BY INTERN ANNIE BIRMINGHAM
When Caitlyn Connors stepped into the Dixon Oval at the 2018 Devon Horse Show aboard her own Express Blue GP Du Bois Madame for the $3750 junior jumper division, she never imagined the possibility of walking back under the famed Devon arches with a second place ribbon pinned to her horses bridle… and not for the reasons you may be thinking.
Connors, a Devon, PA local, acquired the grey gelding affectionately known as “Blue” in 2016 as a 6 year old whose only experience included a handful of outings in the .65 meter jumpers. “I traded a bunch of horses for him that were stoppers, because that’s what we could get… and when we got him he was insane; I literally could not stop this horse. We had to get him super unfit to calm him down a bit, he’s still super green and has never been ridden by a professional; but he’s really an angel… I adore him.”
It was Connors Twitter post after the pair’s red ribbon finish at Devon that caught many people’s attention; as Blue continues to be a reliable mount, regardless of the fact that he is half blind and has a heart murmur. “After he came in, my vet took a look at him and noticed that he had these blue clouds over both of his eyes. She told me ‘yeah….that isn’t normal’, and I just laughed because that was why I had called her, I didn’t think so either. We had an eye specialist out and he found that he only has about 50% vision in one eye and 30% in the other.” Blue also has a heart murmur that has been monitored by vets and found to be okay. “We had already bought him at that point, so there was nothing we could do… but it definitely would have been nice to know!”
Over their two years as a team, Connors has learned how to manage Blue’s vision issues to the best of her abilities. “I’ve noticed that depending on what time he shows, it can vary. If we go at 8 AM, for example, every time he goes up to a jump he’ll overlook it a bit. The first day [at Devon], he was getting strong because he couldn’t see as well, so I was nervous going under the lights here because I wasn’t sure if that would affect him at all, but he was so great. It’s really just something I have to be aware of, and if there’s a big liverpool or anything different looking I make sure that he gets a good look at it before we go so he knows that everything is okay.”
Connors didn’t purchase Blue with any specific plans in mind, but when he excelled in the low junior jumpers and later the seven year old jumpers (to her own surprise) at the Winter Equestrian Festival, she decided to move him up to the high junior classes. “A lot of people didn’t the he would be able to do it, but he’s obviously proving them wrong. He really just gets better and better every day, he’s become so well rounded and flats like my old Grand Prix horse. My expectations were low for him in the beginning, but he’s exceeded so far past anything I ever could have hoped. I’m hoping he can maybe be my next Under 25 Grand Prix horse; you never know!”
Connors and Blue laid down the first clear round in the second class of the junior jumper division at Devon, much to her own surprise. “I went out not so sure on how it would go, with his eye issue and all, since it was his first time under the lights and there’s people all over the sides of the ring… it’s definitely not your typical horse show. It was easily one of my proudest moments with him, since I wasn’t expecting anything from him. We jumped not one but two clear rounds, and he tried so hard for me. A lot of the horses that were in there had been jumping in five-star classes, and he went out having never been ridden by a professional… he’s just so amazing. This is my hometown, my whole family was here to cheer us on; and to be able to go out there and do well for them my last time here as a junior, it’s a feeling beyond words.”
After Devon, Caitlyn and Blue will head down to Upperville for the 165th annual Upperville Colt and Horse Show, after which Connors will decide what their next step is. “He’s obviously showing us that he is ready to step up to the next challenge, so we’ll see where that takes us.” Caitlyn will finish out her final junior year before turning professional on December 1st in order to maintain her partnership with the equestrian fashion icon Hermes. She will finish out her senior year of high school before attending college, with future plans to pursue a career in the equine industry full time.