When Tori Kager purchased a 3-year-old chestnut mare recently off the track in 2014, she had high expectations for the young Thoroughbred as an eventing prospect. Sage Advice, as the mare was called, did not disappoint, moving easily through the levels from Young Event Horse classes to training level.
But in 2017, a catastrophic field injury left her future in doubt. She shattered her hind lateral splint bone and needed surgery at New Bolton Center (Pennsylvania), where vets warned her that there was no guarantee the mare wouldn’t destroy their work simply waking up from anesthesia.
“You could see pieces of her splint bone,” said Kager. “It was a really nasty wound. We could have elected not to do the surgery because there really wasn’t a promise of her prognosis.”
But Kager wasn’t ready to let go of the mare she’d been “absolutely obsessed with” since the first time she saw her at After The Races, a Thoroughbred rehoming and rehab facility in Maryland.
She elected to go forward with the surgery, and then nursed the mare through six months of stall rest and a careful rehab process.
“When I brought her back from that, she was cleared to jump again, and I tried to bring her back to eventing, but she was already an incredibly careful jumper, and she made it worse when she came back from the injury,” she said. “She basically told me she didn’t want to anymore.”
So Kager—who loves eventing and formerly competed through the CCI3*-L level while working for top riders like Boyd Martin and Erin Kanara (née Sylvester)—realized she needed to a new job to keep “Sage” happy.
“I’m not really a person who’s been able to sell a horse, so I knew I wanted to keep her and had to figure out what path I was going to take her on that she would be happy,” she said.
Sage (Jockey Club name Shewasnicerthen) had always been competitive on the flat, so Kager decided to try recognized dressage in 2018, and they’ve been climbing the levels ever since.
Kager earned her USDF bronze medal with Sage, now 11, and earned her silver this spring, when the pair moved up to Prix St. Georges.
Last year, she started thinking that she and Sage might be ready to tackle a CDI by this year’s Dressage At Devon.
“I was hesitantly speaking it into existence last fall,” she said of the CDI debut the pair will make Friday in the CDIAm Prix St. Georges during Dressage at Devon, which is running through Oct. 2 at the Devon Horse Show grounds in Devon, Pennsylvania.
“This is my first foray into dressage with her, but in eventing I feel like it’s pretty normal for amateurs to set FEI events as their big goal,” Kager said. “In dressage, I think it’s a lot more rare for people. I don’t think I’m going to win this CDI, but I wanted to do it, and I think my horse is fully capable of going in and putting in a respectable test. Not a winning test. She’s never going to be a horse who wins, but if I wait for her to be able to score in the 70s at any level, I’m never going to show.”
Sage has overcome physical challenges with a great work ethic, and while Kager doesn’t expect her to be the showiest mover in their class, she’s excited to show off their long partnership at Devon.
“I just think she’s a very special horse in that she definitely does it for me,” Kager, 26, said. “I can’t really have other people get on her and have them learn from her because we’ve spent eight years together, and we just have each other kind of figured out.”
“She is the funniest horse,” she added. “She has a huge personality. She’s super opinionated. She’s not nasty at all, but she’s pretty feral and pretty outspoken about her opinions. She’s really vocal, but she’s a sweet girl. She’s personable. She’s not really a typical mareish mare, but she’s just a strong personality.”
Kager, who recently completed law school and is awaiting the results of her bar exam, moved back to her hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a month ago to start her first job at a law firm.
She had been training with Ana di Gironimo, but is currently working on her own while she settles into Lancaster.
Along with the CDI on Sage, she’s also planning to ride her other Thoroughbred, former eventer Avogadro’s Constant (Put It Back—AKA Frosty), who she found through MidAtlantic Horse Rescue, in a quadrille at Devon.
“It’s exciting to have that breed represented a little bit,” she said.
She got a chance to ride at Devon a month ago at a schooling show, and said Sage was very well-behaved and performed a clean test.
“I’m cautiously very excited,” she said. “I don’t have any delusions that I’m going to go in and beat everyone. I’m just excited I’ve made it this far with her and to be able to show her off and show off the breed a little bit. I’m excited because all of the pieces have been fitting together for us to be able to put in our best test of the year. We’ll see if it actually happens, but she’s feeling the best that she has.”
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We’re headed to Dressage At Devon this weekend to bring you news and photos from the historic and beloved competition. Check back at coth.com all weekend for coverage, and be sure to pick up the Oct. 24 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse for more from Devon.
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