Sami Milo didn’t get Lulavani thinking hunter derbies, but that’s exactly where she found her niche.
Four and a half years ago Milo had just sold her grand prix horse and was looking for a prospect to develop when a friend in Denmark sent her a video of a scopey bay mare. Milo bought the mare off the video, reasoning that if she didn’t work out for herself, then the mare had enough quality to sell without too much trouble.
She started the 5-year-old in some jumper classes, and every time she left the ring she’d be flooded by friends trying to convince her to give the hunters a go. So she started doing both, winning the 3’3” performance hunter championship her first time out and an unrecognized derby in 2016. By midyear she stopped trekking to both sides of the showgrounds and started focusing on hunters.
“Hope Glynn encouraged me to start doing her in the international derbies—I didn’t even know what international derbies were four years ago,” said Milo. “And it just kind of took off. We both have been learning along the way, because I hadn’t had experience in the hunter ring. And of course she didn’t either.”
In her second international hunter derby at Menlo Charity (California), she took home the sixth-placed ribbon in excellent company and never looked back. Milo’s traveled from her home base in Rocklin, California, to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington to contest USHJA International Hunter Derby Championships twice, finishing in the top 15 in Section B her first time out.
And at Giant Steps Charity Classic, held July 28-Aug. 2, the pair claimed their fifth international derby win, the $20,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby in Petaluma, California.
In the handy round Milo came back on top with a significant cushion, so she decided to forego the two risky turns she’d considered during the course walk. She put in a tidy round, nailing the first rollback to a forward riding in-and-out that tripped up several competitors, and won the class over Ilana Halpern and Long Game.
It was her second top derby ribbon in as many shows, having taken home second place the week before at HMI Equestrian I (California).
“She has a lot of energy, so a lot of my preparation is making sure she’s calm enough,” said Milo, 41. “She does have a little bit of that jumper in her; she can overreact. A lot of what I’m trying to do is to be firm with her but not overreact myself to create an overreaction with her. Getting her energy level [right] is always the hard part. She jumps clean all the time and jumps great, but I’m always searching for that sweet spot where she’s calm enough that I can let her go and not feel like I’m constantly holding her back.”
The 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare (by El Dorado) lives at Milo’s Cavallo Stables in Newcastle, California, 30 minutes north of Sacramento. There she spends her nights out in a grassy paddock and her days hacking with Milo and ruling over the barn. During quarantine, Milo got Lulavani extra fit by riding her around her 20-acre property. She’s a one-woman horse, though occasionally Milo gives a leg up to one of her children, Mason Milo, 13, who just moved up to the 1.20-meter jumpers, and Gianna Milo, 11, who competes at the 1.10-meter level.
“She’d only been started for five months under saddle when I got her,” said Sami of “Lula.” “She was barely jumping. She pretty much only understands me. I like to think we have a special bond.”
As a youngster, Sami eschewed ballet, gymnastics and cheerleading and started following her mother to the barn. Soon the focus was all on Sami. She kept her horse at home in Southern California where she grew up, where she was a hands-on horsewoman.
“We did everything ourselves,” said Sami. “We trailered to my trainer and did the hauling. Mom braided my horse, and we groomed ourselves. I know how to do everything—I still body clip my own horses. Now I have two kids who want to ride, and I’m trying to figure out how to make their dreams come true. Lula helps a lot with that. Her winnings help fund my kids’ riding.”