Lexington, Ky.—Oct. 31
Tess Fortune wasn’t planning on getting a Thoroughbred when she first came across MVP—far from it.
She’d spent the latter half of her junior career competing on warmbloods and had an amateur-owner mount she planned to sell in order to purchase a couple of young prospects. But then that horse tore his suspensory, so she had to come up with a new plan, as her budget was small.
Enter MVP. The chestnut gelding, who was registered with the Jockey Club under the name Kit’s Captain (Orientate—Abby Girl, Meadowlake), was bred in Kentucky and raced twice at Oaklawn Park (Arkansas) in 2014. He finished last both times, so his connections pulled him from the track. He ended up at a farm in Illinois with a rehoming program, and Fortune came across him after a woman dropped off a flier for the program at the tack shop where she worked.
“He had done nothing, but I went to try him, and he looked like a hunter from Day 1,” Fortune said. “He flicked his toes and just was really slow. When I rode him there I rode him in all of his race tack. I jumped him over a barrel the first time I rode him. He’d never jumped anything, but I kind of wanted to see what would happen, and [he] was so cute. He jumped it just fine. He was brave, and he liked jumping from Day 1.”
She brought him home to Wisconsin and did a handful of rides before giving him time off to grow, as he was just 3. By the time she started him back, she’d taken a working student position that took her to Gulfport, Mississippi, for the winter season, so she brought “Captain” along and would ride him at the showgrounds at the end of the day.
“I was hoping to start him and then sell him as a kid’s horse maybe, just to start building up a budget to buy something else for myself,” Fortune said. “He was chrome, and that was part of the reason I looked at him, and he was always a good trotter, so I was like, well, he’ll be sellable for something surely.”
She didn’t count on him having a difficult lead change, and after four months of trying without an ounce of success she was ready to throw in the towel and sell him as a dressage horse. But Captain surprised her.
“I was jumping him, and I went to pull up to do a simple lead change, and he popped a lead change, and he has done them automatically ever since,” Fortune said. “He just woke up one day and knew how to do a lead change. It was so peculiar. I did almost give up, because I couldn’t get him to do a change.”
Captain made his showing debut in the baby greens in 2015 and got a reserve championship right off the bat and followed it up with a championship the next week. Knowing he needed more miles in order to be marketable, Fortune kept showing him, and he just kept stepping up to answer the next challenge. By the next year, he’d stepped into the adult amateurs and the 3′ pre-greens.
“To this day I have never jumped a jump that I felt was too big for him,” Fortune said. “I don’t even think he’s at the peak of his career; he’s still developing physically and mentally. He’s a cool horse, and I’ve just enjoyed him so much that I’m going to keep him. I didn’t think I could replace him for how much I like him.”
Fast-forward to this year, and Captain, now 8, is showing in the amateur-owner hunter, 18-35, division and has held his own against top competition. He made his National Horse Show debut this week, and brought home a pair of eighth-placed ribbons from the under saddle and the stake.
“He’s so easy to handle,” said Fortune. “He’s really laidback; he’s pretty much quiet about everything. He is such a diva; he’s very opinionated, and he’s a very crabby little red horse. He is the epitome of a ginger horse. He likes to pin his ears a lot at things. He’s very snarky, but he’s very respectful. He’s fun to have in the barn. He’s silly and goofy.
“Anyone can handle him,” she added. “People’s kids brush him and lead him around. He’s a very kind, easy-going dude. Pretty unflappable. But he does have a lot of opinions. He doesn’t like wearing blankets. He doesn’t like people in his personal space. And he has a pony head. He has the tiniest little face, so when he pins his ears it’s so funny. You’re like, ‘Oh my God, stop. You don’t scare me.’ ”
Fortune, 27, recently graduated from the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law (Kentucky) and is now working as a lawyer in Louisville. She said balancing her riding was more difficult when she was in school than it is now that she’s graduated.
“I take my computer everywhere so even though I took off this week I’m sending emails and doing work and am in contact with other lawyers,” she said, “but I’m lucky in the job I have that they allow me to show my horses and continue to work, and it doesn’t interrupt my showing schedule, and it still allows me to do what I like to do.”
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