Television personality Helen Ketchum once famously said “Grandmothers are voices of the past and role models of the present. Grandmothers open the doors to the future.”
For Lauren Billys Shady, 35, a two-time Olympic eventer who represents Puerto Rico, those words couldn’t be truer. California-born and raised, Shady was competing in her first Fédération Equestre Internationale event at Twin Rivers Ranch (California) in 2009 when she found herself stabled across the aisle from Mark Watring, an Olympic show jumper and winner of the individual gold medals at the 2002 Central American and Caribbean Games (El Salvador) and the 2003 Pan American Games (Dominican Republic) and 2006 CACG (Colombia). Watring, who was born in Puerto Rico, had represented both the U.S. and Puerto Rican equestrian teams in international competition.
Shady’s grandmother Maria Latoni, now 92, was on hand that fateful weekend to watch Shady compete and fortuitously became the impetus for Shady’s switch to competing for Puerto Rico.
Latoni was one of nine children born and raised in Bayamón, a city outside San Juan, Puerto Rico. Shady encouraged her grandmother to introduce herself to Watring, and during their subsequent conversations, Watring suggested that Latoni encourage Shady to compete for Puerto Rico, as was her birthright because of her grandmother’s heritage.
Fast forward 14 years, and earlier this summer Shady and Can Be Sweet, an 11-year-old German Sport Horse gelding she owns with the Can Be Sweet Syndicate LLC, won the first-ever gold medal in eventing for Puerto Rico at the 2023 Central American and Caribbean Games. Most sports were held in San Salvador (El Salvador) but due to a lack of equestrian facilities, riding events were moved to Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) and held June 24-July 4 at the Centro Ecuestre Palmarejo. Shady and “Charlie” decisively won the event, a CCI2*-L, with a final score of 35.2. Luis Ariel Santiago Franco (53.5) and Fernando Parroquin Delfin (55.5), both representing Mexico, finished second and third, respectively.
Shady is a two-time Olympian, having competed in the 2016 Rio Olympics (Brazil) and the 2021 Tokyo Olympics (Japan) aboard Castle Larchfield Purdy, her now-21-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding. Retired from upper-level competition, “Purdy” now is teaching Shady’s 17-year-old student Nadia Vogt about eventing.
At the recent Woodside Summer Horse Trials, held Aug. 11-13 in Woodside, California, Purdy and Vogt won the event’s inaugural modified division while Charlie and Shady topped the open intermediate. Vogt was the only rider in her division to carry finish on her dressage score (29.5), which she credited to Purdy—a horse who, in his 21 years, has survived colic surgery, battled inflammatory airway disease and evacuated (twice) with the rest of Shady’s animals and family during the 2020 California wildfires.
“He definitely saves you a lot, and he knows what he’s doing,” said Vogt, who just started her senior year of high school. “He brings me so much joy when I sit on his back every day and he’s just a big joy to ride. Lauren definitely has him really well-trained, and I’m so glad Lauren gave me the opportunity to ride him. He loves what he’s doing, still. I don’t think he knows his age. He’s just excited to work every day.”
We caught up with Shady after she’d spent a day training at the 10-acre Carmel Valley, California, farm she shares with her husband, Jeff Shady, a home health physical therapist and semipro obstacle course racer. The couple’s Castillo Farm is named in honor of Purdy, as “castillo” means “castle” in Spanish.
You and Charlie won the first-ever gold medal in eventing for Puerto Rico at the recent CACG. What a huge accomplishment. Is it tough always competing as an individual instead of on a team?
I’ve always been a team of one, so I don’t notice the difference. I will say it poses its own challenges. My team is about the people that I’ve put around me to help support me and my horses as we get to the top. I really lean on those people heavily. I think about my competitions really singularly, which has its benefits. I don’t spend a lot of time looking around at what other people are doing. I’m there to do my personal best. I do get support from [the Puerto Rican] Olympic Committee and federation during championships, and of course the syndicates that own my horses.
Let’s talk about Charlie. He’s so handsome and in all the pictures online, he’s got his ears up and looks ready for anything. What’s he like?
That horse likes to win. Sometimes I call him “Grandpa” in the barn because he’s sort of a cautious, slow-moving guy, and he’s so kind to people. He’s a barn favorite, but when you ride him he can turn it on. He’s keen to the jumps and fun to ride in a competition setting because he can really turn it on and be showy. He’s a little bit of spice and a little bit of sweet.
Are he and your former Olympic mount, Purdy, similar?
He could not be more opposite from Purdy except that he has a really big stride. He’s very light on his feet and can be a bit sharp, and he’s just totally the opposite in terms of the ride. When I first got him, I went to get on for the first time. I should have longed him, but I didn’t really think about it. I threw my leg over him at the mounting block, and he bucked me off without even taking a stride. But he had walked up to the mounting block like a grandpa.
What’s the story behind his name? Does he have moments where he’s not sweet?
I’ve understood that maybe that’s true, but I haven’t experienced it. I got him in February 2017, as he was coming 5, from the Bavarian State Stud. They’d kept him as a stud because of his bloodline, and I guess he could be pretty devilish. Once they castrated him, they figured out he could be sweet, too.
It sounds like he was pretty sweet indeed at the CACG. Can you take me through your rounds?
Charlie is quite good on the flat and really capable. I school fourth-level dressage with him, so when we had to do our dressage test, I knew we could lay it out. As we [headed into the dressage stadium] he grew a head taller than he is. He just rose up for that test. It was amazing. He was the best version of any horse I’ve ever ridden. When he turned it on for dressage, I got excited because I knew we could play. Cross-country was interesting. It was a new course and the night before, there was a lot of rain. There was a low spot on the course, so Fence 3 and another were in standing water. The time was incredibly difficult to make because of the heaviness of the ground. I just went out and rode carefully. He lost a shoe at Fence 12 of 20-odd fences, but he really kept it together and stayed organized, and despite the fact that he lost a shoe, he jumped quite well.
Wow. And he was OK for stadium after all that?
He was fine. He jumped a really clean round, a beautiful round. And then when we got to the finish flags, all those things that were important to that day just flooded me. There were members of the dressage and show-jumping teams there to support me, so for the first time at a championship, I felt like I did have a team, and it’s something I’ll never forget. And my grandmother was there. She watched me win gold. That was another reason it was so powerful and so cool. I think, in the moment, I was really just focused on doing my job and doing the best I could. When I reflect back on it, it’s such an honor. I’m so proud of Charlie and his performance, and my performance, too. The fact that it rewarded us with a historical moment for our Olympic committee and federation just feels so sweet.
Was it your grandmother who got you into riding?
No. There isn’t really a history of horses in my family. Both of my parents are doctors. I don’t have a personal history with horses. I’ve just always loved them. I’d dress up my couch like a horse and sit on it, and sit on my dog and hope he’d stand up, like a horse. My great-grandfather was a doctor for the coal mines, and he’d ride from mine to mine on horseback, jumping the fences along the way. But I don’t really know where my [passion] came from. It’s really just a part of who I was meant to be.
One of your students is now riding Purdy, and they finished in first place in the modified division at Woodside. How did that feel?
It was very nerve-wracking because I want her to have as much fun as I had on him. That horse is just such a blessing. It’s nerve-wracking but so rewarding to see him so happy and sharing what I got to experience with him with others. He’s pretty amazing. He loves going to competitions. He would load himself up in the trailer and go if he could.
What’s the future hold for you and Charlie? Are you looking to compete at the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris or do you have your eye on something else?
I’ll be staying in California for the fall. I’ll do the Galway Downs CCI3*-L with Charlie [in November], and then I have a few horses moving up from novice to training. Long term, I’m going to sit out Paris and focus on getting a lot better so I can be competitive. I want to focus on my strength and being ready for Los Angeles [the 2028 Summer Olympics] with more than one horse.
When you’re not riding, what’s your favorite thing to do?
I love to cook. Or I’m going somewhere to eat fun food or dinner, or I’m with the dogs or one of our five cats. My friends and I have a group called The Supper Club, and we pretend we’re opening a restaurant. I’m always trying to challenge myself to try something new in the kitchen—except baking; I’m definitely not a baker. I’m just not good at it. [My baked goods] might look pretty but they don’t taste good.