Eventing is a discipline well-known for being inclusive of many unique and unfamiliar breeds. While disciplines like dressage and show jumping tend to favor warmbloods and various western disciplines feel the same with the quarter horse, event riders are famous for competing on horses of different breeds and varying ages. Since the discipline asks so many individual questions, it seems to be an area where there is no stigma on what horse you ride in on. One such horse is a 9-year-old Andalusian PRE gelding named Romeo. Romeo made his debut at the USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) presented by Nutrena Feeds in 2021 where he competed at the Training level and, while the event hosted a multitude of breeds, the gelding was a surprising sight for many.
Romeo’s partner, Courtney Cook, acquired Romeo and two other Andalusians as young stallions under the guidance of Spanish Riding School Master Training Jose Iglesias. Cook has been an event rider for many years, but during her time under Iglesias’ instruction, she developed a strong love for the Andalusians and soon decided to embark on a journey of acquiring her own alongside her trainer. Despite his breeding, Cook stated that Romeo had an affinity for jumping even from a very young age.
“When we first got him home, he immediately began jumping out of the paddocks, so it was obvious to us he had natural jumping talent,” she explained. “Even though he was under Jose’s training, he would let me ride him as a young horse because it was clear he was a good jumper and I was the one who did jumping.”
Romeo was taken to a young horse show featuring horses from the ages of 2 to 5 years old where he did well in several cross-rail jumper classes but caught the eye of a dressage rider who immediately purchased him; however, as it turns out, Romeo and Cook's future together was far from over. As Cook explains it, Iglesias was contacted by the new owners roughly a year later offering the horse back.
“They called and said they had gelded him but his behavior had just gotten worse to the point where they couldn’t even catch him from the field,” she recalled. “When we first got him back, we had to create a lot of crazy contraptions and really be cautious with him. I had a lot of buyer's regret in my first year owning him again.”
With long-standing patience, Cook began to build back a bond with Romeo and soon discovered two things: the horse still had a natural ability and love for jumping, and one of the few places he actually enjoyed being ridden was in the cross-country field.
“To this day, we still have to do a lot of unconventional things with him but he is a phenomenal jumper,” she stated. “The horse is so incredibly brave, I don’t think he’s ever stopped at anything unless he was in some kind of pain.
Most of my experience is with bringing along Thoroughbreds but Romeo’s stamina surprised me,” she continued. “He is actually hot-blooded so he doesn’t gas out like you would expect from a heavier horse. He is definitely a different ride for me because he is only about 15 hands, but he is incredibly clever with his feet and has a little heart of gold.”
At the time her takeover of the gelding began, Cook could not imagine a scenario in which she would be able to eventually get the troubled horse into the show ring. With a fear of people, a dislike for being fenced in, and an affinity for antics, she saw the scenario of producing him through a full event almost impossible. Fast-forward three years and she has now successfully navigated him through multiple events— big and small— including the Rocking Horse Park Horse Trials and of course the AEC.
“Even going to a show or an event seemed so far out of reach for us,” Cook confessed, “but here we are and it’s amazing. He trusts me enough to go show and to willingly do the things I ask now, but that’s not to say there haven’t been multiple hiccups over the years. We’ve seen a lot of hard times getting here including chasing him through the Conyers Horse Park for hours!”
“Despite all the issues, my doubts, and the difficult situations we have had to overcome, I just had such a genuine love for that horse when I started him and also love for the trainer, Jose [Iglesias], who I started him with. He recently suffered some brain lesions and is unable to work how he used to, so to have this horse back in my life and remember the good times we had together producing him is very special. I never would have been brave enough to sit on green stallions if it wasn’t for that man.”
Romeo, although trying, has proven himself to be a loyal and trusting friend to Cook who assures he has a home for life. As for the pair’s future, Cook has high hopes of continuing to advance up the levels of eventing and potentially even earning her dressage medals, so long as Romeo is game.
“He definitely has the talent to be a grand prix dressage horse, and I would love to get my medals on him,” she detailed. “That is a very big goal. However, his favorite phase of eventing is easily the cross-country so I will continue forward doing that with him for however long is possible and I hope maybe he will be able to finish out in Preliminary or maybe even Intermediate level.”
Hannah Warner wears many hats: student at the University of Kentucky, UK Eventing Team President, competitor, and head groom for Alexa Ehlers. Fitting in all of her roles and responsibilities into her day-to-day life can be a challenge, but it is a challenge that Warner finds rewarding. The college senior is working towards a business degree through UK's online business program, so Warner is able to get creative with her schedule to pursue all of her academic and eventing related goals.
The Area III Championships kicked off the 2022 USEA Area Championship season June 24-26 at the Stable View Summer H.T. in Aiken, South Carolina. Offering 12 different championship divisions from Intermediate to Beginner Novice, the championships were highly contested as riders from all across Area III put in a gallant effort in hopes of being deemed division champion. The USEA caught up with many of the individual champions to look back on their performances in Aiken that helped them bring home the top prize.
The United States Eventing Association (USEA) is pleased to announce the athletes selected for the 2022 USEA Emerging Athlete 21 (EA21) Program. USEA Young Rider program members aged 21 and under are eligible for the program, which aims to creates a pipeline for potential U.S. team riders by identifying and developing young talent, improving horsemanship and riding skills, and training and improving skills and consistency.
The USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) presented by Nutrena Feeds are just two months away. The AEC moves to the mountains this year, taking place at Rebecca Farm in Kalispell, Montana across a long Labor Day weekend.