Patty Stovel: Honoring the Individual

Photo courtesy of Patty Stovel

BY ANN JAMIESON

Born into the horse business, Patty Stovel grew up in a family-run lesson barn in Connecticut, Patty’s routine as a child was to wake up, care for the horses, attend school, and then care for the horses again.

In addition to lessons, in the summer Patty’s parents ran a horse camp. Her father did the cooking while her mom taught the lessons. The campers would take care of the horses before they had breakfast, and then ride. Horse care was always intrinsic in the training.

“My mom loved it,” remembers Patty. “She loved teaching the little kids.”

Both parents were very involved in the Connecticut horse show scene, and Patty’s mother’s love for the youngsters inspired her to help create the Connecticut Horse Shows Association’s Short Stirrup division. “She felt that the little kids needed their own division to get started with,” explains Patty.

Patty was “always sure that I would do horses. I was training ponies as a kid. Mom would buy three-year-olds and we would train them and resell them and I loved it. So I knew that I was going to do horses in one form or another.” She freely admits that it “can be a tough business.  It is not a 9 to 5 business; there can be many long days and nights. You have to have a passion for it if you’re going to survive this business.”

For a time, the family rode and showed Quarter Horses, and put on Quarter Horse shows. Patty’s brother Robert showed western and they attended Quarter Horse shows along with the big Riker’s Quarter Horse sale every year. Patty says she “attempted riding western for a while,” but while Robert stuck with it Patty preferred English and jumping.

When Patty’s father died, her Mom had a hard time taking care of the farm. “My brother had always wanted to move out west and start a farm out there. He and my Mom both moved out to Missouri with about 10 horses and his stallion. It was like ‘Little House on the Prairie’. She had quite a pioneer spirit.”

Robert, who already had a successful career in reining and other western disciplines, now runs a breeding business. Patty sends him many of her problem horses. “He’s really good at that, breaking them and re-grouping them.”

Photo courtesy of Patty Stovel

As a teenager Patty wanted to pursue equitation and show jumping, so her mother arranged for her to join George Morris as a working student. She didn’t go there alone. Her mom had found a horse for her, a three-year-old off-the-track Thoroughbred. Purchased from Mark Jungherr, the horse was big, attractive and talented. They named him Brownstone, after the town of Portland where they had lived.

“He was my Medal/Maclay horse and my hunter. That’s who I went to the Medal finals on.” Patty pinned second in the AHSA Medal Finals on Brownstone, who was only four at the time! 

Working with George, Patty “got to ride all the horses when the rich kids went home, so I loved that. It was a very good experience and I learned a tremendous amount.” Yet she found it difficult being off on her own as a teenager.

After her junior years, Patty worked for years at Brass Lantern Farms in Nashville, Tennessee under Otis Brown (Brownie). Together they trained many top hunters including Nashvile Gent (Regular Working Hunter Horse of the Year in 1986), Embassy Row, All the Gold, and Schonfelder, and jumpers, including Frisco Kid, Volan, Ramitz and Solotime. They garnered eight championships in The International Hunter Futurity over the years, and Patty picked up a ninth when she struck out on her own. 

Patty married, and left Brass Lantern Farms in 1990 when her husband Ken got a job in Atlanta. Ken helped Patty get started in her own business there, and together with the help of Paul Schockemohle, they purchased Mont Cenis, a five-year-old jumper prospect, the horse who would ultimately define her career. 

“Monty” was extremely talented, yet green, so Patty brought him along slowly. It frustrated her husband, who knew the horse could do more. “He was like ‘But he’s so talented,’ and I said, ‘Yeah but he’s got to ride better first.'”

With Monty, Patty competed in the World Equestrian Games trials, qualifying to compete at The Hague, in Holland, in 1994. She did this with a broken wrist and a cracked collarbone resulting from a fall off a young horse.  

Patty & Carigor Z. Photo courtesy of Patty Stovel

“The week before the trials, my doctor, who ultimately became the team doctor, had warned me that if I fell, I was going to break that collarbone. “I said, ‘That won’t happen, I am riding Monty after all.” Patty trusted Monty. “He didn’t pull and I knew I had a horse that could jump anything I pointed him to. When I fell during the first week of the trials, I broke my collarbone. So the second week of the trials, I struggled through, depending mostly on my faith in Monty and pain meds.”

Patty had a month before she headed to Europe to let her collarbone heal a bit. As it was her first time showing in Europe, “It was overwhelming.” But she believed in her horse and knew my he could do it. “I’d pretty much brought him along all the way.

“After the first round I wanted to do things a certain way and Frank (Chapot) said no, these are going to be the biggest jumps you’ve ever seen and you shouldn’t do anything. I wished I’d listened to my gut. Frank didn’t know my horse so that was a hindrance. When you’re in a team situation you have to listen. That part of it was hard. Frank wasn’t open, it was his way or the highway. 

“But it was a great experience.” Patty says it’s so much more involved now. There is so much more money in horses she doesn’t think she could do it now unless she had a huge sponsor behind her. “I consider myself lucky to have done it during that time.” The pair finished the Games as the highest placed American horse and rider, in 13th position.

Two years later Patty won the first Olympic trial for the 1996 Games in Atlanta, Georgia. Sadly she “ran into soundness issues with Monty so it became more difficult. It was over a two month period of time and we ended up seventh…but it only counts if you’re in the top four.”

Patty then began working for Top Brass Farms in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida in 1997. She discovered the brilliant Frascati through Mark Jungherr, and she and owner Daryl Portela agreed he was the right horse for her. Together, Patty and Daryl enjoyed tremendous success with Frascati, who won Horse of the Year honors in 1999 and 2000 in both the Regular Working (with Patty up) and Amateur-Owner Hunter (with Daryl) divisions. 

When Patty went out on her own again, she formed a syndicate to purchase Shandor 41 as a Grand Prix prospect. It was a wise move. Two years later they won the 2005 American Gold Cup, the only team to jump a clear round.

Patty considers Rodney Jenkins to be her role model. “He is so talented; he becomes a little bit part of the horse. Rodney was an icon in his time; he could do anything.  

“Aaron Vale is similar, that’s why he can ride so many different types of horses. 

She also admires George Morris as a great teacher in all three disciplines of hunters, jumpers, and equitation. Other big influencers include Bernie Traurig, Ian Millar, and Katie Monahan.

Patty details her training program around each horse individually. Her farm motto is “Individuality is our Specialty”. She doesn’t believe horses should be forced to fit in a box or mold. “I think a lot of people send me horses that aren’t that easy because of that. You have to be able to change your training according to the horse.” 

Photo courtesy of Patty Stovel

Patty focuses on a select number of horses in order to specialize her training and give them the necessary one-on-one attention. She wants to spend time with each horse and get to know their personality. This way Patty “can bring out the best in each one and live up to my values and create results for my equine athletes and clients.” 

As a result, it takes Patty a long time to get to know a horse. She tried catch riding but it didn’t work out well as it’s not a fit with her training methods. 

Patty’s Grand Prix horses have been with her for a long time. 

“My last one I got when he was three and he’s now 20. He would never have been a Grand Prix horse in anyone else’s program. I think I got a lot more out of him than anyone else would have gotten.
“Monty was easy to get along with, easy to ride, a little like a Thoroughbred which suited me perfectly. I just had a feeling when I tried him. I sat on him one time and I could only jump a few jumps but I just knew it was going to click.”

Patty stuck to doing a lot of small classes with him “until we became one.”  They didn’t start doing the Grand Prix until he was around nine. 

“He had a great personality, and when my daughter was born I could ride him around with her. I would do the victory gallops with her sitting in the saddle in front of me.”

Patty lost Monty when she got divorced. It not only devastated her, but her daughter as well. She bought him back when he was 17. 

“He was that kind of horse. He meant the world to me. He was going to be sold as a junior jumper and get used hard and I couldn’t let that happen. I showed him for a few months until he couldn’t show anymore and then I gave him to my daughter. He was a special horse in my heart.”

Patty recently relocated her farm to Georgetown, Kentucky, which necessitated a change in her business structure. “When we moved from Pennsylvania to Kentucky we knew we wouldn’t have as many customers with lessons. We wanted to do more buying and selling, and finding young horses and bringing them along and selling them. That takes more time.”

The new farm is located a convenient 10 minutes from the Kentucky Horse Park. 

Patty’s advice to kids who want to become professionals is to work hard, watch and learn from everybody and anybody. Watch how somebody rides, how they teach. What do they do in the schooling area? Why and how are they doing it? Patty says that in her opinion most professionals are okay with others asking questions such as, “Why did you do that? What was your thinking?” in order to increase their knowledge.

When asked what she does to relax Patty laughed. “I don’t know the answer to that question. I read some. When I was pregnant, or laid up, I used to do needlepoint. I love to travel, though it’s been obviously hard recently.”

Patty’s four-legged family includes a dog and a cat. She adopted the cat when her mom died and he seems to love the horse show life.

Another cat, Radar, always accompanied her on the road, but he got loose at a HITS show. Patty searched everywhere, and was heart-broken when she was unable to find him.

Her current focus is helping her students achieve their goals, and bringing young horses along. The farm’s students have gone to the Equitation Finals at Harrisburg and Syracuse, and qualified for Zone Finals in the Adult Jumper Division.

Photo courtesy of Patty Stovel

Patty has some concerns about the current state of horse shows.

“The sport is so expensive now. I can’t believe the cost of horse shows.” Although she isn’t sure how to make them more affordable, she does feel that going back to low key one day shows “where people would ship in and just show off the trailer” so people can get started “would be a good beginning.” 

Unfortunately in Florida there really aren’t any of that kind of horse shows. Most of them are big, like WEF, HITS and WEC. “But there’s got to be a way to step back and make this more affordable for the average person,” says Patty. “It’s challenging, just the fees alone when you go to a horse show.”

There’s no doubt that Patty made the right choice when she chose the horse business. She wouldn’t have it any other way. “I love what I do. I love teaching and training.” She adds, “To really enjoy this industry you have to love the horse.” Clearly, Patty does.


About the Author: Ann Jamieson wanted to be a horse show judge since she was a child, and has now held her USEF “”r”” judge’s cards for over 30 years. She writes about both horses, and travel, (and particularly loves combining the two). Ann is the author of the “”For the Love of the Horse”” series, four volumes of amazing true stories about horses, and the proud mom of her Secretariat grandson, Fred Astaire (Tucker).
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