By Catie Staszak
Carl Weeden arrived at the 2020 Winter Equestrian Festival with plenty of horsepower, but she was in need of a rider.
She had been working with Jennifer Morton’s then 6-year-old Cavalier (Canvaro x Lancelot) for about six months and had realized the gelding’s potential. But at 17.2 hands, the bay, Weeden believed, needed a rider with a specific build for the best chance at success. A friend, Lori Green, recommended Jonathon Millar. Millar, whose many riding accomplishments on the Canadian Show Jumping Team include appearances at the World Equestrian Games and FEI World Cup Finals, also boasted a strong track record with young prospects.
“Jonathon is very accomplished, and he’s done some very big classes. He was very humble, and it was nice to see his interest in the horse. It wasn’t just another ride,” said Weeden, who runs her Merryburn Farm out of Zion, IL, and spends winters in Wellington, FL. “He has a true interest and passion for young horses and developing them. I don’t think we could find a better match for this horse.”
That single recommendation and first ride has evolved into a highly successful collaboration between operations. Entering the final week of WEF 2021, Cavalier, with Millar in the irons, led the highly competitive 7-year-old Jumper circuit standings. The pair never finished outside of the top 10 in the division this year, including the $20,000 Developing Jumper Series 7-Year-Old Classic in the International Arena during Week 10. And when the gelding is not competing against his age group, he and Morton are taking on the amateur-owner jumper division. Morton and Cavalier also recorded clear rounds and top 10 placings this season in the Adult Amateur Modified Jumpers.
“I’m absolutely thrilled with [Cavalier and Jonathon’s] success, to [have led] the 7-year-olds in the most competitive landscape possible,” Morton said. “It’s so neat to see that partnership develop. It’s been quite the match, which is exciting. [Millar] has been successful with the horse and done a great job preparing him for me.”
Morton originally acquired Cavalier as a 4-year-old, purchasing the gelding with her aunt after watching a video of him in Europe. He was imported soon thereafter as a young jumper prospect, and while he is now meeting that potential, his development wasn’t without its setbacks. Late in his 4-year-old year, Cavalier was found to have equine canker, a rare condition of the hoof, that required surgery to remove. Following a lengthy recovery, Morton brought her horse to Weeden, who spent months building the large horse up with flatwork. It’s a role that Weeden has maintained as Millar has joined on as Cavalier’s main rider.
“[Cavalier has] always been super straightforward to the fences and brave,” Millar said. “Carl does a great job behind the scenes, and Jen is a lovely rider, so it was all very, very easy.”
“Flatwork is so important,” Morton added. “It’s the basis of everything, and why we are where we are today with the horse.”
With a successful team put in place, Cavalier began finding his form as a 6-year-old, but WEF’s early cancellation in 2020 brought the horse’s winter campaign—and his momentum—to a premature halt. Merryburn and Millar’s Millar Brooke Farm operations only crossed paths occasionally in the summer, with young professional Jacob Pope filling in as show rider while putting in strong consistent rounds in the 1.30m divisions at Traverse City, MI.
“There were no young jumper [divisions there], but he was second in a 1.30m class. That’s when I thought, ‘He’s really standing up there with the big boys,’” Weeden said. “[The entries] weren’t all going for the win, but there were enough in it. [My thoughts were] definitely verified when Jonathon came and rode him in September and said how much the horse had matured. He didn’t need to push him; he was ready for the 7-year-olds.”
“As a 6-year-old last year, we started to think, ‘Okay, what can we see of out this horse?'” Morton recalled. “Over the summer, I was able to move into the Low Amateur-Owner division with him, and it’s been an exciting journey. Heading into 2021 knowing that [there were limited opportunities to show], we knew he needed to go back to Florida and work with Jonathon.”
Cavalier returned to Wellington in mid-January, and when he and Millar reconnected, they were met with near-instant success. Their first foray into the 7-year-old division resulted in a win and Championship honors.
“He’s a year older, and he’s more mature,” said Millar, who now runs a U.S.-based satellite operation of Millar Brooke Farm, Millar Brooke South, out of Wellington. “We put together a nice little plan [for the season], and he was very consistent. We could really start to a make a plan to try to win. He’s a good-sized horse, and we’re teaching him all these skills now that are going to pay off in the end. We can think more about the time allowed and go a little faster in the jump-off, which he’s going to need down the road. It was nice to ride the horse more often and to work on the little details.
“If you do your homework and put the pieces together the best you can, then you’re going to find out, when you go to ring, where you are,” he added. “[Cavalier] is very smart, and he doesn’t usually make the same mistake twice. It’s been smooth!”
With the winter season coming to a close, Team Cavalier now has their eyes set on the new USHJA Young Jumper Championships, set for September 8-12 in Traverse City. In the interim, Weeden and Millar are coordinating both their plans and their calendars so that this collaboration can remain strongly intact.
“It’s been really fun. The owners are wonderful, and they’ve allowed Jonathon and I to pace the horse and do what’s correct for the horse,” Weeden said. “We’re going to show him at a nice pace, not to overdo it, but to make sure he’s experienced and fit enough to walk into the ring in September. Jonathon has been very involved in helping us map that out, and we’ll figure out a plan for the horse together.”
Morton has her own goals, too, having already qualified for the USHJA Zones 5 & 6 Jumper Team Championships, also in Traverse City this summer. She also hopes to aim for some of the indoor championships this fall as an Amateur-Owner.
“It’s really neat that Jonathon has had a lot of success with the horse and also wants to make sure that I can ride him and have success as well,” Morton added. “We’ll definitely dream big, and maybe next year Jonathon moves up to the 1.40m with him. It’s been a really great experience.”