On the final day of competition for the Preliminary Rider division at the 2021 USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) presented by Nutrena Feeds, Sallie Johnson and her Irish Sport Horse gelding, Fernhill DiCaprio (Finnanloon Flight x Finnan Scarlet) were named the reserve champion combination after an intense three-day event period in which the pair managed to come in only 0.3 points behind the winner. In March of 2021, Johnson was making an impossible decision – whether or not it was in his best interest to put the gelding to sleep.
According to Johnson, an aggressive bout of acute enteritis, either having presented bacterially or virally, landed the gelding at the University of Georgia (UGA) equine medical center for an undetermined amount of time as he was placed in what the clinic deemed to be supportive care.
“One morning I went out to get him and he was just thrashing around in the field in so much pain,” Johnson recalled. “We rushed him to UGA where they recommended we might have to put him down but I just couldn’t, he is everything to me.”
The members of the UGA veterinary staff were left with a difficult puzzle to try and solve. The gelding was not suffering but at the same time, doctors were unable to come up with an aggressive treatment plan. Performing surgery was a last resort option for the medical staff as they were worried it would lead to worse illness but with Johnson refusing to quit, the gelding was placed on a series of IV antibiotics with round-the-clock care and still no promise of recovery.
Two grueling weeks later, Johnson saw her first glimmer of hope.
“We really had no hope that he was going to get better but we kept on with treatment so long as he wasn’t suffering and then miraculously one day he just started to get better,” she said. “He was skinny and he couldn’t even eat hay, but he could have grass so when we finally were able to bring him home we made him the biggest, grassiest pasture we could.
Assembling a makeshift turnout, Johnson allowed the gelding as much grass as he would eat and slowly began to reintroduce additional nutrition from grain and hay back into his diet. A mere month later, she swung herself back onto his back for the first time.
“The feeling of my first ride with him again was incredible,” she remembered. “I truly thought I was never going to be able to get on him again.”
In a truly unbelievable rebound, Fernhill DiCaprio won his very first return to the show ring and like a fairytale, Johnson soon found herself back on the way to the AEC.
It’s a reality Johnson feels is almost too good to be true.
“I can’t believe we are here. Less than six months ago I was trying to even contemplate what I was going to do if he didn’t make it, but I never even dreamed I’d be at a championship with him, especially this soon.”
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.