Monday, April 27, 2009

Buck Davidson Takes 3rd at Rolex and: The Horse that Broke His Heart, That "It" Thing, and Fierce Friendships.

Currently the number one rider in the United States, Buck Davidson, Jr. is the son of Bruce Davidson, one of eventing’s greats.  Buck was a three-time Markham Trophy recipient as the highest placing Young Rider in a United States Equestrian Team Championship.  He was the 2008 Olympic alternate in Hong Kong.  Buck won the recent Fork CIC***, won two Advanced divisions at the Rocking Horse Winter Horse Trials and just placed 3rd this past weekend at Rolex on My Boy Bobby.

Q. When did you start riding? 

A. When I was four.

Q. What was your first horse or pony’s name? 

A. Bucket.  He was a  furry, bay pony with a white face about size of a dog.  The first time I rode mom and dad put Nancy and me on Bucket and held us there.  Then they simulataneously let go and Nancy fell off on way and I fell off the other way.  It was day one: learning how to fall off.    

photo by Stu Forster/ Getty Images

Q. How old are you now? 

A. 33

Q. How is your family involved in eventing

A. Obviously my Dad has done everything in the sport: won two world championships, Olympic gold, silver, bronze, Pan Am gold, Badminton, Kentucky, Burghley.  He's won everything there is to win.  Mom has done Burghley, Badminton, and she was the leading rider in the country one year.  My sister rode up to 2-star level and then went on to other things. I grew up with it.

Q. What did your path to eventing look like? 

A. Because it was so easy and so right there--you always want what you can’t have.  A million horses around and the only thing I wanted to do was anything without horses. I did what I call "guy sports" like football, basketball, ice hockey.  I had to work at the farm and pay rent so-to-speak.  But then I tore up my knee and had to get knee surgery so missed a soccer season.  I played hockey and had another surgery and missed another soccer season.  So then I rode and as I got better I thought maybe I could make living at it.  And after high school I jumped into the family business and here we are today.  It's not the easiest way to make a living but there may not be a better way.  I work for myself.  I couldn’t sit behind a desk. 

Q. What are your colors? 

A. Red and yellow.  And that came from Dad and that came from the guy that taught him to ride and his name was Bayard Tuckerman.

Q. Are you in a relationship? 

A. I am not for the first time.  I've been single for 6 or 7 months and it’s good.

Q. Do you have any kids or hope to? 

A. I don’t have any kids that’s for sure.  I definitely want to get married and have kids and a family and live a life that’s not just for me.  It's definitely something I want to do.  The right thing will come around I’m sure about it.

photo by Emily Daily

Q. Who’s your favorite horse of all time? 

A. There's been a bunch. Diffferent horses for different times.  Pajama Game was a  half-Morgan, half-Thoroughbred that got me the jacket so to speak.  We didn’t know anything but we believed in each other and got the stuff done.  

Trans Am A flirt took me to my first 4-star.  Not the world’s best mover but an unbelievable jumper.  He got me my first top 5 in a 3-star and 4-star.  Mystic Mike got me the National Championship at Kentucky.  The best horse I've ever ridden is Reggie.  But there's been so many.  

Glad Touch...all he ever seemed to do was break me: my back, my leg.  But he was probably most talented horse I've ever ridden.  He died of some weird liver disease.  It was a train wreck from day one.  We thought I needed "real" horse so we got a syndicate together.  He came lame off the plane from Ireland.  But he looked like the real thing.  So a week after one of my horses went lame in Australia I came home and rode him at Menfelt.  He turned over and broke my leg.  We got things righted and got on the list for World Games.  Then we went to Burghley and fell on steeplechase and he broke my back and neck.  For all the horses that aren’t good enough the worst things that happened were on the best horse.  

One day he laid down in the field and that was weird for him.  He had a temperature of 105 so we took him to the vet.   When we got him home I walked past his stall and he was laying down.  He stood up when I walked past. I walked away and he laid back down.  I walked back to his stall again and he stood up. I couldn’t take it anymore.  It still makes me sad to think about it now.  He made my dad so angry because he cribbed so bad and tore up the place!  It was the first horse that was for me and didn’t have some problem.  He was a special horse.  Thinking back he’d be older now but would still be going.  He was as talented or more talented than Reggie. He jumped around Kentucky like it was a joke.  But sometimes it doesn’t work out.  I wish things could have been different--that was a good horse.    I wish we could do it over.   

Q. Who are your current Advanced Horses? 

A. I'm lucky right now have six of them. Ballynoecastle (Reggie), might be the most famous of them all; My Boy Bobby (we call Bobby)--those go to [Rolex] Kentucky.  May I Tell Ya (Ben) goes to Jersey Fresh 3-star; Titanium (Ty)also goes to Jersey Fresh 3-star; LA Albert (Albert) goes to Bromont; Donald also goes to Bromont.

Q. How do you decide which competitions to take them to? 

A.  Reggie and Bobby are both at the 3-star level and ready to go to a 4-star.  Ben and Ty go to the Jersey Fresh 3-star because it's maybe a little easier and the emphasis is more on dressage and show jumping.  Donald will go to Bromont since he's still a bit weak on dressage and the show jumping is not as technical as Jersey Fresh.  The best cross country horses go to Bromont.  And then you pick which one could be most competitive:  at that level you go to win.   I'm lucky for the first time to have the number of horses at this level.  At the end of the day on their day they could all be really competitive.

photo by Emily Daily

Q. Who's your best/ favorite right now? 

A.  They’re all good unique in their own way.  Reggie is so talented and so young and we trust each other.  Albert is the greenest one and the most unreliable but I love him.  He’s beautiful and sweet.  Ty is a beautiful grey horse with a beautiful eye.  He's just a baby and actually and I own him.  That’s fun since I can do exactly what I want, when I want, and if do something wrong no one can get mad at me.  I paid nothing for him and think he will be very very good.  He gives you everything.  Bobby I don’t know very well.  I just started riding him last year so this winter he's staying with me and I ride him every day.  He has won every Advanced he’s gone in [three so far] and won the CIC*** [at The Fork].  He's a sweet horse though he doesn’t have tons of personality and character.  May I Tell Ya (Ben) looks like a pony.  He's so cute and it's exciting to have him back after two years off.  He's dead, dead quiet and then out of no where he bucks you off --and he’ll buck you off right proper.  Then he’ll look at you on the ground and think “I got ya”.  He’s the sweetest in stall.  He’ll pick up all the halters and throw them around aisle.  He has a mini pony that lives with him to try and keep him under wraps.  He's been hurt a couple times in field.  I'm happy to have him back.  

Q.  Do you have any superstitions? 

A.  A lot.  Like unbelievably a lot.  Everything starts with left.  Left sock first, left pant leg first, left shoe first.  Also, at every event I would know exactly what I did the first three times in warm up.  If I jumped the x three times in a row and it goes well then I jump the next horse over the x three times in a row.  If it goes badly then I definitely don't jump the x three times in a row the next time.  Once I had a run out at a competition and I changed everything: boots, britches, underwear, socks--everything.  The next one had a run out and I changed everything again: socks, boots, britches, underwear.  Then the third one went well.  I'm a bit crazy like that.  I once marked pair of britches that went really well.  I wore them the next week and that didn’t work out so I don’t do that anymore!  Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.  You put in the work and you should be good but then it doesn’t hurt to have a little luck.

Q.  What are you known for or proud of in your riding style?  

A.  I'm proud of the work I put in and my development and improvement from the beginning to now.  Everyone thought I was the person that could ride any horse and since I can ride bad horses people send bad horses.  I earned my stripes riding horses no one else could ride.  As they say:  good horses allow you to ride well, bad horses make you ride bad. As I've gotten older and hopefully smarter (hence, broken) I don’t ride just anything anymore.  If it’s not good enough it’s not good enough. 

Q. How would your friends describe you? 

A.  I hope they would say first and foremost that I’m a good friend. My friends have been my friends for a long time.  I don’t have a lot of friends but the friends I have would do anything for me and I would do anything for them.  Wendy and Rob [Lewis] are friends like that.  

 I would do anything for them.  If I was in real trouble I could call them up and they would drop everything and I would do the same for them.  Wins and losses don’t mean anything without that.  My friends would tell you I’m nothing like what everyone thinks I am.  The public side of me is not at all me.  I’m basically a boring person.  I don’t drink, don't smoke, don't go out. I go home, watch tv, and go to bed.  I'm not that exciting.  I'm shy, then maybe once you know me you can’t get me to shut up.  

Q.  What do you look for in a successful four-star horse? 

A.  It's doing it.  You don’t know until you do it.  I'm not sure that Bobby is 4-star horse.  He's a 3-star winner.  Not to say that he’s not a 4-star horse.  He was having trouble going prelim last year and with a change of pilot in a year he's going to a  4-star.  That’s a big step.  He's done everything I've ever asked him to do.  He's a fantastic jumper, the best.  The same with Reggie.  Neither are throughbred horses.  They're Irish and not clean bred for sure.  I try to give them a nice time.  I look for minds.  You can’t train horse that doesn’t have good mind.   You watch American Idol and think that guy has it or he doesn’t.  You'll turn and look at a 4-star horse a second time.  Even if you don’t’ know it’s a 4-star horse.  It has that “it” thing.  It takes a special horse. 

Q.  What is the highlight of your career so far?  

A.  It’s still gonna happen.  I don’t look back on anything I’ve done.  It doesn’t really matter.  It’s:  Where are you gonna go?  We live in sally-come-lately-society.  Last weekend I won the 3-star with Bobby and then had to go back and ride Reggie Advanced and people said "smile!".  Maybe I need to take a step back.  I'm more proud of the person that I am and the friends that I have.  At the end of day it's all about the people in your life.  Nobody in 30 years is gonna remember what Buck Davidson did as a rider.  Sometimes we fool ourselves into thinking that we’re important.  And it is important to me. But it’s not the only thing.

Q.  What are your ultimate goals and hopes? 

A.  Short term I would really love to win the World Championships next year.

Q.  Who’s been most influential in your riding career? 

A.  My mom and my Dad. Taught me everything I know, basically.  It would have to be them.  No question.

photo by Kelsey Sherman

Monday, April 20, 2009

It's a Groom's Life: Emma Ford in the Streets of Rio, about Phillip Dutton, and Her Favorite Horse. (Psst, it's Connaught!)

Emma Ford was born and raised in England.  She came to the US in 1998 to work for top eventer Adrienne Iorio.  She currently grooms for Phillip Dutton, winner of Rolex 2008 and 10-time USEA Rider-of-the-Year.  She keeps his True Prospect Farm going as well as speaking at the Dutton Eventing Academy.   In 2007 she won the US Eventing's Professional Groom's Award.  She knows her stuffs and shares that and more below.

Q.  How did you come to the US?
A.  It was March '98 and I had finished my degree in England and had never traveled.  Well, I had been to France for two days.  I wanted to go and travel and not go to the real world right away.  I went through an exchange agency and they hooked me up with Adrienne [Iorio].  Basically I filled out an application with what I had done and what I wanted to do.  They had employers on the other end with what they could offer.  I interviewd over the phone and ended up with Adrienne.  After eight months she checked in and was like, " Do you want to extend your visa?"  Yup!  Eighteen months in, "Do you want to extend your visa?"  Hell yeah!  Now I'm here with a Green Card.  Still not in the real world.  I don't see myself going back to England to work in the event circuit.  The weather is way better here!

Emma Ford with Connaught (right)--photo credit to

Q.  Who have you worked for since being here?
A.  Adrienne and Phillip [Dutton].  I have been with Phillip since August 2005.

Q.  What made you make that switch?
A.  I sort of got the bug.  Me and Adrienne went to the Blenheim 3-star.  I thought it was pretty cool and thought it was very neat.  I just wanted to do more of the international stuff.  I knew Phillip was looking for a groom so went that way.  it expanded from there.

Blenheim Palace--photo credit to www.

Q.  What does your daily life look like?
A.  95% is with the competition horses.  Turning out, tacking up, medical needs, grooming.  It's the same at any barn.  It's all the same.  Everyone has to take care of every horse.  No amazing difference.  I hardly ride.  I'm pretty much on the ground all the time.

Q.  What's your favorite thing about the job?
A. I enjoy being on the road.  Going to the big competitions and seeing the horses run, especially the upper level horses.  The barn is so busy we joke that being on the road is my downtime.  The actual competing is what I enjoy seeing.

Emma Ford (far right) on the road in Hong Kong
photo credit to Mark Hart

Q.  What's the hardest thing?
A.  Keeping it all together!  Keeping the barn going and keeping on top of things.  One of the things different from Adrienne to Phillip is that there's so many more people involved like working students, farriers, etc.  I have to delegate to make sure everything works smoothly.  That's definitely what I find the most difficult.

Q.  How would you describe Phillip Dutton as a person?
A.  Anyone who knows him would say "quiet" comes first hand.  He's very quiet but all observing.  He definitely sees everything and is one for a good story.  He loves a good story.  Adrienne was very hard working too.  I've worked for two people that are so hard working.  How he juggles everything including his family is amazing.  His wife is a big part of the famr keeping the office running.

Phillip Dutton  aboard Connaught in Hong Kong
photo credit to Mark Hart

Q.  How would you describe his work style?
A.  He is always on the go.  If he's not riding he's on a conference call.  If he's not on a call he's teaching.  It's unreal how he fits it all in.  He's one of these people that wants you to work hard but you take away what you put in.  If you don't make an effort why should he bother?

Q.  What is the atmosphere like at his farm?
A.  People are coming and going whether it's farriers, vets, students, boarders--it's very busy.  Work needs to be fun but it can get stressful.  Especially with this run up to Rolex.  We've got four horses going so it's the final gallops...There are days when you think you'll pull your hair out but we all pull together.  We make it fun but it can be high stress.

Q.  Who is there from day to day?
A.  Me; Phillip; his wife; three riders: Jenny, Boyd [Martin], and Ryan; 2 working students: Nate and Charlotte.  Then Bea who rides and is learning and helping me to manage the barn.

Q.  How many horses do you work with?
A.  From anytime we can vary between 35-40 horses on the property.  We oversee all of them and work together to take care of them.  Coming up to big competitions my priority is the upper level horses (off the top of my head we've probably got, including student's horses, at least 12 Intermediate through Advanced horses on the farm).  But you can't just not take care of the others either!

Q.  Do you have any favorite horses you work with?
A.  I do, though I probably shouldn't!  Connaught, he is extremely quirky.  When I first started he hadn't really come into himself.  I am drawn to quirky horses.  If you asked anyone they'd be like, "Yup, he's her favorite!".  I love the way he tries.  At competitions he wants to please.  If he was a child, he'd be the nerd in the class.  He always comes out on top.

Q.  Where have you traveled with Phillip?
A.  We went to Germany for the Worlds in 2006; 2007 to Rio in Brazil for the Pan Ams.  Obviously England.  Last year to Hong Kong.

Emma Ford (first row, center) at the 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong
photo credit to Mark Hart

Q.  What does your to-do list look like to travel internationally?
A.  Once you're on the road it's everything to do with making sure the horse is happy within himself.  Simon [Connaught] is the main one I've traveled with.  It's individual care of the horse.  He's a finicky eater so you want to keep his stress level down so you're forever hand grazing him.  Just keeping them happy.  Extreme care of their legs and knowing what they're looking like.  You've got time to do that.  You've got to know your horses.  Simon does best when you're not at him all day.  If you can leave him alone then that's when he eats.  He doesn't want you grooming and massaging and putting on the magnetic blanket.  He can't stand that!  You have the time to take the proper individual care of them.

Q.  Do you have any grooming tips?
A.  For me it's time management.  If Phillip has seven horses at an event then time management is key.  I have them ready 5-10 minutes before he needs to get on.  If I haven't had time to go over tack again then I put babby oil on my hands and go over the bridle to bring out the shine.  We use lots of oil sprays for African American hair.  We put it in their tails and make them shiny.  A product called Super Grow is good for blanket rubs.  Another good one is, especially with the economy, witch hazel.  If you can't afford Sore-No-More use witch hazel to tighten up legs.  It's less hard on their skin than rubbing alcohol but has the same benefits.

Q.  What are your favorite products for grooming or tack cleaning?
A.  Equinature products are a must for my grooming kit.  The antifungal shampoo is a must for any horse with a skin condition.  It rebalances the pH of the skin therefore improving the overall health of a horse's coat.  Devoucoux tack cleaning cream for saddles is amazing.  You can put one or two layers of cream on it and it's back to normal after a downpour.  I also like Leather Therapy products for bridles.

Q.  When you have time off what do you like to do?
A.  I ballroom and Latin dance.  I'm looking for a new [studio] in Pennsylvania.  Any weekend we're home they tend to have socials and stuff.  I've done it for nine years.  A good friend of mine used to work for Adrienne's sister and took me to a place down in Wellington she used to go to and I got hooked.

Q.  Who's better: American or British eventers?
A.  I'm not going to say!  I do think for the Americans to know how good they are they need to be competing with European riders.  Because the Europeans can travel more to more competitions.  We need to be up against them to knew where we're at.

Q.  Any crazy, wild stories?
A.  I'm not the biggest party groom but one that sticks with me is when we were in Rio [for the Pan Ams].  The base of the venue was an hour from where the riders were staying.  The riders had a van to take them back and forth.  They had that van take us into the city for dinner and we had to take a taxi back.  The driver said they knew where he was going but he didn't.  They guy pulls up outside this army barracks and one of the girls jumps out.  The guard was like, "Who are you?!" and pulls a gun on her. Everyone is like, "get back in the car!"  All is well but looking back on it, it was a funny moment in our lives.  Luckily the driver did eventually sort it out.  The funny thing is that we were literally one street away from where we wanted to be.  One of our more entertaining evenings.

Q.  Do you have a favorite competition?
A.  I love Stuart Horse Trials. One: it's a beautiful area and, two: they have good parties!  But Rolex is on its own, really.

Q.  What are your future goals?
A.  Grooming-wise I wanted to do the Olympics, Burghley, Pan Ams and the World Games.  So I've just got to get to Badminton.  I would like to go to another Worlds.  [The World Games] in Kentucky next year will be amazing.  Hopefully the stars will align and we'll make it.  I would like to get into sport horse rehabilitation when I move on.  I would like to hang in there for the Olympics in London but that's still three years away.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Wendy Lewis Makes it Happen: Lucky Breaks, Going to Rolex and a Secret Grooming Tip

Photo courtesy of Shannon Brinkman

Q. When did you start riding?
A. I started in 1st grade.  My mom gave me two weeks of lessons at a summer camp for my birthday to get me out of the house.  Little did she know what it would turn into!

Q. Did you start eventing right away?
A. No, but I was lucky when in my early teens, through a friend, I met Lousie McCarthy who was very influential in the sport and heading the Area II Young Riders Program.  She gave me my first event horse, one of her daughter's old horses, and that's the whole reason I got into eventing.

Q. What was the name of your first horse?
A.  I was miserable without a horse in college so my parents scrounged together enough money to buy one for me; that was my first Advanced horse, Maelstrom, and we went to Rolex.  He had gone Training but had a serious ditch problem.  It took about a year of stopping and falling off for him to get over it.
Photo courtesy of Shannon Brinkman
Q. Are you in a relationship?
A.  Yes, I've been married for 11 years.

Q. Do you have any kids?
A. I have a daughter, Kira, who is three.  If it were up to my husband we would have many more!  But time will tell.

Q.  Who's your favorite horse of all time?
A. I owe my whole career to Maelstrom.  He was so generous and I didn't know what I was doing and we learned together.  Rampant Lion was the one who was the nicest and brought me to the top.  I wouldn't have ridden him, but Murphy Himself ridden by Ian Stark was the most amazing horse to watch go around.  He had so much exuberance.

Q. What were their barn names?
A. Maelstrom was Bleu and Rampant Lion was RL.

Q. Did they have any unique mannerisms in the barn?
A. RL loved for anyone to put a towel in his ear and clean it.  He'd lean his head over for it!

Q. Do you have any superstitions?
A.  The more I hang out with Buck [Davidson] the more I get.  I have always avoided using anything brand new at an event.  If something goes well I'll use that equipment over again and again.  I do find I get into patterns and rituals I didn't even realize I was getting into.

Q. What are you known for or proud of in your riding style?
A.  I try to take pride in having a well prepared and confident horse and take pride in my  turnout. I take a lot of pride in how I take care of the horses at home and having a daily routine to get ready for events: A thorough grooming every day, feeding the best quality hay and grain tailored to meet their needs, keeping them in consistent work according to their work level.  I keep everything cleaned and organized so it's not a frantic environment.

Photo courtesy of Shannon Brinkman

Q. Describe your ideal horse.
A. I've had a lot of success with greys (Maelsrom, RL and Blazer were all greys) even though they're a pain to keep clean.  A 15.3-16.0h gelding, beautiful mover, brave jumper that takes me to the jumps a little.

Q. Where is your operation based?
A. Perrineville, NJ, a few miles form where Jersey Fresh is held.

Photo courtesy of Shannon Brinkman

Q. What's your most memorable or defining moment?
A. There were two.  One was after completing my first 3-star at Rolex (it was only a 3-star then) on Maelstrom and knowing I wanted to do this the rest of my life.  The most sense of accomplishment I had was completing my first 4-star at Rolex and finishing 9th on RL.

Q. Have you had any memorable tumbles?
A. One when I was riding Hyperlite Preliminary and fell off cross-country and he stepped on my right hand with a stud and crushed half of it.  I had to have it put back together.  Another would be when I was four and a half months pregnant and the horse I was riding tripped and fell over.  I got knocked out and sent to the ER.  I didn't ride the rest of my pregnancy.  Both me and the baby were fine; it just left an impression!

Q. What the most common mistake you see in eventing today?
A. If I had to say one thing it's that people are getting involved in the sport who aren't taking the time to get the experience that's necessary.  It's not something you can just jump right into and be successful at and compete at the upper levels.  It take years and years to develop the subconscious reactions needed to give a really good ride cross country.  It's time and hours in the saddle.  Everyone wants things right away in this day and age.
Photo courtesy of Shannon Brinkman
Q.  What's your favorite competition?
A. Rolex.  Because it feels like you're a superstar when you're there  competing.  It felt like being a movie star and professional athlete all at once.

Q. What is your ultimate goal?
A. To ride for the USA.

Q. Do you have any favorite tack or supplies you can't live without?
A. I love my Nunn Finer products, especially the leather products and their new five-way breast plate.

Q. Any grooming tricks?
A. I was the first one to have known about the Cape Cod metal polish and introduced it to the eventing world and now everyone has it.  But the credit goes to my mom for finding it.

Q. What's your barn management style?
I expect a lot of the people who work for me but never expect more than what I'm willing to put in myself.  But Buck did nickname me the Drill Sargeant since I like things orderly!

Q. Who is your favorite rider and why?
A. Buck Davidson.  On a personal level because he's such a friend and mentor to me and has helped so much.  On a professional level I respect him for his amazing riding ability.

Q. Is there anything you want to add?
A. Despite the recent bad press the sport is getting I have been doing it for a long time and am still doing it because I love it and there is really not a better group of people to be found.
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