Training

A David Among Goliaths: Part 1

This reining reject shines in the world of three-day eventing.

At 14.3 hands, Smart Sonofa Chic is a dwarf in the eventing world of 16-,17- and 18-hand giants. Regardless, the diminutive gelding is sailing over fences almost 4 feet tall and 7 feet wide and dropping down banks more than 5 feet high, piloted by Emily Plant.

The little sorrel gelding may be atypical in the eventing world, but he couldn’t be more perfect for it. “Tommy’s” pedigree would indicate otherwise. His dam, Doc Michelle, is an AQHA reserve world champion cutting horse; his sire, Smart Chic Olena, has world titles in cutting and reining. Tommy was bred for reining and cutting.

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Born in 2002 on the Babcock Ranch in North Texas, Tommy was purchased in 2004 by Emily’s mother, Anne Kent, of Billings, Montana.

“He was mellow and sweet,” Anne says. “That is typical of Smart Chic Olena colts. (Tommy) was easy to work with. Even the vet commented on how well-behaved he was for a 2-year-old stud colt.”

The young colt was gelded and went into training with Jarvis Anderson of Anderson Training Stables in Wilsall, Montana.

“He was always good-minded, maybe just a little long-legged for a reiner, but did really good at everything,” Jarvis says. “He was really soft in the face, which is good for just about any discipline, but he could go deep in the bridle and really collect.”

Tommy’s reining education continued for about 18 months, during which he also competed a few times to mixed reviews.

“He could do it but didn’t have the heart for it,” Anne says. “We didn’t know what to do with him, so I had a friend over who is a dressage judge. She put some English tack on him and, that very day, he accepted the bit and did everything and anything she told him to do.”

When Emily visited her mom in Montana, she remembers Tommy being an unhappy horse.

“He just seemed to always have his ears pinned back,” Emily says. “He just wasn’t very happy with his job. Mom decided she needed to do something else with him. The options were to retrain him for cutting, which would involve investing more money in him, or to sell him at auction as ranch stock, which we weren’t willing to do. Then one morning, my mom literally woke up and said, ‘Oh, my God, I know what to do with this horse!’”

Two weeks later, he was on a trailer from Bozeman to Kentucky, where Emily lives.

Emily is no slouch of a rider. She has competed successfully in three-day eventing for years and, at the age of 16, competed in her first intermediate-level in New Jersey. Shortly after that, she stopped riding because she was off to college and her horse was getting on in years.

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Looking back, Emily regrets her decision to quit riding.

“From the time I sold my horse, I had dreams on a regular basis about riding again. It made me sad to think about it,” she says. “So when I had the chance to ride Tommy, I was excited. I knew he was a nice Quarter Horse, so I thought maybe he’d do beginner novice or one novice (event). Originally, the plan was to get him going novice and then sell him. We quickly realized what a special horse we had on our hands and decided to see what he could do.”

Emily started Tommy out very slowly. The gelding was very green when it came to the three phases of eventing – dressage, cross-country and stadium jumping – and he had never seen a jump before in his life. In July 2006, the pair participated in a dressage show at a local eventing barn and were pleasantly surprised with two second places, doing Training Level tests 1 and 2.

The next goal for the duo was to compete at a mini-trial (a small-scale, unsanctioned horse trial) at the end of August at beginner novice level. In the interim, Emily and Tommy competed at a local hunter-jumper show and won their cross-rails division. That was only Tommy’s fourth time jumping and, according to Emily he stood quietly between classes and took it all in like a seasoned professional.

In August 2006, Emily started working with a new eventing trainer. She recalls their first time cross-country schooling at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. The trainer asked her to jump a training-level half-coffin and a steeplechase fence.

“I told her he couldn’t do that, he hadn’t even done beginner novice yet, and she said ‘He can do it,’ and she was right,” Emily says. “He popped right over it, and I was in shock. I called my mom and said, ‘This horse is ridiculous. He will do whatever I ask him to do.’”

Tune in next week to read more about “Tommy’s” amazing transformation from reining dropout to eventing star.

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