Mia Farley has been logging some serious windshield time. In the past month, she’s driven from Florida to Kentucky, then Kentucky to Virginia, back to Florida, before finally settling—for now—in Virginia.
“I stopped in Georgia and a guy asked me if I was a trucker,” said Farley, 23, laughing as she navigated traffic while driving a six-horse rig for the O’Connor Event Team from their winter base in Florida to their summer setup in Virginia. The stop in Kentucky was so she could compete two horses at the 2023 Cosequin Lexington CCI4*-S, held April 27-30 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.
Phelps, a 10-year-old off-track Thoroughbred gelding owned by David O’Connor, finished 13th in the class with Farley, adding to their dressage score of 31.4 just 1.6 cross-country time penalties and three rails as he struggled to focus in the Rolex Stadium. Meanwhile, Farley and her own BGS Firecracker, a 13-year-old Irish Sport Horse, were 14th after dressage with a score of 30.9 and had 8 time faults in cross-country but withdrew before the final inspection.
“She didn’t look 100 percent after cross-country,” Farley said. “I was sad that she couldn’t go on, but I’m happy with the decision we made because it’ll save her for another day.”
Farley, who grew up in San Clemente, California, headed east to work with the O’Connor Event Team five years ago, after riding in a clinic with O’Connor.
Farley has been logging her time in the saddle and in the barn—not to mention behind the wheel—working to reach the elite echelon of the eventing world like her mentors David and Karen O’Connor at the O’Connor Event Team.
Farley and both of her mounts recently were announced as alternates for the U.S. Eventing European Development Tour that happens next month. Selected were Jenny Caras and Trendy Fernhill, Andrew McConnon and Ferrie’s Cello, Caroline Pamukcu (formerly Martin) and HSH Blake, and Cassie Sanger and Fernhill Zoro. Farley was named to the top two alternate spots with Firecracker and Phelps, respectively, followed by James Alliston and Nemesis, and Allie Knowles and Morswood.
The four selected horse-and-rider combinations will compete in the FEI Eventing Nations Cup Poland CCIO4*-S, to be held June 21-25 during the Strzegom Horse Trials, and then attend CHIO Aachen on June 30-July 1 in Germany to watch the competition. Farley doesn’t know if she’ll end up getting to go but said she’s ready if she gets the nod.
“If I do get to go, it’d be a jump in my career,” she said. “It’d be my first overseas experience, and I’d hope to be competitive. I feel like I’m ready for something like that and that I would learn a lot.”
“I would never have expected us to be where we’re at now,” she added about Phelps. “It’s thrilling and exciting. He’s an underdog. I don’t think anyone ever expected him to be a four-star horse.”
In addition to a strong showing at Kentucky, Farley and Phelps placed third overall at the Morven Park International CCI4*-L (Virginia) last October.
Farley, the youngest of Rebecca and Chris Farley’s three children, grew up riding at the barn where her mom was a trainer. She’s got two older brothers—Jayden, 25, and Dorin, 27—who she said helped shape her into a strong-willed athlete.
“I always tell people I’m tough because I grew up with them pushing me around,” Mia said. “I was homeschooled for most of my life, so I rode and tried to surf a lot with my brothers, but really, horses were my thing. I always knew it.”
Mia, keeping her eyes on the road ahead both literally and figuratively, took a few minutes while driving from Florida to Virginia to chat about her selection as an alternate for the European tour, her experience at Kentucky and her plans for the future.
After your successful finish in the four-star at Kentucky, what are you doing to stay prepared so that you’re ready if you get called up for the European tour?
Normally [Phelps] would have three weeks off, but there’s no time off now. He got a normal couple of days off and then it was right back to work. Part of the responsibility of being a team member is always being prepared for what the team asks of you. It’s exciting, and it feels good that they trust that I’ll be ready for that.
Tell me about Kentucky. What was it like and how did both horses handle it?
I’ve been in a few four-stars, but that was my first Kentucky experience. It was a huge atmosphere and both horses handled it really well. My mare [Firecracker] gets really anxious in a big atmosphere, but we’ve been very consistent about the way she’s ridden and trained, day in, day out. I think she’s confident that when I get on her, based on that consistent training, she knows it’ll be the same every time, and so she knows it’s no big deal. Three years ago, she would have melted in there. But I do think I could get five more points out of her.
Phelps really impressed us on dressage day. He’s good every day, but that day, he cantered into the ring and you could tell he thought, “I gotta be fancy here.” And then he kind of wows us every time he goes out [on cross-country]. He’s a very special cross-country horse, and he proved it again.
With Firecracker, over the first three cross-country fences, I could just hear her, in her mind, screaming with excitement. I was, like, “Wait, Firecracker, wait for me.” She’s something else!
Does riding two horses give you an advantage, since you ride the first one on cross-country and then know how everything is going to go for the second horse?
I feel so lucky to have two four-star horses. It’s nice to go around on one and then know the lines. But they’re so different. Phelps is a big-strided Thoroughbred and very efficient over fences, so his strides are much different from her. Firecracker’s gallop is a lot more up and down, so she doesn’t cover as much ground as Phelps does. Firecracker is so incredibly talented. She sometimes relies on her scope, when I don’t maybe put her in the right spot, but Phelps always knows where he’s at.
Firecracker didn’t appear at the final presentation, but Phelps did and moved on to the stadium phase. How’d it go?
We had three rails down. Phelps’ weakness is show jumping. I think with the stadium and the tents and show jumping being his weakness, it was hard for him to focus on the job. Still, I was happy and proud of him. It just adds to his experience and makes him better for the next time. I knew it was going to be hard for him in that atmosphere, but we learned so much from it.
Take me back and tell me how you got into riding?
I started riding at 3 years old. My mom was a trainer, so I grew up around the barn. I did my first event when I was about 7. My first horse was Oreo Cookie, a black-and-white pony. And then I rode Precious Gem. Her barn name was Ruby. I had Ruby from when I was 9 until I was 12, and I’ve had mares ever since. I had the opportunity to ride [Jennifer Wooten-Macouzet’s former five-star mount] The Good Witch when I was 13 until I was 15, and then I got Fern. She was my young rider horse.
Poor Fern—she got my emotional teenage years. The first day I rode her, I was like, “Oh, this is it.” I got lucky with her because I didn’t know much. I just felt like she was a fun, smart, fancy horse, and we just got better and better. I think she tried her heart out for me.
You’ve obviously ridden a lot of mares. Is that by design?
I really like mares, I think because they’re a little bit more difficult than a gelding, usually. I really enjoy the process of developing a relationship with a mare. I believe they’ll do the world for you.
Phelps is a gelding. How did you get the ride on him and was it an adjustment after riding mares for so long?
I love riding Phelps! He’s the first off-the-track Thoroughbred that I’ve had the [opportunity] to ride. I grew up riding warmbloods. He was hard to get used to because he’s not really nervous, but he’s sensitive to everything. If I make a mistake, I know about it right away. I started riding Phelps when he was 4. I think I was in the right place at the right time. They needed someone to ride him because he was a sales project. David enjoys getting off-the-track Thoroughbreds and giving them a job. Phelps was a sales horse for the longest time, and he just kept moving up the levels.
You grew up in Southern California doing hunter/jumpers. How’d you make the move into the upper levels of eventing?
I did quite a lot of pony hunters and then a bit of equitation before I moved east to focus on my eventing career. I absolutely loved equitation. I loved perfecting rounds. But you can only ride equitation until you’re 18. At the end of my 17th year, I did a clinic with David, and he suggested I move east. I committed to three months but after that, I was like, “I’ll stay!”
What’s it like training with David and Karen O’Connor?
They are so cool. They really believe in independence. They show you the ropes and train you enough at home so you can go to shows and rely on your training. They want you to be able to do it yourself and think for yourself.
What’s next for you? Are you interested in setting up a training business or buying and selling horses?
I’m very focused on my competitive career. My eyes are on being one of the best. With the right people surrounding me, I’m hoping to do as much as I can for my competitive career. Eventing is my thing. I want to be a top player in the sport.