It was love at first sight for Aiken resident Robyn Ford as she watched a horse go cross country at a three day event horse trials. The young horseman, who had exhibited at a handful of hunter/jumper shows, knew she wanted to be an eventer when she was introduced to cross country.
“When I did my first cross country course, I thought, ‘This is awesome,’” said Ford. “I’m kind of an adrenaline junky.”
Ford, who started riding at age 12, grew up in New Hampshire, and worked at an eventing barn through high school.
“I became a working student, got free lessons, and would be at the barn all day, every day,” said Ford.”
The first horse Ford evented on was a mare named Raven, who was seven-years-old and very green, when the rider/horse combination began forming their bond. Ford and Raven started at beginner novice and began finding their way, moving up the levels to training.
“She was really easy, wasn’t a difficult horse, and did whatever I asked her to do,” said Ford. “I ended up selling her. It was a lot of fun with her.”
The experience with Raven seemed only to reinforce Ford’s desire to dedicate her life to the equine industry.
However, her hunter/jumper background has proved to be beneficial while competing during the stadium jumping phase of eventing.
“The guy I had been training with (before Ford made the transition to eventing) was more of a jumper,” said Ford.
Ford would ride through college obtaining her associates degree in equine studies at Johnson and Wales University in Providence, R.I. Ford would move to Maryland to become a working student,would work briefly for upper level eventer Sharon White, before returning to New England. The horseman would eventually shift her tack to Shanon Baker’s barn, where she worked for the upper level eventer for three years. The two remain very close. Ford is now free lancing and has started her own farm sitting business.
“We (Ford and Baker) would be in New Hampshire for six months and in Aiken for another six months. I’ve been in Aiken the past three winters,” said Ford.
It was while working for Baker, Ford had the opportunity to ride Johnny Be Good, a preliminary veteran, who offered a wealth of experience having competed in numerous one-stars, and at the American Eventing Championships on multiple occasions.
“He was already 18 when I got to ride him,” said Ford. “He’s an easy ride. He just goes, you point and he jumps. It was really nice to have that. We did training on him at Sporting Days last winter, a few novices, and it was just so much fun.”
But, it wasn’t just that Johnny Be Good was an outstanding ride for Ford, he helped the eventer regain some of the confidence she lost several years ago as the result of a broken leg sustained while jumping a green horse.
“After the accident, I kind of lost my nerve for jumping,” said Ford. “Shanon let me ride John, and all of her other horses too, and then she let me compete him, and that really allowed me to get my confidence back.”
However, the horse Ford will bring out in the future is an off the track Thoroughbred, and former polo pony, who was a rescue given to the rider by the Homestedt’s Elly Schobel. Bruce, has recovered from a bout with laminitis, and after three months off. is under saddle, and is coming back into work, said Ford.
“He’s great,” said Ford. “I’m hoping to move him up to novice by summer. He’s actually super easy, he does have a bit of an attitude sometimes, but you can just get on him and go.”
Ford is also working with Schobel to improve her dressage. The eventer has seen a marked improvement in her riding since working with Schobel.
“I love Elly,” said Ford. “She’s awesome. She makes our riding so much better.”
Bruce has a good mind, is a quick learner, listens to the aids, and is quite a fancy mover, said Ford.
“He’s gotten the whole leg on, head down thing,” said Ford. “He struggles with it a little bit because he’s just coming back into work, and doesn’t have the muscle for it. He’s learning what leg yielding is and all that. It’s coming along. He’s progressing, it’s going to take a while, and I’m babying him a bit.”
The former racehorse and polo pony was in the process of being rehabbed at the time he developed laminitis, and was underweight and lacking in muscle, so Ford only had the opportunity to jump him once. Ford wascharged with the task of rehabbing Bruce a second time, and hasn’t been able to jump him, so the horseman doesn’t know how he’d perform during the stadium jumping phase, and hasn’t brought him out cross country.
“He’s great to go out and hack, and walk, trot and canter,” said Ford. “I think he’s going to be a great cross country horse, but we’re still in the process of finding out what he can do.”
The eventer is also in the process of working toward her United States Dressage Federation Bronze medal, riding one of Schobel’s horses, a coming six-year-old, who’s known as Charlie around the barn. The rider/horse combination did the Viewpoint Holiday on Horse dressage show at Highfields Event Center in December, and did training and first level.
“He has a lot of potential,” said Ford. “He’s a really nice horse. He’s so much fun to ride. He’s already come a long way. I’ve only been riding him for about a month. This was his first show with me.”
A career with horses is definitely on Ford’s immediate horizon, but she has no interest in being a professional, something she found out years ago.
“I’ve worked with professionals, and I realize how hard and difficult it is,” said Ford. “I don’t want to do the upper levels, but I like to watch it, and work with the upper level riders. I’ll do training and prelim, but that’s as high as I want to do. The jump from preliminary to intermediate is significant. I just want to have fun with my horses.”