Growing up, I rode both hunt seat and saddleseat in equal amounts. My grandmother has a small farm that my mother and I would go to several days a week to work our hunters we used for foxhunting. We often found inexpensive projects to transform and find a new career with someone else, so many breeds came through the barn, teaching me the different talents and abilities of each. At the same time, I was traveling three and a half hours away, several times a month, to a Saddlebred barn out of which I was competing.
Finding Dory has excelled in the hunter ring. Photo by Howard Schatzberg.
Saddleseat was and continues to be my main focus, but my involvement in the Saddlebred breed is how I met Finding Dory. In between college school years, I went to work with Jim and Fay Lowry who operate one of the top saddleseat show barns in the country. They mostly board and train horses for amateur exhibitors, but have raised a couple of show horses for themselves.
In July of 2016, Jim gave me the task of starting their three-year-old Morgan mare, believing that she would be a hunter, despite her sire being one of the top Morgan saddleseat horses in the country. Our first rides were uneventful - in a good way. Fay says Dory's willing and kind, but bold, demeanor has been with her since birth, and describes her as having the personality of a pet dog; just one of the reasons Dory has a forever home with her. At the end of August, it was time to return to school five hours away. Jim and Fay allowed me to take Dory with me to continue her work. On the second of October, just three months after being broke to ride, Dory and I went to a local mini-event and placed fifth out of ten in the beginner novice division.
From there we hunted twice with Bridlespur Hunt Club (MO), before focusing our attention on the show hunter division. My mother and I have introduced many new horses to the hunt field, especially Saddlebreds to prove their versatility. As a Morgan, Dory is no exception and took to it quickly. My favorite thing about Dory is her expression. Her ears are glued forward when anyone enters her stall and she rushes to meet you at the door. She also has a daily routine of laying down for a nap. I learned recently that she’ll lay her head in my lap if I go in and sit behind her. I’ve caught her biting at the air and nickering while she dreams - not many horses are as special as she. But she wouldn’t be as fun if there weren’t challenges. Even though Dory isn’t built for saddleseat, she never forgets what she was bred to do. There are many days when I ask her to trot and she’ll step off with a snort and her tail raised over her back. Usually it’s funny, but not those times when we were entering a dressage ring.
Since I was still attending school last semester, I didn’t get to go home to hunt as much as I would have liked. Instead, Dory and I worked in the arena and the pastures where I have a simple set up of three crossrails fashioned from five borrowed jump standards, baling twine, and fallen branches from the woods. Being the only hunter on the Saddlebred show horse property, we had to make do. In March, we competed at a Stephens College schooling show where Dory won her first 2’ hunter class! Little did I know, this would be our only over fences class before competing at the Morgan Grand Nationals in October.
Finding Dory enjoys following the Bridlespur pack. Photo by Christopher Mutrux.
It was difficult to fit schooling shows into the schedule since I traveled for Saddlebred shows all summer long. As September approached, I reached out to local hunter/jumper rider, Stacy Wright for some tips and advice on how to prepare for the Morgan show. She kindly allowed me to school in her arena (real jumps!) and was impressed with Dory’s willingness and effort, and overall ability for just being four years old. Stacy’s encouragement helped me not to expect too much from Dory, but to keep doing what we were doing.
The Morgan breed offers a national championship show held in Oklahoma City with nearly every discipline. Since Jim and Fay have always taken their string of Morgans in training, they looked forward to bringing Dory for the working hunter classes. At four years old, and being just her second hunter show ever, Dory had two clean rounds and even placed third in the flat class! She successfully introduced Jim to the hunter world and he’s excited for her to continue to improve in that division.
The following weekend was Bridlepur’s 90th anniversary opening meet. She set a good example and had great manners riding in the first field with 40 other horses. I hope that she can introduce Jim and Fay to foxhunting this winter, too.