There have been times this fall when Cira Pace Malta has felt like pinching herself. She’s headed to the first indoor shows of her riding career on True North, a talented horse that she’s brought along herself. When she got the acceptance email from the Pennsylvania National, she cried.
“It literally is a dream come true. It’s the goal I’ve always had since I was little, and for it to finally come true was the biggest moment ever for my riding career,” said Malta. “I was just so excited because we’ve worked so hard. I’m so excited for this horse because I believe in him so much. Every time I go in the ring, I want it to go well because I want people to see what I see in him.”
When qualifying in the low amateur-owner, 18-35 division for not only the Pennsylvania National but also the Capital Challenge (Md.) and CP National (Ky.) horse shows looked like a reality, Malta, 33, had to make some tough decisions. She’s a true DIYer, taking care of her horse herself, including braiding him, and she trains with her mother, Donna Pace at Pace’s farm in Bethel, Conn.
“We got the email that we got in, and it was unbelievable. We decided at that moment that we were going to get here somehow. We’d scrape the pennies together and go!” she said. “Indoors is basically the amount of doing six or seven normal horse shows. The money for the entries is insane. We ship ourselves, so we pay gas and tolls. Mom’s my trainer, so I don’t pay training fees. I braid myself. I do all the day care for him and all our customers at shows. It’s kind of nice that it’s just me and my mom going to these shows with no customers because I get to spend all the time with ‘Leo’ and my mom.”
To be able to show at the three indoor shows, Malta, of Bethel, has to take time away from her full-time job as a technical writer. “I’m a contractor, and I write the manuals that pilots use to fly the helicopters,” she said. “Since I’m a contractor, I’m paid hourly, and I’m very fortunate in that when I’m not there, I don’t get paid. So they’re OK with me taking time off as long as I don’t have anything pressing going on. It’s one of the reasons why I have the job that I have because it’s hard to find that kind of flexibility.”
Malta and True North started their indoor journey at the Capital Challenge, where she showed him in the low amateur-owner and the 3’3” green division. Malta shows Leo herself in the open divisions as well as the amateurs. “It was also a little bit challenging. Especially at Capital Challenge, where it was me and every top professional in the entire country! I was like, ‘Sure, I’ll follow Hunt Tosh. And then John French will go right after me. It’s totally normal,’ ” she said.
Malta and Leo didn’t get any ribbons at Capital Challenge, but she’s thrilled with the experience the 9-year-old U.S.-bred Oldenburg got. “I actually got three trips indoors, which was really fun and great exposure for him,” she said. “He’d never been in an arena like that. But he was great, and it was great to get that one show in before Harrisburg and Kentucky.”
Malta has been riding Leo for four years; she and her mother bought the handsome dapple gray gelding as a 5-year-old. “When we got him, he knew nothing. We were trotting jumps. He had no lead changes,” she said. “So it’s really exciting to A) be going to indoors, and B) be going on a horse that I’ve brought along from the beginning.”
Malta and Pace have developed Leo up through the ranks from a short stint in the 2’6” classes to the 3’ adult amateurs and pre-greens until moving him up to 3’3” in December. They had about nine months out of the ring in 2015 after a bad fall that broke Malta’s collarbone, but they regained confidence quickly.
Malta doesn’t spend her winters in Florida; she and Leo showed at the Gardnertown (N.J.) and Old Salem (N.Y.) venues during the winter months, and they stick to mostly New England-area shows during the summer. But they accumulated enough points to qualify Malta to ride at indoors for the first time.
“I’ve been riding since I was like 4, but really forever because my mom is my trainer. My junior years were spent on ponies; I actually rode ponies until I went to college [at Lynchburg College (Va.)],” Malta said. “And mostly green ponies. I had one year doing the regular larges where I could have qualified for indoors, but I only made it to the top of the waitlist and never got in!”
After her youth spent on ponies and a few years showing in Intercollegiate Horse Show Association shows during her time in college, Malta first turned professional after she graduated to help her mother with the Nautilus Farm business, where they have a lot of pony riders. “I decided to switch to amateur status right around the time the market tanked, like in 2008,” she said. “We had just started our own barn, and we don’t have quite enough customers for me to be able to make any kind of living alongside of my mom. In an ideal world, I’d love to be the barn manager as my job and not have to go to an office every day, but that’s not the reality.”
In fact, Malta didn’t even own a horse until Leo (Royal Appreance—Nadia) came into their lives in 2013. A friend in Florida had him in her barn as a sales prospect and thought he’d fit with Malta and Pace’s program. Pace flew to Florida and tried him once, and he arrived within the week. Pace and Malta bought him together as an investment prospect to develop and sell on.
“He’s the sweetest horse you’ve ever met,” Malta said. “He’s a total pocket pony. He has a huge fan club; all of the trainers in our area and all these people we met at Capital Challenge the other week—everyone just falls in love with him. He is so sensitive and so smart. Sometimes that’s probably why we’re not higher in the ribbons; he’s still young and green, so he’s way more expressive than a lot of the other ones. But we’re OK with that!”
And it’s for Leo that Malta is making the effort to show at indoors. “It’s just this love and the opinion I have of this horse is that he’s so special. I just feel like the more we can do, the easier it’s going to be every year after that. This year was a year of firsts for us. Every single horse show was something new that he’s never done before, whether it was a new ring or a new venue. Everything was a way to set him up for the future, and to get exposure and have other people see him.”
And is Leo for sale? Malta hesitates. “We’ve had him listed for sale pretty much since we’ve had him, then we kind of stopped advertising him,” she said. “At this point, it would have to be the absolute perfect situation for him. Some people tried him last year, and there was always something that wasn’t perfect, so we just kept him. I can’t imagine him being with someone else at this point. Financially that wasn’t supposed to be the goal, but it’s turned into something totally different than what we thought in the beginning.”