She likes it a lot, so we’re kind of just doing it together. We’re both learning; we’re very green.”
Taccone, a veterinary technician, balances riding with an inconsistent schedule.
“There are some weeks I work many hours,” said Taccone. “I just make it happen. I fit it in when I can, and if I don’t have a lot of time, I’ll just give her a good 20-minute longe with some sidereins and cavallettis.”
She and Juniper, who is now 9, are breed ambassadors for ROC the Standardbred, a local nonprofit organization that promotes second careers for ex-racers.
Taccone hopes participating in the COTH Lose The Leathers challenge with Juniper will lead to improved performance in their new sport.
“We’re at the point where I need to step up my game,” said Taccone. “She’s got a lot of talent; I just have to figure out how to ride it. She’s a Standardbred; she’s got a very big trot, so I kind of figured it would be a good kick in the butt for me to increase my core strength and my balance on her.
“I’m excited to do the competitions because it’s going to be a good motivator for me, to make me really stick to it and get it done,” she added. “Hopefully, I won’t fall off too many times.”
Thank you to the prize donors for the Chronicle’s #LoseTheLeathers challenge. They include:
Have you signed up for the Chronicle’s #COTHLoseTheLeathers challenge? Ride 12 times for a portion of each ride without stirrups in November, and you can be entered into a drawing for prizes. The first 500 riders who submit a completed form tracking their rides beginning Dec. 1, will receive a ribbon. Learn more at the COTH Lose The Leathers Facebook group.
Check out the Chronicle’s Nov. 18 & 25 Equitation Issue to read about more #COTHLoseTheLeathers challenge participants in addition to a feature article on top equitation trainer Stacia Madden and much, much more.
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