Unionville, Pa.—Sept. 22
The last time Hillary Parker competed at the Plantation Field International in 2014 she walked off the preliminary cross-country course with Built In Bling after the mare aggravated an old injury.
Yesterday, Parker was able to put that out of her mind as she and the half-bred Clydesdale-Thoroughbred conquered the CCI2*-S course with a clear round and a handful of time penalties—their first ever international event.
“I kind of feel like I’ve conquered some old demons,” said Parker with a smile.
Parker, Christiana, Pennsylvania, bought the now 14-year-old Canadian-bred mare 10 years ago from her friend Janice Simons, who’d bought “Prissy” for her husband to ride.
She sent her to training at a farm where Parker was working. “She lost her mind three weeks in, and we gave her two solid months of training, and it was really clear she wasn’t going to be her husband’s horse. She was too sensitive,” said Parker.
But she’d fallen in love, so she bought Prissy in payments. The mare, by the Thoroughbred stallion Century’s Red, was spooky and reactive, but Parker worked through her issues with the help of Kristen Villeneuve and now trains with Molly Kinnamon.
“We went through a really rough patch when we moved up here—5, 6 and 7 was pretty awful, but then I got good help and things clicked, and now she’s really fun. She’s really great on cross-country; she’s so honest. She’s a Clydesdale, but she’s all heart,” said Parker, who runs a boarding barn full-time.
Parker’s had jobs working with off-the-track Thoroughbreds, and still owns one, but she enjoys the challenge that comes with riding a heavier horse and teaching her to use her body.
“I always feel underpowered when I’m sitting on a Thoroughbred,” she said with a laugh. “She has so much power in her booty. She’s so powerful off the ground that everything feels weak compared to her! But I love the Thoroughbreds. They’re fun.”
Prissy, who got her barn name due to the fact that she hates walking through mud, had a breathing issue that came to light as she was starting her career, and two years ago after the pair had completed a few intermediate horse trials, Parker knew it was time to get her tie-back surgery.
“She’s a different horse from two years ago,” she said. “She feels really fit and really strong. Being able to breathe makes a really big difference. She was good and strong and honest out there [at Plantation Field]. She made it feel easy, which is really cool. She makes everything feel like a novice. Before I felt like I really had to work hard at [the fitness], but I feel like I haven’t done a lot. It’s all just been listening to Molly. When we flat her we do it in a different way to help her fitness. I feel like I’ve galloped half as much as I have in years past.”
Parker, 36, hadn’t competed in more than two years due to Prissy’s surgery and then time and money constraints. She completed the preliminary at the Seneca Valley Pony Club Horse Trials (Maryland) a couple of weeks ago, but admitted she felt very rusty.
Plantation was her big goal for the year. “The goal is just to try to do my horse justice and show that I’ve done a lot of homework,” she said. “This year I went, ‘Why am I working so hard if I can’t enjoy my horse and do what I like to do?’ I kind of figured it out. I’m flying by the seat of my pants and running up my credit bill here and there!”
She and Prissy almost didn’t make it this weekend though when the mare scratched her eye on Wednesday.
“I was in tears, blubbering to my vet, ‘I have to leave! If it’s going to work I have to leave in an hour. Can you come and look at her?’ They sent someone out right away, and said if I could medicate her eye it would be OK. She’s fine. She’s a little squinty,” she said.
Parker isn’t sure what’s next for Prissy, but she would like to do a CCI3*-L next year.
Either way, they’ve both come back confident and strong, and Parker feels more mentally ready than she ever has. “I don’t know, I’ve just had this calmness about me,” she said. “I think it helps that Molly’s been here to warm me up. If I was on my own I’d probably be barfing off the side of my horse!”