‘Age is nothing but a number’ and this phrase can resonate with eventers due to the factors that affect young horses. So, what common factors did Blackfoot Mystery, Truly Wiley, D.A. Duras, and Happenstance all have? Kelly Prather. Compassionate, patient, knowledgeable, and experienced, Prather is an eventing professional that anyone should not walk but run to when identifying a young event horse. The United States Eventing Association (USEA) had the opportunity to sit down with Prather to learn more about her program and how her success can be applied to the USEAs Young Event Horse (YEH) program.
Read below to find out how Prather has produced Olympic, four-star, and winning three-star event horses.
With Prather as the rider and Debbie Adams as the owner, D.A. Duras (Numero Uno x Medoc) was one of the first grant recipients of the Holekamp/Turner Grant. Funds from the grant helped the pair to finish ninth in the 2015 CCI2* 7-year-old FEI World Breeding Eventing Championship at Le Lion d’Angers in France. Prather competed Happenstance (Hunter x S’Brina) at his first show in 2011 and won their first YEH 5-year-old competition at Rebecca Farm. Fast forward to 2017, and Happenstance has won his last three outings: an Advanced H.T., a CIC3*, and a CCI3* with James Alliston in the irons.
Prather has been the one and only rider for Truly Wiley (Salute The Truth x Cheers of A Loss) from the start of his eventing career in 2011 to his 16th place finish at the 2018 Land Rover Three-Day CCI4*.
From a 3-year-old to the four-star level, Prather credits her first top event horse, Ballinakill Glory (Mark Twain x Ballinakill Popsey) an Irish Sport Horse mare, as “one of the keys” in teaching her how to bring other horses successfully up the levels. Ballinakill Glory was the key that unlocked many doors for Prather including the one that opened to Blackfoot Mystery.
Prather and Blackfoot Mystery on their way to a 4th place finish at Jersey Fresh International CCI3* in 2015. RedBayStock.com Photo.
Blackfoot Mystery and Boyd Martin representing the United States at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Allen MacMillian Photo.
Found by Lisa Peecook, Blackfoot Mystery and Prather had a partnership of seven years starting at Training level. In 2015, their last year together, Prather piloted Blackfoot Mystery to a win in the Intermediate at Rocking Horse H.T., a third-place finish in the CIC3* at Fair Hill International, and a fourth-place finish in the CCI3* at Jersey Fresh International. Just a year later, Boyd Martin and Blackfoot Mystery represented the United States at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games where they finished 16th out of 65 of the world’s top competitors.
Prather’s background consists of working with an impressive list of eventing professionals including William Fox-Pitt, Carol Gee of Fernhill Sport Horses, Andrea Pfieffer of Chocolate Horse Farm, and Bruce Davidson Sr. With wins at every level on multiple horses, numerous YEH completions, and a top finish at the 2018 Land Rover Three-Day Event CCI4*; Prather is an exceptional horsewoman.
“Each horse needs to go at their own pace,” said Prather. “There will be a point where each horse will need to spend more time. [For some young horses] they need time to develop their balance, some need time to grow into themselves, and some need time to mentally mature. You need a good foundation to build on and then you need to feel each horse out as an individual.”
When asked if her program sets goals dependent on a horse’s age, Prather stated, “No, not really. It all depends on when you were able to start them. For a horse that I feel has the talent to [be an Advanced level horse], it would be very normal for me to have a horse going Training level as a 5-year-old, Preliminary level as a 6-year-old, one-star and be moving up to Intermediate either as a 6-year-old year or 7-year-old. Then, I would take my time at the two-star level. I think you can teach them everything they need to know to be a successful Advanced [horse] at the two-star level.”
Prather has built her program around individuality and understanding that each horse has different buttons, motivations, and mentality. However, there was one button that Blackfoot Mystery, Truly Wiley, Happenstance, and D.A. Duras all had in common, and that was, “they all loved to jump!”
Ears perked, Truly Wiley shows his love to jump with Kelly Prather at the 2018 Land Rover CCI4*. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.
Age for Achievement:
Five years old is the age Prather said young horses are most likely to go through the rebel teenage years. “I think they question if they need to do what you want or what they want.”
“Every horse is different – some mature early at four or five, some turn nine and you wonder if maybe they might never [mature].” So, how do these physical and mental growth spurts affect the horse’s training? “It changes their balance and they have to learn how to deal with that.”
For Prather, an ideal age on when you can put the most training on a horse ranges from the ages six to 10. “I think they learn the most from six to 10. At 11 they start to feel trained,” Prather said with a smile.
“As 3-year-olds, I start them lightly, so they are okay with being ridden. As 4-year-olds they learn all the things [for example] how to put their head down and jump the jumps. At five, you can start to ask more and at six, they are mature enough to really start learning.”
Prather and Happenstance on their way to win the YEH-5 competition at Rebecca Farm in 2011. USEA/Josh Walker Photo.
James Alliston and Happenstance winning the CIC3* at Woodside International in 2017. USEA/Jessica Duffy Photo.
A Heart for the Horse:
“I do it because I love it,” is Prather’s personal motto for her program, KP Eventing, which is currently based out of Longwood Farm South in Ocala, Florida.
Although Prather didn’t spill any big secrets to her success, she did share with the USEA her go-to meal before cross-country. “At shows my mom is normally there and will make me a turkey and cheese sandwich so I eat something. If it’s early, I’ll have an Odwalla green drink. I try to always eat something before cross-country.”
“Keep them forward thinking,” is her number-one tip on producing young horses. And that she has done time and time again.
About the USEA Young Event Horse Program
The Young Event Horse (YEH) Program was first established in 2004 as an eventing talent search. Much like similar programs in Europe, the YEH program was designed to identify young horses that possess the talent and disposition to, with proper training, excel at the uppermost levels of the sport. The ultimate goal of the program is to distinguish horses with the potential to compete at the three- and four-star levels, but many fine horses that excel at the lower levels are also showcased by the program.
The YEH program provides an opportunity for breeders and owners to exhibit the potential of their young horses while encouraging the breeding and development of top event horses for the future. The program rewards horses who are educated and prepared in a correct and progressive manner. At qualifying events, youngsters complete a dressage test and a jumping/galloping/general impression phase. At Championships, young horses are also evaluated on their conformation in addition to the dressage test and jumping/galloping/general impression phase.
"No matter how old you are, be open to all disciplines, learn how to ride a dressage horse, a gaited horse, a show jumper. Go fox hunting and point-to-pointing and horse showing. You’ll learn from all of them and when you do decide which discipline you want to do, you’ll be better at it anyway.”
The University of Findlay’s Three-Day Eventing Team was established in 2013, the same year USEA voted and approved the USEA intercollegiate program. The UF team has over 30 members encompassing a variety of majors at the university. The team has access to two indoor arenas, a large outdoor arena, and 70 acres of on-site cross-country fences.
Bellamy, an Oldenburg/Thoroughbred gelding of unknown breeding, came to Tamra Smith’s farm in Southern California with his mane half-way down his neck and filled with burrs. Bellamy had been sitting in a field for a little over a year after unseating several riders in a row and Smith, known for being good with tricky horses, agreed to take him on.