Everyone who goes to spectate at the historic Upperville Colt & Horse Show has their favorite moments. Some go for the grand prix or the USHJA International Hunter Derby; others prep all year to lead their children around under the oaks. But one of the most timeless traditions at Upperville is the ladies side-saddle, presented just as it was when the show first started in the 1850s. This year, spectators quickly fell in love with a unique entry in the division: Finnis Chrome Magnum, an eye-catching gray Appaloosa who finished second in the under saddle class.
“This was my first time at Upperville,” said his owner and rider Erin Stormont, who was delighted to come home with a red ribbon to commemorate the occasion. “As a hunter kid growing up, I had always wanted to show there but didn’t have the resources to participate, so Upperville in particular has been on my bucket list for a long time.”
In “Finn,” a 15-year-old gelding (Straws Mighty Magnum—R Rumor Has It) she’s owned for the past 10 years, the Locust, North Carolina-based trainer and owner of Storm’s Haven Farm found the ideal partner.
Stormont got the gelding from a young woman who was going through some life transitions and needed to find him a home quickly. After discovering his willing nature and innate athleticism, she decided to dig a little deeper into his background and connected with several more of his past owners. She discovered that Finn was also previously owned by a close friend of her aunt’s, in addition to being used as a lesson horse down the road in Mebane, North Carolina.
“There’s a whole community of people who have known and who continue to love and follow Finn,” Stormont said. “It’s been really amazing to see it grow over the years and have people comment on Facebook whenever they see him and share their memories of him.”
In their decade together in North Carolina, Stormont foxhunted with Finn for years, riding him to whip-in with the Mecklenburg Hounds, as well as eventing with him and using him in her lesson program. In 2019, Finn was crowned champion at Tryon International’s Festival of the Hunt Field Hunter Championship, and he’s a regular outrider horse for the prestigious Queen’s Cup Steeplechase in North Carolina, where he recently celebrated his 15th birthday.
Finn’s jumping days ended when he was diagnosed with degenerative suspensory disease, but that does not prevent him from participating in another of the pair’s pursuits, side-saddle, which Stormont was introduced to via a camp put on by the Aiken Ladies Aside club in South Carolina.
“I went down there for a week one summer and had an absolute blast,” Stormont said. “Once I got Finn in the barn and saw how sweet and willing he was to try new things, I thought he might make a perfect side-saddle partner, and I was right.”
The gelding’s side-saddle debut was in 2019 at the Aiken Horse Show, where the pair finished as reserve champions.
“I hadn’t really even planned on doing it with him, but my friend asked me to come so they could make the numbers; I even borrowed her outfit,” Stormont said. “It was so special. He won the hack, and it was the last show where we were able to jump over fences before his diagnosis.”
Now, the pair are ticking shows off Stormont’s bucket list—and doing it aside. Last year, they took on Devon (Pennsylvania), and she has her eye set on the Warrenton Horse Show (Virginia) side-saddle division next year.
Both horse and rider enjoyed Upperville’s unique atmosphere, Stormont said. For the occasion, her student Ellie Burton lovingly braided a fake tail into Finn’s naturally short Appaloosa tail.
“We had to keep it wrapped up until we were at the in-gate, and I think Finn had a lot of fun swishing it around while he had it in,” Stormont said.
When Stormont outrides Finn at the Queen’s Cup, she also does it aside.
“We’re out there on the race course in full side-saddle regalia, including the top hat and veil,” she said. “He absolutely loves the attention; he’s just naturally drawn to people and always wants to make new friends. I love seeing him interact with the crowd.”
Finn enjoys having a job and being around people, so Stormont plans to keep him doing what he’s comfortable doing, and then he’ll have a home with her for the rest of his days.
“I tell everyone that Finn is my adult pony,” she said. “I can take him literally anywhere and have fun with him. He’s so special; he’s my real life unicorn, and I’m just so lucky he’s my partner.”