“Hey, quick question,” Jane Mortensen asked the USEA team at the media tent of the 2021 USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) presented by Nutrena Feeds. “Do you happen to know how old the oldest horse competing here this week is?”
We crunched some numbers and pulled some statistics. “Looks like the oldest horse is a 1996 model Thoroughbred by the name of . . . ”
A smile spread across Mortensen’s face as she interjected, “Bounty Hunter.”
Mortensen and the 25-year-old plain bay Thoroughbred gelding have been partnered together for 21 years now. In their lifetime together, they have qualified for the AEC three times consecutively. Mortensen has been the only person to have ever competed the horse and the 2021 AEC was the duo’s redemption tour after a less-than-desirable outing in 2019.
“I came to the AEC in 2019 and promptly fell off at fence six on cross-country,” she reflected with a laugh. “I think I focused too much on my dressage and not enough on my jumping preparation!”
But their story together starts long before the 2019 AEC. Mortensen got her start in eventing in 1988 when she made a friend who was a groom for an eventer. That friend took Mortensen out to her first-ever event at Evergreen, where the connection was immediate. “ If you went to Evergreen as a horse rider, you became an eventer. It was one of those magical places. I had never wanted to jump. I was 29-years-old and I had started out in Saddlebreds. After watching the event at Evergreen, I just thought to myself, ‘I need to do this. This is fun!’ My very first event horse was a school horse, but he also was a stopper. I plugged away at it and he would always lead the dressage, but then he would stop at whatever!”
After that first horse passed, Mortensen and a former trainer went to a farm to try four horses and that fourth horse was Bounty Hunter. The Ocala-bred racehorse who raced under the name of Last Comet Slammer (In the Slammer x Satan’s Last Comet) had only made $2,000 on the track and never broke his maiden. Mortensen took a chance on the gelding and turned him out to pasture for a year.
“We didn’t even do a pre-purchase on him,” she recalled. “He was a nightmare to feed and keep weight on, but he wasn’t a stopper. I gave him as much time off as he needed and started taking lessons on him. He was so game.”
Ralph Hill who was based out of Longwood South Farm at the time had the biggest influence on the pair’s career together. “He just blossomed! We just kept clicking and going along. In Bounty Hunter's and my defense, due to finances – and the fact that I am a chicken – his miles are low. The highest he has ever competed was Novice, but we have schooled Prelim by accident,” she joked.
Through the entirety of his life with Mortensen, Bounty Hunter has lived at home in her backyard. When he is not competing, Bounty Hunter loves to trail ride and swim with Mortensen. She attributes his low-miles jumping and competing to his longevity. So at the ripe age of 23, Bounty Hunter qualified for his first AEC in 2019.
“It was a very emotional qualification,” Mortensen shared. In her earlier days competing, Mortensen’s mother always accompanied her. After having to take a break from tagging along due to family commitments, Mortensen’s mom was able to join her at one last event, the Sundance Farm Horse Trials. Unfortunately, she would pass away a few years later. When Mortensen returned to Sundance Farm, she felt her mother’s presence every step of the way. “We went back to the event that my mom and I last attended together and I truly felt as if my mom was there. It was so special and then to top it off, we won the event.”
Unfortunately, their 2019 outing didn’t go according to plan, so the duo aimed to qualify again in 2020- and they did. She knew that Bounty Hunter’s qualification would carry over to 2021 after the 2020 AEC was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the duo added a third-place overall finish and first-place amateur finish to their record at Chattahoochee Hills in October of 2020, further solidifying their spot at the 2021 Championships.
When our team chatted with Mortensen at the Kentucky Horse Park, the pair had just completed the dressage phase. “I just want to jump fence six and go on,” Mortensen laughed. “I will be beside myself if that happens. My big goal is to ride in the Rolex Arena. That would be the pinnacle of his and my career together.”
Never fear, this amazing duo made it past the dreaded sixth fence and only added four seconds of time to their dressage score. They made it to their dream of riding in the famed Rolex arena together and laid down a double clear effort in show jumping. So what comes next for this dynamic duo?
“I am 60 and he is 25. Will I walk out of the Rolex arena and take the saddle off? Time will tell. He likes to work. He is so game, so tough and so resilient. He will tell me when he is ready to retire. I am just focusing on how proud I am of him. This isn’t about me, it’s about him. He is my once-in-a-lifetime soulmate.”
The USEA is made up of over 12,000 members, each with their own special horses and experiences. The USEA's Now on Course series highlights the many unique stories of our membership. Do you and your horse have a tale to tell? Do you know someone who deserves recognition? Submit your story to Meagan DeLisle at [email protected] to be featured.
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