A week or two after Kim Mulligan first got TBS Rolls The Dice five years ago, things were not looking good. A friend of Mulligan’s had sent her the mare as a project, noting that the horse had been farmed out to another program and came back a bit unglued. By the time she got to Mulligan, she required two people to hold her to mount, she was difficult to get to the ring and back to the barn, and she had perfected the spook-and-spin.
“I think I fell off more in that first three months than ever before,” Mulligan said.
But Mulligan wasn’t deterred by the mare’s quirks. At home, at her Twin Bays Stable in Easton, Connecticut, she took “Lily” on long handwalks through the woods, letting her get used to squirrels and rustling leaves, and she took advantage of the mare’s orientation toward food to give her rewards of bites of grass to and from the show arena and peppermints as soon as she was out of the ring.
“It’s taken several years,” Mulligan said. “Obviously, some days are frustrating. You feel like you’ve gone forward and then take a step backward. It’s a process. I’m sure there will be other days she’ll decide to go the other way and leave me in the dirt. But she’s grown on me, and she’s come a long way. The first couple months it was like, ‘What was I thinking!’ But it’s just been about having the time and the patience.”
That time and patience paid off for Mulligan and the 13-year-old warmblood of unrecorded breeding during Saratoga Spring II, when the pair topped the $10,000 USHJA International Hunt And Go Hunter Derby, the feature hunter class of the May 13-16 show.
Mulligan enjoyed the hunt-and-go format for TBS Rolls The Dice as she said the mare does better without a big break between rounds. Competitors trotted a circle to demonstrate soundness between the classic and handy portions of the class, then walked, picked up a canter again and began the handy portion of the class, heading right to an option of oxers. Mulligan was a little worried about a fence early in the handy round that several horses had down, but TBS Rolls The Dice jumped it beautifully. Still, walking out of the ring, she wasn’t confident she had the winning round.
“[As I left the ring] my boyfriend was like ‘Wait, wait, wait, I want to hear the scores,’ and I’m always thinking, ‘Oh, I’ll get a low score,’ ” said Mulligan. “I’m very hard on myself, but I thought I rode it the best that I could, and I was very happy with her. When we heard what the results were, I was over the moon.”
The win in Saratoga Springs, New York, marked the first derby victory for both her and Lily.
Mulligan started with Lily over striped poles, and she was a regular winner at the 1.30-meter level, but friends kept commenting on the mare’s textbook form and suggested she could be a fit for the other side of the show grounds. So, midway through the 2020 HITS Ocala (Florida) circuit, she started dabbling in the hunters, finishing seventh in her first USHJA International Hunter Derby last June.
A jumper rider herself, Mulligan said the transition to the hunters took a lot of practice. Lily occasionally would take a good look at a fence, causing Mulligan to put her leg on to encourage her. This wasn’t a problem in the jumper ring, but in the hunter ring it looked less than smooth.
“A lot of it was keep doing the high performance, practicing at home and doing the ticketed warm-up on Tuesday, staying in until she’d get relaxed,” said Mulligan, 50 of Milford, Connecticut. “I think over time, still even this winter, she started to figure it out and stayed the same.
“There wasn’t a fence she wouldn’t gawk at,” Mulligan recalled. “She used to be quick in the air, land and want to go off. Now, she’s just like, ‘Oh, I get this.’ ”
Mulligan got her riding start aboard a Quarter Horse she shared with her mother, showing occasionally at local one-day shows. After graduating from Springfield College (Massachusetts) with a major in rehabilitation and a business minor, she decided to take a year off before grad school to dive into the horse world headfirst. That’s how she found herself a working student at Tatra Farm in Clinton Corners, New York.
At the time, the farm had a Thoroughbred breeding program, and Mulligan learned how to foal out broodmares and start young horses for the track. They had warmbloods too, as well as a show jumping program, and she learned how to start those horses and teach them the basics until they were ready for their first jumps. She earned money grooming and braiding to pay for horse showing. Before long Mulligan’s one-year break before grad school turned into four, until Mulligan admitted to herself that her heart was with the horses.
She worked for a few other show barns before starting Twin Bays Stable in 2004, naming the barn after two identical-looking horses she owned. These days she has about 25 horses at the stable, mostly customer horses with a few school horses as well. But there’s no doubt who’s the No. 1 horse in the barn, as Lily has the first stall, and Mulligan makes time to braid her mane herself to get some extra bonding time in.
“She went so well this weekend; I was really impressed with her,” she said. “She still has her days, but this past week it seemed like everything aligned.”