A spooky, half-blind, 17.2-hand Clydesdale-cross who roars doesn’t sound like the ideal event horse, but Standing Ovation (“Hennessey”) has broken all the stereotypes. He and 20-year-old Rachael Wood of Easley, S.C., competed in the Merial open intermediate championship at the Nutrena USEA American Eventing Championships in Mill Spring, N.C., and they finished in 36th after a clean but slow cross-country round.
Six years ago, the now 12-year-old gelding was such a handful that his owners couldn’t sell him, so they donated him to the local Pony Club with one stipulation: that he would have just one rider. Then only 14, Wood and one other rider showed up to give him a try, and the owners chose her. Wood says it took about a year for her and Hennessey to bond, and today she is maximizing his potential.
Wood, now 20, rode Western as a kid, and then she switched to hunter/jumpers before eventing captured her attention. A member of the Greenville Foothills Pony Club (S.C.), Wood had her C-1 rating and had competed through novice level when she started riding Hennessey. By the time she was 15, she attained her B rating and had competed at preliminary level. The horse eventually took her through her A rating as well.
Wood’s mother, who is a trail rider, was concerned that Hennessey would hurt himself if they competed at intermediate, so she didn’t allow her daughter to move up past prelim for some time.
“He has so much heart though—if he had the body for it, he’d be a Rolex horse, bless him!” Wood said.
She learned to rider from Trayce Doubek-Dierks, whose Renovatio Farm is around the corner from the Tryon International Equestrian Center. Wood trained with her until a couple of years ago, when she started riding with dressage trainer Jodi Lees and Olympic show jumper Ricardo Villa, based in Campobello, S.C.
Hennessey had also been diagnosed with recurring uveitis, which has progressed to the point that Wood’s veterinarian believes he is completely blind in his right eye now.
“It doesn’t bother him, and he doesn’t tilt his head—except sometimes in dressage to evade the bit! But we had a personal best dressage score this weekend,” says Wood.
Rachael Wood and Standing Ovation on course at the TIEC. Photo by Amy Dragoo.
This championship was not Wood’s first time competing at TIEC; she and Hennessey were actually first on the new cross-course at the U.S. Pony Club Championships, held at TIEC in July. They competed in the preliminary championships then.
“It was a big honor to be the first to ride the course,” she said. “The course here at the AECs was a lot more open, since we got to go out of the derby field, and it was a lot of fun to get out there today. Hennessey has a hard time making the time because he’s so big, but it’s a good venue for him because he likes the big crowds; he definitely feeds off that energy.”
She laughed that Hennessey’s nickname is “Eeyore.”
“He’s always very woe is me, but once you bring carrots out he’s your best friend,” she said. “We also call him the Prius because on cross-country he’s a fireball, but once he stops he’s really chill. He runs cross-country in a snaffle, and he’s very sensitive. Sometimes he hesitates a bit, but if I reassure him he just moves on.”
A vet tech student at Tri-County Technical College in Pendleton, S.C., Wood recognizes that Hennessey may eventually max out in eventing, but she hopes to compete in a CCI* while he’s still going strong. She also has two 3-year-old off-track Thoroughbreds who will eventually take his place.
She also hopes that with Lees’ training she can attain her USDF bronze medal, and with Villa she plans to compete in the many jumper shows offered at TIEC, starting at 1.25-meters and working her way up to bigger fences. Considering the obstacles this pair has overcome, there’s no telling what they might accomplish next.