Tracy Fenney: Horses in Your Blood

Photo courtesy of Tracy Fenney

by Ann Jamieson

Tracy Fenney was elected the National Equestrian of the Year in 2020 during the height of the pandemic. The timing of it was perfect for her, because “It was a good year for me to win, because I didn’t have to make a speech, or get dressed up.”

Photo courtesy of Tracy Fenney

Starting Out

With no family interest in horses, Tracy nevertheless developed a passion for them. Her father was a real estate developer. Her mother, always open to an opportunity, noticed a beautiful property in Plano, Texas, where they lived, and left a note in the mailbox asking the owners if the property was for sale. When her parents went to look at it again, it turned out to be a riding/tennis/swimming club called Willow Bend. Tracy started taking riding lessons at the club.

She says, “Once you have horses in your blood, you’ll never get them out of there.” Right out of high school, she knew “This is what I want to do. There’s nothing like the feeling of jumping a horse.”

Her introduction to riding lessons fueled her passion. Tracy rode at the club for a few years until her trainer, Margot Foley, decided she needed a horse. They went to Mike McCormick’s place and began looking at a few horses. Margot liked one horse in particular, but Tracy’s parents said they couldn’t afford it. Tracy, disappointed, thought that they weren’t going to get a horse. But not too long after, her mom picked her up after school and said Mike had some new horses they could look at, ones that maybe they could afford. They headed over to his place to check them out. 

Tracy had a surprise in store. The horse that she had tried and liked had a sign on its stall. It read, “Happy Birthday Tracy.” The horse was hers!

Tracy not only had a new horse but a new trainer as well. Margot had seen Tracy’s potential and knew she couldn’t take her as far as Mike could. At Mike’s barn, the riders showed and traveled. She suggested Tracy switch to his barn.

Photo courtesy of Tracy Fenney

Mike

The birthday horse was an off-the-track Thoroughbred, That’s Entertainment (barn name “Ernie”), who Tracy won with right away. She quickly earned her way out of Limit Equitation, a division at the time for riders who had not yet won six blues. Placing out of Limit moved them up to Medal/Maclay and Junior Hunters.

Sadly, Ernie kept getting skinnier and skinnier and it turned out he had cancer. Tracy’s parents had no insurance on the horse, and couldn’t afford to keep buying horses for her. That was when Tracy started working for Mike. They would buy an inexpensive horse, bring it along, and then sell it. “We kept doing that little by little,” relates Tracy.

In Tracy’s last year of high school, her father bought her a horse from Butch Thomas, out in California. “He was not an easy horse,” she recalls, “He was pretty difficult. He wasn’t naughty, but strong. Coyote was my everything horse: hunter, equitation, jumpers. I went to Madison Square Garden and did the Maclay Finals on him. That was what you did; you had one horse that you did in every division.” 

In high school, Tracy went to school “as little as possible. I’d go there in the morning and then in the afternoon I would work for Mike and then go to the shows on the weekends.”

When asked if Tracy had a preference for one ring or another she answered, “I think they equally complement one another, I think doing both is really good because each one of them makes you ride well in the other. If I had to pick I guess I would choose the jumpers because it’s more fair. You know where you stand, you either win or lose.”

Outbid

One of Tracy’s top hunters is Outbid. “A unique individual, we got him at the Holsteiner auction. We were at a horse show, we were bidding with our guy who was in Germany and he said someone else, also from Texas, was bidding against us. We beat them and so we said ‘you got outbid’, and that’s how we came up with the name.

“When he came over he had allergies really bad and he flipped his nose and sometimes shook his head. I figured he would be my horse forever; I figured no one was ever going to buy him. But some people came into town to look at another horse and they said ‘If you have anything else we should look at, then show it to us.’ So we went through the barn a bit and I pointed to him and said ‘Oh that’s Outbid,’ and the kid said, ‘Outbid! I know that horse! I love Outbid.'”

Tracy explained about his allergies and everything, but the kid wanted to ride him anyway. “They ended up actually buying four horses from us.”

“Outbid was one of my favorites. I could jump anything on him. My first show on him I did Lamplight, and Linda Andrisani said ‘Mark my word, he’s going to be famous.’ I did the Derbies on him; he was just a really cool horse. What he had to put up within his life with all those allergies, head shaking, he was a cool horse just for having his ability to do what he did.” 

In 2017, Tracy won the USHJA International Hunter Derby in Ocala on Outbid. She says he “could do anything you asked him to do. He was very talented,  a beautiful mover, beautiful canter, and very scopey. He loved people, he was always happy to see everyone. When we were in Ocala at our permanent stalls at HITS, we had animals hung on all our stalls and he always had it hanging on his head.”

Tracy feels very lucky for all the nice horses she’s had. Some of their top jumpers include S and L Willy, MTM Centano, Grace, MTM Timon, and Blackie Martine. MTM sells more hunters than jumpers, simply because more people ride hunters than jumpers. Tracy says generally the horses aren’t particularly well known before they get sold.

Photo courtesy of Tracy Fenney

The WEC Effect 

The business Tracy says, “has just been crazy. We sold all the hunters that I did in the Incentive last year. I did a couple of First Year classes with them and then they were sold. Our business has just been crazy.”

Tracy and Mike have two to three people looking for horses every day. They recently sold their farm in Texas. Natalie Haggan, a real estate agent who rides with Mike simply put a sign out in front of the farm that said ‘Coming Soon’ and it was sold! They weren’t ever planning to sell it. “We never dreamed of it! It was bizarre.” They maintain connections in Flower Mound, renting back one of the barns to keep horses for Natalie to show and ride.

“You can’t not stay in Ocala. There’s just no reason not to stay here.” Tracy says there’s a new term for it, the “WEC (World Equestrian Center)” effect. “It has changed our whole world, our lives.” They keep a few stalls both at WEC and HITS. The horses are turned out and ridden at the farm and then stay at the shows when they are competing. “It’s saved on so much, how much help we need. We’re not traveling to Chicago and taking 18 hours to get there and flat tires and everything. Our whole lives have changed!”

The pandemic was responsible for a lot of the increased interest in horses. “People don’t want to be stuck in their houses anymore. They want to have a good time, and enjoy what money they have, buy a horse, whatever! They figure either they’re going to die with this money or they are going to have a good time!

“I just wish it could have happened when Mike was able to enjoy it more. We’ve worked hard for so many years and now it’s a nice life. Now it’s more golf and less riding. It’s really changed so much.” She finds Mike amazing “for the passion he puts in every day. He gets up for every horse and every rider and tries to get the best out of everybody. At 74 he still has the vitality to do that every day!”

Importing Horses

Tracy says they’ve imported more horses this year (at the end of March) than they did in all of 2021. They have a guy that scouts for them, “all the time.” He knows which ones they can sell and which ones they can’t and “just sends them to us.” The man rides and does the Global Tours and when he’s not doing that he’s shopping for horses for them. He’s well known in Europe for buying hunters so people call him or bring him the horses. 

They didn’t have that contact in the beginning, when they first began importing horses. But the man had been wanting to find someone over here to sell horses to for 10 years, and now, “We’ve been doing business ever since.” 

Tracy and Mike have an incredible ability to match horses and riders. One reason, says Tracy, is because of the number and variety of horses that they always have in their inventory. “We’re always going to have something for everyone. We have 60-something horses at different ages, different sizes, and prices.” 

Photo © Shawn McMillen Photography

There are two women that invest in horses with MTM, and Tracy and Mike keep a couple of horses for Dorrie, who has worked for them for 11 years, to ride in the jumpers. “We don’t have any customers, it’s strictly a sales business. We stay so busy doing that. We literally have no time to do anything else!” exclaims Tracy.

When the horses come over from Europe, “We teach them to ride more lightly, not so much pulling and kicking but do it like the American would do. We make them easy for people to ride. We change their feed, do their teeth, change their shoes, and the way they get ridden. I think it takes them about six months to fully adjust. 

“I know how I get jet-lagged. The horses go through so much more on their way to being imported. They pick them up, say on a Monday, and they stay overnight at a horse hotel. Then they put them on a trailer again and then they take them to quarantine, where the airport is. The horses get loaded up onto a three-horse box and the boxes are hooked up together. 

“Next they sit in a little alleyway inside of a building at around 11 in the morning, and the flight isn’t until five or six at night. At that time they go out to the runway and are loaded in the airplane when they load the people.” Tracy and Mike used to fly with their horses. They would go back and stay in the box with the horses during take-off. Then during the flight, they could check to be sure the horses had water and hay.

“Then you would land with them; you don’t sit in your seat. The horses get loaded onto another truck, it may be to New York or Miami or Chicago for quarantine and then they’re there for three days, and then they get on another trailer to come to you. So literally for the last week, they have been in all different places; everything is different. I think it’s really, really hard on them. It takes them a bit to get on our schedule. 

“Now they don’t let you fly with them anymore; they fly cargo. They come off skinnier because you’re not flying with them. People fly with them but I think it’s a limited amount of people that go.”

Brian Moggre

Brian Moggre was originally with another trainer at Flower Mound and bought his horses from MTM. At 14, he was ready to go on and do bigger and better things, so he began training with Mike and competing on the show circuit with them. At 15, he scored a win in the Rider’s Boutique $50,000 Grand Prix at Lamplight Equestrian Center, and then took home the blue in the $250,000 Black Barn Junior/Amateur-Owner Jumper Prix at HITS Saugerties on MTM Flutterby. Two years later he won the Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunter Seat Medal at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show.

Tracy tells everyone if you just want to ride for fun, Mike’s not the one. “But if you want to get serious, then you ride with Mike. Aaron Vale rode with him; he’s produced numerous riders. He’s a really good, hard coach, which a lot of people don’t want anymore.”

Hunters and Jumpers

As a rider who is consistently on top in both hunters and jumpers, Tracy says “It’s hard to stay up in the rankings in the hunters because we always sell them.” She’s tried to keep one or two jumpers because they always help pay the bills, although now that they are offering more money in the hunters it’s becoming easier to pay the bills with them as well. Before the hunters were always a deficit because “You had to pay for entries, pay for stalls, and braiding, so you never made any money. But now the derbies are changing that.

“People would ask Mike ‘Why don’t you make Tracy sell Apple (her top jumper),’ and he would say ‘No, she pays the bills on all the other horses we own together.’ You do it so you have one that you’re competitive on. That’s what keeps you going, that you have that one solid citizen,” explains Tracy. “I would love to have some more jumpers. We bought some in January and they were going to be horses for me to keep…and we sold them in five days.” 

Photo courtesy of Tracy Fenney

Apple

MTM Apple is “maybe the sweetest horse in the world. She loves people. It’s funny because people watch her in the ring and she looks so slow. Shane George said 

‘I watched you walk in the ring and that mare looks like the biggest slowest donkey and I felt sorry for you because you like to win and you came in and you picked up a canter and you beat everyone by like two seconds!’

“They all say she looks so big (she’s 17 hands) and fat like there’s no way she could go fast. In the class last Saturday night she had the fastest time by leaving strides out everywhere. I did have a rail down but she beat everyone’s time by a landslide. I can’t believe she’s that fast. She has such a huge stride she just covers the ground.”

They bought the mare in Norway when she was seven and took her to the Balmoral show in Chicago where she jumped right around. Then they took her to Saugerties, where she was great as well. Taking her home, they planned to “let her grow up a bit.” Instead, she had colic surgery. But at eight she was back on her feet and doing the winter circuit at HITS.

Photo courtesy of Tracy Fenney

Barn Life

One lovely tradition Tracy and Mike carry on is doing night check together. All the horses are alert for the whistle that signals their carrots are on their way. They appreciate their employees who make their job easier. Kiara and Macey are very important because MTM gets so many horses in that Tracy can’t ride them all! Dorrie can’t ride them all either, so Kiara and Macey get to ride a lovely bunch of horses.

Tracy is a “big believer in learning to do it all, not just the riding…becoming an overall horseman about the bridle, the boots, grooming, braiding, everything. I did everything when I was a kid; that’s what you did. It makes you know more about your horse, and how they’re going to act that day. You know way more about yourself too, and I think you’re a better person because of it. I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs, I knew the horses relied on me. You’ve got to have that bond or that rapport with them.”

Time Off

Vacations don’t come frequently, but when they do, Mike likes to golf or scuba dive. Tracy on the other hand sticks to horses. She loves to go to Europe and look at horses. “I think it’s so fun to see all the different horses, the different people, to see different things. Stay in cool hotels, and see how their country compares to ours. The food is so different, the people are different, you see how different people do things. You learn something new every day. If you close your mind off you’re going to stop being a better person.”

Photo © Sara Shier Photography

MTM

While Mike has encouraged Tracy to try for the Olympics or the World Equestrian Games, she has always balked. There is no doubt that Tracy loves to win. But, he says, her passion is not so much for the competition, for horse shows, as it is “for the horses.” 

Tracy says, “I do love to win, but I love bringing a new horse along, and then someone else takes them and wins or enjoys the horses as much as we enjoy them. We love getting texts from different people saying they won or how much fun they are having with an MTM horse. We hear from different judges or people saying, ‘I keep hearing the announcer say ‘MTM’ in different parts of the U.S. It’s so fun having people ask for an MTM horse like it’s a breed. 

“The horses don’t always have to win. At some of the stages, we get them at, sometimes just doing good things or trying different things is winning. So really, there are three ways of winning: 1.Bringing the horse along, 2. Doing well for the client, and 3. Winning myself.”

MTM horses are winning and making their riders and trainers happy all around the country. They are even thought of by some like a breed unto itself. For Tracy and Mike, there could be no better endorsement.


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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