When Marne Martin-Tucker thinks about a role model in the equestrian world, she identifies most with the story of Laura Graves and Verdades: a rider who spent years bringing along one special horse to the top level.
The amateur rider has been passionate about breeding and bringing up her own dressage horses after picking up the sport nearly 20 years ago, and this weekend she’ll be riding one of those horses—Lovely Leni, a 5-year-old Hanoverian (Livaldon—Fia Rouge, Floriscount)—at the U.S. Dressage Festival Of Champions.
“For me, it’s more about the relationship than the destination,” said Martin-Tucker, who bought the mare when she was a month old.
Martin-Tucker grew up on cattle ranches in Montana; her family has been ranching since the 1880s and is one of the foundation breeders of Hereford cattle in the United States.
She was on the back of a horse from before she can remember, and when she came east to attend Georgetown University (District of Columbia), she started eventing, foxhunting and even played polo at Georgetown.
High-powered jobs in technology have kept Martin-Tucker traveling for most of her career, and she lived in the Netherlands and England after marrying Michael Tucker in 2003.
She’s been the CEO of several software companies, and right now Martin-Tucker is the president of the global business unit of IFS where she leads the unit and does acquisitions.
After Martin-Tucker’s show jumper died in an accident in quarantine on the way to the Netherlands in 2003, her husband suggested she buy a dressage horse, so she found a small tour schoolmaster. When he didn’t work out, she bought a 7-year-old stallion and competed up to her first Prix St. Georges in Europe.
She traded him for Escobar, a Westphalian gelding (Eheentusch—Akira), and did her first Grand Prix tests on him.
Martin-Tucker, 45, eventually found Royal Coeur, a “big, strapping” chestnut Oldenburg mare (Royal Hit—Riva) that she trained from age 4 to Grand Prix.
“She and Leni both had amazing scores in their mare performance test,” Martin-Tucker said. “You have mares that are really talented that then show the heart and drive to compete—that ability to work to get better every day and really have the grit to take training and enjoy competing. That I can relate to. If you think about my career, having been so successful as a female professional in what are primarily male-dominated industries, you have to be persistent, and you have to be courageous, and you have to show up every day working to be better. Having mares that are that way I really like, and it appeals to me personally.”
The pair represented the U.S. at the 2011 World Dressage Young Horse Championships in Verden, Germany, when Royal Coeur was 6, and the mare became a state premium mare and eventually an elite mare. She died of laminitis in 2011, but Martin-Tucker bred several embryo transfer foals out of her.
“She really was my heart horse,” said Martin-Tucker. “She opened doors. She wasn’t easy, but she was such a phenomenal mare. Her offspring have been amazing too. She really was a mare who was bonded and special. Everyone knew her.”
Martin-Tucker trained with Markus Gribbe and Ferdi Eilberg in England before coming back to the U.S. in 2012 with four horses.
She’s based in Woodbine, Maryland, at Aspen Leaf Farm and credits Felicitas von Neumann-Cosel with much of her dressage education. Tucker used to ride, but now he’s more involved with the horse care and has become a certified equine massage therapist while also working as a lawyer.
Martin-Tucker breeds one to two foals a year and sometimes buys young horses, as she did with Leni. She has a fondness for chestnut mares, so Leni caught her eye. The mare stayed in Germany for her mare testing and was imported last year.
“She’s really a hard worker who always wants to be perfect,” said Martin-Tucker. “She always tries her best. You have to make sure you’re not confusing her. You need to be clear with what you want because she’s always trying so hard. If she can’t do something because she’s not strong enough or she’s learning it, you just need to give her a little bit of time. Then she’s like, ‘Oh I’ve got this.’ As soon as I go into the arena she’s dragging me to the mounting block so we can get on and do our training.”
Martin-Tucker keeps many of her homebreds, but she enjoys following the careers of the ones she’s sold. One of those, Donatella M (Furstenball—Jamaica, Jazz Time) is competing this weekend in the Developing Horse Grand Prix championship with amateur rider Alice Tarjan.
Martin-Tucker has been riding and training one of Royal Coeur’s offspring, Dante Coeur, a 9-year-old Oldenburg gelding by Dante Weltino, and they just reached Grand Prix this year. She also has a 4-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son of Royal Coeur in the barn.
With her busy career, Martin-Tucker tries to limit herself to four horses under saddle, but right now she admits she has 6.
“I pride myself on being a horsewoman,” she said. “We have our own farm. I love the care and all of that. But when I’m busy with work I’ll have someone come groom for me so I can get all the horses ridden faster.”
She said the key to her success as an amateur rider and breeder at the top level is being confident in her abilities and having good time management skills.
“I learned, when I was training in Europe especially, the value of making the time you train count,” she said. “I’ve learned that if I can ride the horses three days a week and make those days count, they need exercise the other days, but I don’t need to train the horses six days a week. Time management is a huge thing. In COVID times it’s been a bit easier because I’m working from home and can ride at night. When I’m traveling I always have to coordinate my competitions and training around my trips. I need a confident rider to exercise the horses when I’m gone. Last year I got home Friday morning from Japan, and we went to a show that afternoon. That’s not ideal! I think it helps that most of my horses I’ve known since they were young. I used to start them myself. Now I send them out for 30, 60, 90 days. I typically start riding them from 3 and on. That really does help because you have a relationship with them. You have to be committed.”