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.”
Whether you are a rider preparing for a move-up or a trainer looking to ensure your training program is well-rounded, the soon-to-be released USEA Eventing Handbook by the Levels is the go-to guide to assist you in navigating key decisions. Lucky enough, attendees of the 2022 USEA Instructors’ Certification Program (ICP) Symposium at Barnstaple South Farm in Ocala, Florida on February 8-9 will be the first people outside of the those involved in its creation to access this passion project that the ICP Committee has put two years of research and hard work into developing.
In 2021 Cynthia Smith recorded 536 hours and 59 minutes of volunteer time, setting the standard with the most amount of volunteer hours recorded in a single year since the creation of the USEA Volunteer Incentive Program in 2016. The record-breaking number of volunteer time earned Smith the 2021 USEA Volunteer of the Year title.
Tamie Smith’s year has been nothing short of action-packed as she packed up all 25 of her competition horses and made her way to the East Coast for the first part of the year before hopping on a jet to Tokyo where she served as the U.S. team reserve for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. She then stayed overseas and competed abroad for a little while before returning home to the West Coast. While this year has been full of opportunities to show, her aspirations are bigger than just competition. The 2021 Bates USEA Lady Rider of the Year has been full steam ahead chasing goals in both her riding career as well as in her impact on the sport’s future.
Get to know each United States Eventing Association (USEA) Areas a little better in this new series, Meet the Areas! This month’s feature is USEA Area I which is comprised of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Founded in the 1960s, Area I was the birthplace of the United States Combined Training Association (USCTA) which was founded in 1959 and would later evolve into the USEA in 2001. In 2021 just under 800 members made up the membership count in Area I.