When Jill Stowe decided to take up riding again four years ago after a 20-year break, she knew she’d need to find a quiet, even-tempered horse that could handle her insecurities as she got back in the tack.
A 3-year-old off-the-track Thoroughbred might not sound like the best choice for Stowe’s scenario, but when she met Dundee at the New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Center in Lexington, Ky., she knew he was perfect.
“He loves to work,” she said of Dundee, who’s now 7. “He likes to have a job. Whatever I would do with him, he was just happy to have something to do. He’s a very quiet horse. He doesn’t have a lot of nervous energy. A week after I brought him home, I put my two kids on him one at a time, and he was so happy to only have to walk around with a little kid on his back.”
Stowe brought Dundee along in dressage and lower-level eventing and started this year just hoping to move up to second level. But now they’re headed to the U.S. Dressage Finals in Lexington, Ky., at second level on a wild card that they earned at their GAIG/USDF Region 2 Championships (Ky.) earlier this fall, and New Vocations is sponsoring their trip.
“They’re helping pay the entry, which is so generous,” said Stowe. “When I found out that we had received a wild card invitation to the U.S. Dressage Finals based on the score we got at Regionals, I really didn’t know what to do because this is a whole new world for me. I’ve never competed on this sort of stage, not even on the stage we had at Regionals. I’m sort of in the deer-in-the-headlights state. It’s in our backyard and what a great opportunity to promote not only New Vocations but second-career Thoroughbreds in general by taking them to a venue where a Thoroughbred is uncommon to see.”
Stowe grew up riding dressage, hunters, jumpers and eventers, but once she went to college, she gave up riding to pursue other sports and earn her PhD in economics.
When a job opportunity came up at the University of Kentucky about six years ago, she couldn’t say no. She moved with her husband, Keith, and two boys, Zach, 9, and Josh, 8, from her job at Duke University’s business school (N.C.).
Stowe now works in UK’s Equine Programs department.
“I was actually hired to do economic research on the horse industry,” she explained. “I thought, ‘They actually pay people to do that?’ It’s been a really great fit. A position like that certainly makes sense here in Kentucky. I’ve met a lot of people in the industry nationwide and am starting to connect with people internationally as well as a result of my job.”
Stowe, 39, was recently named the director of the university’s equine agriculture program. Like many amateurs, she struggles to find the time to fit everything in.
“Leading up to Regionals and then Finals, I had a talk with the family and said I was going to have to be pretty focused to make sure I got enough rides in every week,” she said. “Everyone has been really supportive of that. I try to do what I can to get that done efficiently so I can help with homework and taking kids to their activities. It’s just about time management and trade-offs. Sometimes you don’t get your ride in, and that’s OK.”
Stowe, Nicholasville, Ky., trains with Reese Koffler-Stanfield and keeps Dundee (Medaglia d’Oro—Krakowviak, Tale Of The Cat) at home with his barnmate, a pony mule named Tater.
Dundee had four starts on the track before he was donated to New Vocations. Stowe thought the 17-hand gelding would fit her 6’2” frame, but she admitted it took her a few months to get her feel back after such a long absence from riding.
“I think I had underestimated the amount of muscles I’d lost for horseback riding in those 20 years I had off,” she said. “He and I sort of came along together. I think a lot of the challenges were just me relearning how to do these things again. My mind knew what it needed to do, but my body knew it had been a long time!”
Stowe still jumps Dundee and tries to vary his work to keep him happy.
“I enjoy jumping, and I do a little bit of combined training, but jumps look bigger after having kids, so I sort of stick to beginner novice- and novice-sized jumps,” she said.
The pair earned a 66.90 percent at second level, test 3, at the Region 2 Championships, which earned them their invitation to the Finals.
“I’m thrilled with how he performed at Regionals, and my goal going into Finals is to have a better test than we did at Regionals and just to enjoy the ride,” she said. “I’m learning that it’s the journey that counts.
“When I had my first lesson with Reese almost three years ago, she asked me what my goal was, and I didn’t have an answer,” she continued. “At that time, as I was getting all my muscles back, my goal was to not fall off! But she got me thinking, and the next time I met with her, I said, ‘I have a goal, but I don’t want you to laugh at me. It’s a really long-term goal, but I would like to get my USDF silver medal.’ I said I don’t know if this is the horse I’ll do it on, but that’s where I’d like to go, so that’s what we’re working towards.”
The Chronicle’s Lisa Slade will be in Lexington, Ky., this weekend covering the U.S. Dressage Finals—make sure to check in at www.chronofhorse.com for all the news!