Sunday, May. 26, 2024

Wallstreet Week Exceeds Expectations At Lexington National

Alisa Berry and her partner overcome extreme adversity to return to the show ring as champions.

There’s an old proverb that says it’s the journey, not the destination that’s important. And sometimes, as Alisa Cline Berry has discovered, the journey can change a person’s perspective about what constitutes success.
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Alisa Berry and her partner overcome extreme adversity to return to the show ring as champions.

There’s an old proverb that says it’s the journey, not the destination that’s important. And sometimes, as Alisa Cline Berry has discovered, the journey can change a person’s perspective about what constitutes success.

It’s been a rough road for Berry and her 12-year old Thoroughbred-Hanoverian, Wallstreet Week. Eight months ago, “Wally” was clinging to life by the slimmest thread when he suffered devastating injuries in a freak stall accident.

But the pair’s determination was rewarded when Berry and Wally earned the amateur-owner, 18-35, division championship at the Lexington National Horse Show, Aug. 13-17 at the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington.

The difficulties that she and her horse have encountered over the past three years have left Berry reflective and philosophical about her achievement.

“We’re just happy to take each show for what it brings and just live one day at a time,” said Alisa as she and her husband Jason packed for the trip home to Verona, Va. “I never take anything for granted anymore. I’ve come to look at things very differently over the past year.”

The Roller Coaster Begins

As a junior rider, Alisa never had the opportunity to own an equitation horse. So just having the chance to acquire a horse like Wally—for two years straight the gelding was named best young horse at Devon (Pa.)— was the opportunity of a lifetime for Alisa.

“He was so fancy it was unbelievable,” she recalled. “Normally, I couldn’t afford to even sit on a horse like that.”

Alisa purchased Wally (by Wallstreet Kid) from Cismont Manor Farm when it became clear the horse wasn’t going to be a four-foot horse.

“He was mentally tough,” Alisa recalled, “just a hard horse to show and to manage. I had the time and the energy to spend on him. I was an amateur with nothing better to do than to spend every waking moment trying to figure out how to make this horse better.”

Part of the reason Alisa had the time was that she had to take a year off to regain her amateur status after spending two years teaching and coaching at her alma mater, Sweet Briar College (Va.) following her graduation. She spent the time just bonding and building trust with her new horse.

“We’d have a good day, and then it seemed like we couldn’t do anything for the next week,” she recalled. “It was always a roller coaster. I didn’t know whether I was ever going to be able to ride or show him, whether he was going to work for me.”

Nelson Claims Inaugural Equitation Challenge

Chris Nelson earned the Amy Ylvisaker Reistrup Equitation Challenge Trophy, a new class introduced at this year’s Lexington National Horse Show to honor the late Lexington area horsewoman’s legacy as a rider, coach and mentor.

Riders qualified after winning classes at the Lexington Spring Premiere, Lexington Spring Encore and the Lexington National. They were scored on their performance in the schooling area and on their first round, then the top five tested. No trainers were allowed in the warm-up area or on the course walk.

“The concept of the class was to honor Amy and what she believed in,” said Gordon Reistrup, Amy’s widower. “Amy always tried to teach her students that the ultimate goal of the trainer is to make the rider think independently.”

Nelson, 17, Ocala, Fla., rode the 6-year-old gelding, Titletown, acquired by Donald Stewart Jr. only two weeks earlier. Nelson confessed it was only his third time on the horse, and that he’d never had asked for a counter-canter before having to perform it in the class. He called Titletown “a natural equitation horse.”

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Nelson also won the large junior, 16-17, division championship on Von Trapp, owned and trained by Stewart. Nelson is originally from Flower Mound, Texas. After seeing his first grand prix, Nelson said he knew what he wanted to do with his life and sought advice from local horse people as to how to accomplish that goal.

“They all told me the best person to learn from was Mike McCormick, and so I worked for him for seven years,” Nelson said. “He took me from riding in the two-foot classes to grand prix. I got a lot of wonderful experience with Mike, riding young horses and some difficult horses as well.”

Three months ago while in Florida, Nelson began working for Stewart so he could be on the East Coast. Nelson said he realizes that his success with the horses he rides means that the horses will probably move on shortly to new homes. “I think of it as a compliment when horses sell,” he said. “It means I must have done a good job with them.”

Finally, Alisa’s efforts began to pay off. “He started to show he was willing to meet me in the middle,” she explained. “He started to work for me and to show that he cared and was willing to try.”

At first, it seemed like nothing could go wrong. Alisa showed Wally five times and was champion three times. Then they hit their first blip on the road. In late 2006, Wally injured his suspensory and was out for recuperation.

In 2007, Wally came back better than ever. Then disaster struck. In January 2008, after a successful outing at the Stonewall Country show in Lexington, Alisa took Wally home and put him up for the night. The events of the next morning have haunted her nightmares ever since.

“When I walked out to the barn, I first knew something was wrong because I could hear him wheezing, straining to breath,” Alisa recalled.

The first thing she saw when she entered the barn was the shoe on the bottom of her horse’s right hind leg firmly wedged in the bars of the stall. Her horse lay on the stall floor, suspended from the trapped hoof. Wally’s face and neck were grotesquely swollen to twice their normal size.

With the use of a special saw, Alisa and her father cut through the bars to free the hoof. Wally got to his feet on his own, but Alisa quickly saw that his eye had been badly injured. His third eyelid had been torn loose and was hanging down on the side of his head. She couldn’t tell from the swollen, oozing tissue if his entire eye was lacerated.

And Wally was obviously in shock. He could barely breathe because of the swelling surrounding his windpipe, and his heart rate had skyrocketed. Dr. Tabitha Moore bandaged Wally’s head, put a fly mask over it to hold the bandages in place, and Wally got on the trailer for the ride to the Blue Ridge Equine Clinic in Charlottesville.

Veterinarians there told Alisa that the next 48 hours were critical.

“All I could think at first was, ‘Just live, I don’t care if you’re not a show horse, and you’re just a pasture ornament.’ Let’s just get through this,” Alisa said.

But more things started to go wrong. Wally’s kidneys started to fail, and he had to stand tied in his stall with his head supported in a sling to prevent further swelling. The veterinarians were certain that he had multiple tiny skull fractures, but they couldn’t take radiographs because of the massive swelling.

Alisa had no choice but to return to her job on Monday as an equine field consultant for the Augusta Coop, but she drove the 11⁄2 hours one-way, every day to visit Wally.

“He’d nicker to me when he would hear my voice, and that really meant so much to me,” she said.
Even after Wally passed the 48-hour mark, the veterinarians still gave the gelding only a 50/50 chance. When he first tried to eat, he choked. And Alisa still had no idea if the horse had injured his leg or if he would recover his sight.

Finally, when he was off intravenous fluids, Wally was released. Alisa was armed with a daunting pharmacy of medications and a treatment schedule to provide the necessary care for her horse.
Wally began to respond. “His old attitude started to slowly come back,” Alisa said. “I think I rode him for the first time in April. When I got on his back, I cried. All we did was just walk around, but it was so emotional.”

Their Comeback

Bringing Wally back was like working with a person who had suffered a brain injury. She had to determine whether Wally’s neurons would fire correctly to ensure that he had adequate coordination to negotiate a hill or to hop over a crossrail.

“The first time I cantered him, I decided to see if he would do his lead changes. When he didn’t have any problem, I finally started to allow myself to think that maybe he really was going to be OK,” she said.

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But there still was one unresolved problem. Wally continued to develop ulcers in his eye. One ulcer would heal only to have another develop. Then came the devastating news that Wally’s eye could eventually atrophy and would have to be removed.

“I was measuring his eye every day just to see if it was getting smaller,” Alisa recalled.

Specialists at Virginia Tech determined that Wally no longer had any sensation on his cornea. Hay and dust would irritate the eye, but Wally didn’t reflexively react by blinking or tearing.

Ferrell Is Fantastic

Professional Sandy Ferrell returned from a summer break to capture multiple tricolor ribbons at the Lexington National Horse Show.

Ferrell, Bernville, Pa., won the regular working hunter division aboard Kimberly Dunn’s Independence. Dunn, who usually rides Independence in the amateur-owner division, was unable to make it to Lexington so Ferrell rode the horse in the four-foot division.

“She loves to see him jump the big jumps, and I love to ride him,” Ferrell said. “He’s very competitive. All I have to do is remind him that the jumps are a little bit bigger when we first walk into the ring.”
 
The fancy gray Bolero did double duty and carried Ferrell to the green hunter championship and owner Staci Arani to the amateur-owner, 36 and over, tricolor.

“He’s the horse of a lifetime for me,” Ferrell said. “He’s a truly talented athlete with the desire to win. He’s only about 15.3 1⁄2 hands, but he has the power of any horse out there.”
Arani purchased Bolero last January, and Ferrell immediately clicked with the adorable gelding, earning championships from Florida to Devon (Pa.). Even though Arani hadn’t shown Bolero herself since May, she won three straight classes on the 8-year-old gelding.

“He’s such a trier,” Ferrell. “The stars must have been aligned just right that he became available at the same time my client was looking to purchase a new horse.”

One final surgery was needed. In June, Wally went to Virginia Tech where the potentially irritating lower lashes were tucked back, and a stitch was taken in the corner of the eye to help protect it from the environment. A careful comparison between Wally’s eyes will reveal that one is about 1 centimeter smaller than the other.

Miraculously, Wally didn’t suffer any damage to his legs or vertebrae in the accident. In July, he returned to the horse show ring at a schooling show. “He just walked in and jumped around like his old self,” Alisa said.

“Physically, he’s not there yet,” Alisa cautioned. “But he’s come so far.”

Two weeks before Lexington, Alisa took Wally to Rose Mount (Va.). “I had originally planned to do the adults, but I figured, ‘What do we have to lose?’ ” Alisa said. “So we put him in the amateurs, and he was champion. It was a small show, and there was no pressure.”

At Lexington, Wally was second and third in his first classes before he won the under saddle. He scored a 93 in his last over fences class, which brought Alisa to tears.

Alisa expressed her gratitude to everyone who had provided the opportunities and support to allow her to enjoy this triumph—to Cismont Manor Farm for making it possible for her to own a horse such as Wallstreet Week, her husband and trainer Jason who saw the potential in pairing Alisa and Wally, her parents for their support through the years, and the veterinarians at Blue Ridge Equine Hospital for saving her horse’s life.

Although Alisa said she’s still as competitive as she ever was and never stops putting pressure on herself to perform her best, she said she no longer feels she has to prove anything with Wally.

“Even if he’d never injured himself, he’s exceeded all of my expectations,” she said.

Roberta Anderson

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