BY SAM SNYDER
Hunter or hunter prospect, at least 16.1 hh. Green is fine but needs to have a good brain. No Thoroughbreds.
Those were my criteria when searching for my first “grown-up” horse, the first horse I would purchase in adulthood with my own money. Like many young riders and their families, my family had chosen to sell my Children’s/Junior hunter when I graduated from high school. My desire to once again own my own horse that I could show (and pamper) is what motivated me to work hard in college and graduate school, and eventually become a Speech-Language Pathologist.
I started patiently looking for a horse in 2016, knowing my budget would limit what I could buy. I found Judge during one of my many (and obsessive) searches online, and his picture immediately caught my eye. Big, beautiful chestnut jumping in perfect form. Of course I clicked to watch a video, and loved his pleasant expression and how he jumped. Then I went back to read his description: Judge is an 8 year old 16.2h Thoroughbred gelding…
Watching the video again, I thought there was no way this horse is a Thoroughbred! But I was intrigued, so I called the number on the ad to get more information. At the time, Kim Hopkins had Judge at her farm in Millwood, Virginia; her daughter, Delia Condon, had purchased Judge while she was attending Penn State University. Kim imports and trains young warmbloods for resale and told me that Judge held his own in her barn full of quality youngsters. She explained that Delia had moved to Colorado to pursue a career, and therefore Judge was looking for a new home with someone who would hopefully further his development as a show hunter. After hearing this information, I decided I could look past the fact that he was a Thoroughbred and should go try this horse.
It was a cold and snowy day when I drove to Virginia to try him, and Kim warned me that Judge hadn’t been ridden in three days and had minimal turnout. Despite the cold, I was extremely impressed with how quiet he was. After hopping on and jumping a few small jumps, I was so amazed with his brain. When I got in my car to drive back to Pennsylvania, I called my best friend and asked her if she thought it would be crazy for me to buy a Thoroughbred. About a week later, Judge was mine.
Luckily for me, Kim and Delia had given Judge a really nice foundation in training. When I bought him, our immediate goals were building his confidence over fences and teaching him to rock back and use his hind end, a lot of which involved fitness. Like many horses off the track, his left lead was much stronger than his right. I began taking lessons with Joanne Copeland on the weekends; she provided me with tons of exercises to practice with Judge during the week. Judge and I did our homework: trotted poles, rode in a field with a slight incline, did millions of transitions. I saw steady progress in his ridability and confidence during each consecutive lesson. After riding mostly warmbloods for the past 10 years, working with Judge was refreshing in the sense that he remembered each lesson he was taught, and didn’t need to be asked to do things multiple times.
Since purchasing Judge in December 2017, I have been having a blast. We went to our first horse show at Swan Lake Stables in May 2018 where we were Reserve Champion in the Low Thoroughbred Hunters. Since then, we have earned tricolors at every show we have entered and have won a Low Hunter Derby out of 20 horses. Judge swept the Low Thoroughbred Hunter Division at the Maryland Horse and Pony Show 2018, winning both over fences classes, the under-saddle, and the model class. During the model, the judge noticed that Judge was pin-fired and told me he had always wanted a pin-fired horse when he was growing up. I couldn’t help but laugh and think that I never wanted a horse like that, but I am so glad I have one now!
Being on a limited budget, we don’t horse show every weekend, but that doesn’t keep us from having fun and working on our fitness together. One of the reasons I love Judge so much is that we never have a bad ride. Whether we are having a lesson with Joanne Copeland to work on technical exercises, or trotting around the open grass field behind the barn, Judge always aims to please. He isn’t spooky, and he’s always sweet. I trust him entirely- so much so that I have let my dad and a 9-year old girl ride him.
Being a working amateur on a budget, I feel the economic pressures of our sport all the time. It is hard work juggling grown-up expenses, like bills and a mortgage, let alone paying to keep a horse and hoping to be competitive in the show ring. The fact that I could afford to purchase Judge and have enough money to take some lessons and compete at some quality horseshows is priceless to me.
I really feel that the Thoroughbred can be extremely competitive in the show ring, and think that it opens up many doors for owners/riders who may not be able to afford the big-ticket price tags that the warmbloods have right now. Since purchasing Judge, I have learned about so many opportunities for Thoroughbreds that I never realized existed.
This year, I participated in the T.I.P. Performance Awards, a year-end point program where points are self-reported. I was so excited to learn about this program, as it allows Thoroughbreds their own competition category and the ability to win some great prizes, and am thrilled to see that lots of horse shows are offering hunter and jumper Thoroughbred divisions. I think these divisions are really inviting for riders and owners of Thoroughbreds, who might feel intimidated stepping into the ring with seasoned warmbloods, or who might not be able to pay the entry fees of the big rated divisions.
Many of the T.I.P. classes donate a portion of the entry fees back to the Jockey Club to further the promotion of Thoroughbreds in our sport. Another amazing opportunity that I have learned about is the T.I.P. Championships in Kentucky. This event seems to be growing each year, and I hope to take Judge there eventually. The T.I.P. Championships are a unique opportunity for Thoroughbred owners and riders to compete at a prestigious venue while contesting for generous prizes. The championships have a multitude of classes for all levels of horses and riders, and as of now, have minimal qualification requirements.
Although I have owned Judge for little more than a year, I feel as if I have learned so much and grown exponentially as a rider during that time. I am sure I will continue to learn more and hope I can be a voice that helps further Thoroughbreds in our niche of the industry. I think many people always assume Thoroughbreds need to be helped or rescued, but the reality is they can help us too.
Sam is a Speech Language Pathologist who works with children with Autism. She lives in West Chester, PA with her husband and two dogs and keeps Judge in Malvern, PA.