Journey to My First Grand Prix

Clo in 1.35 at Pin Oak. Photo © Andrew Ryback Photography


It was a crazy, but incredible, journey that got me to my first Grand Prix. It all started with Michael Tokaruk.

I had heard nothing but great things about him, which led me to approach him about my goals. I told Michael my one goal was to get to the Prixs and that I would literally do anything to get there. He told me that it could be possible, but that it would take a lot of hard work and dedication. And man, he wasn’t kidding! 

Michael drove to my farm from Memphis to Nashville to help me with my horses for my first lesson with him. I remember thinking “Oh gosh, I really need to work on this stuff that he’s asking me to do.” My horses were all over the place. We really needed to go all the way back to basics, and build back up from that. I was also totally out of breath, and realized I needed to be way fitter for this. Just when I thought the lesson was over, I heard Michael say, “Okay, try it again.” 

A full 60 minutes of work, and I was dead. But what was absolutely incredible was that I had learned more from that one lesson than I had learned in 20 lessons with previous trainers. He came in the afternoon, and we lessoned multiple horses until about 11 pm that night. Then we woke up at 5 am the next day to do it all over again. I literally couldn’t walk after those two days of training, but I was in complete awe of the information he had given me. It made me feel inspired to start working toward my major goal with my horses. 

In December 2019, I got my first real Grand Prix horse. Michael took her to WEF to help get her ready while I finished up college. This mare, Bakara, was everything that I had ever dreamed of in a horse. After I graduated and Michael came back from WEF, we immediately started training to begin moving up. 

Bakara in Low AO at Kentucky. Photo © Shawn McMillen Photography

We did many shows in the Low A/Os, and stepped up to the 1.30m. But sadly, my sweet mare suffered an infection. Though we did everything possible to save her, it became endotoxic and we had to say goodbye. My heart was broken. Honestly, so were my hopes of doing the prix. She was my ticket and now, my ticket and my dream horse were gone. On top of the grief of losing Bakara, my grandfather passed away in the same week. I was a wreck, to say the elast. Grieving and feeling lost, I placed a tombstone on Bakara’s grave.

The Brownland horse show was the next week. I wasn’t anywhere near ready to get another horse, and Michael told me I didn’t have to go to the show. He and that it was okay to take some time, but I knew that it would help me take my mind off of everything. 

When I pulled into the horse show, I found unfamiliar horses in all of my stalls. A shipper broke down, and needed a few stalls for the night. Before we moved them to a different part of the show, Cameron, Michale’s wife, said, “Hey! That one in the first stall is really cute. Do you know who owns it?”

Michael figured out that this horse in my first stall was shipping from Florida to Texas to go back to his owner, Christian Heineking. Michael talked to Christian and found out the horse had been doing the 1.40 and was also for sale. Christian told us that we could sit on it and oh my gosh, this horse was amazing. We clicked immediately. He had the coolest jump and the cutest little personality. We then ended up showing him in the 1.15 that week and it was a huge success. I was hooked. 

I called my vet, Mark Wooten, to come to the show to vet a horse that had accidentally landed in my first stall at Brownland where a shipper happened to break down that I really didn’t know anything about. It was crazy! 

I’m not going to lie—I cried when he passed the vetting. I had the worst week of my life and I know it sounds weird, but I really think that my grandfather set all this up in heaven. From the broken-down shipper to my new horse now named Clo, after his show name Clochard,  happening to be in the first stall, it was like he sent me this horse to help me continue to move toward my goal.  

Clo in WEF in 1.30. Photo © SportFot

From that day on, I’ve been in awe of my sweet Closeph. He and I just have this bond that is so special. Michael and I trained to continue onto my ultimate goal. We took the horses down to WEF, but the first two weeks were challenging because Clo is very hot, sensitive, and strong at times. But by the end of WEF, we had done our first 1.30 class together and were ready to keep moving up! 

Pin Oak was our next show, and Clo and I moved up to the 1.35 which went really well. Then Brownland where Michael said that it could be a possibility that we could do the Welcome and maybe even the Prix if all went well.

And then it happened! The feeling of walking into the ring for something you’ve worked so hard for was overwhelming, but in a good way. The best part was that not only was I excited, but I really felt prepared from Michael’s training. I had two rails and placed 12th in my first $30,000 Brownland Grand Prix ,and I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect start to what will be many more Prixs with Clo. 

Clo in Brownland Prix

Clo is great because if he has a rail, he doesn’t panic. He just keeps going. He’s also so kind and forgiving, especially for an 8-year-old. He really impresses me. Even though we are both green in different ways, we have made a great pair. 

I am so grateful to my parents, Teresa and André, for this opportunity. Plus, I can’t thank Michael Tokaruk enough for everything that he has done for me, Clo, and the rest of my horses. He is the one that got me to the Prixs and made my horses the best that they could be. He taught me proper flat work and training, and it truly has paid off. This is just the beginning! Here’s to my first prix and many more to come.