Jun 28, 2024

Connemara Sport Horse No May Moon Fulfills Winter's Dream of International Eventing Success

Allison Springer and No May Moon at Stable View this spring. USEA/Lindsay Berreth photo

Allison Springer and No May Moon may have taken the eventing world by storm with their recent victory at the MARS Bromont CCI4*-L (Quebec, Canada), but the journey began with a dream decades ago.

Owned and bred by longtime eventing supporter, Nancy Hamill Winter, the 10-year-old Connemara Sport Horse mare had only just stepped up to the Advanced level this spring. The Setters’ Run Farm Carolina International (Raeford, North Carolina) in March was intended to be their debut, but their weekend was cut short after a missed fence on cross-country in the Advanced, resulting in a technical elimination.

Springer pivoted to Stable View (Aiken, South Carolina) a few weeks later, and “Mayzie” tackled the challenging track with gusto. “I had some good long walks that day because I wasn’t even going to run her there because it seemed like almost too much,” Springer admitted. “But the year before I’d looked at the course, and I felt it was doable for her.”

Next up was the Advanced at Fair Hill Horse Trials (Elkton, Maryland). “​​It had rained quite a bit that week, so the ground was really holding there,” Springer recalled. But the little mare—who is estimated to be around 15.2-hands—showed her maturity over the challenging conditions. “Mayzie was amazing on cross-country yet again. She was such a beast, and then she goes to Tryon [CCI4*-S (Mill Spring, North Carolina)] a few weeks later and does the same thing all over again.”

After confidence-building spring outings, Springer and Winter debated on Mayzie’s inaugural CCI4*-L. “We thought maybe she needs to go out to Rebecca Farm, since it is the easiest four-long, but that is a big trip,” said Springer of the Kalispell, Montana venue. She’d competed the mare at Bromont in 2022, finishing third in the CCI2*-L in muddy conditions, so heading north from their homebase in Upperville, Virginia, to the Canadian event seemed like the right choice.

“I knew in my heart that I wanted to have a top finish there,” said Springer. “I knew we were capable. I needed to present her like a horse in dressage. Most judges have judged her quite well, but sometimes there will be judges who judge her like a pony. But I think her connection and her presence is spot on.”

Though Mayzie can be competitive in the ring, Springer admitted that the mare does have a spooky side—and can be a bit of a pain sometimes. “At the first jog, she was terrible,” she said with a laugh. “She refused to go one way, and then she had a total spin and bolt the other direction. She’s a fiery little thing, but that’s probably what makes her so good. I secretly had a lot of confidence. I needed to lay down a score that was competitive enough. But I was never going to say that out loud because, you know…horses.”

After kicking off the weekend in third place, the pair’s partnership paid off in the jumping phases: a solid cross-country run and a double-clear show jumping round cemented their victory—a surprising first at the level for Springer who’d been at the top of the sport for years.

USEA/Lindsay Berreth photo

“I felt like if you’d asked me at the beginning of the season if I was going to take her to the four-long at Bromont, I would’ve said no,” Springer admitted. “I hadn’t even moved up yet. She felt during her first Advanced this year like she’d already been at the level for a year. And that’s how she felt at Bromont.”

Mayzie’s owner, Winter, was on site to cheer on the pair, as she often is. The Illinois native is no stranger to the sport. In the 1950s, the Hamill family was instrumental in the transition of the USET from U.S. Army to civilians. They’ve since continued their support and have helped shape the sport in countless ways, with Winter especially enjoying the hands-on aspects of ownership and breeding.

Winter herself was short-listed for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic eventing team with her family’s buckskin Connemara/Thoroughbred Tre Awain Belfast, whom they acquired from breeder D.J. Moore of Three Creek Farm in Missouri. Winter’s mother, Joan Hamill, had a “phenomenal” purebred gelding named Tre Awain Irish Dancer that she’d bought from Moore years prior. “He did everything, from being a mount for handicapped riders, to the Tevis Cup, to Preliminary eventing, to teaching grandchildren how to ride,” Winter recalled.

In the seventies, Joan sought a new foxhunter, so Moore sent her “Belfast,” who was three years old at the time, on trial. “My mother brought him home, and the next day he vanished,” said Winter. “Nowhere to be found. A few days later, he was discovered in someone’s yard. Nobody really knew who he belonged to because he’d only been there a day.” No matter, “my mother decided to buy him,” she continued. “I guess she figured if he was smart enough to get out of the pasture, he was a keeper.”

Winter recalled the gelding’s heart as gold as his coat, especially leading up to the Olympic trials when she was based with Bruce Davidson. “There’s a famous place in Unionville called Nelson’s Hill that we’d gallop up on a regular basis. Bruce would get to about two-thirds speed on his horse, but Belfast would be going as fast as he could. He always tried his heart out.”

After her eventing career with Belfast ended in the 1980s, she ventured into breeding. “I always had it in my heart that I’d like to breed a quarter-Connemara/Thoroughbred cross. All the ingredients needed to be right: the Connemara brain and the surefootedness and quickness of their survival skills, and the speed and athleticism of a Thoroughbred. If you could do that, that would be my dream.”

Three generations later, No May Moon is the result of that long-held vision. The journey began nearly 40 years ago when Winter bought a purebred Connemara mare named Tre Awain Brigid of Erin from Three Creek Farm. “She was as old-school a Connemara as you could get,” said Winter. “She was clip-cloppy, but her brain was awesome.”

USEA/Lindsay Berreth photo

She bred the mare to Mary Hazzard’s Thoroughbred stallion Mystic Replica, who was by Babamist, one of the most influential eventing sires in America. Ebony Moon, Mayzie’s dam, was the result of the breeding, named after the sky conditions in which she was born, a tradition that Winter held for all the horses bred at her farm.

Though she loved her halfbreds, Winter still desired a quarter-Connemara, so after Ebony retired from eventing, she and Springer chose Catherston Dazzler, an English Sport Horse with a high percentage of Thoroughbred, as a sire. “He’d been deceased for some time, but there was one owner who had frozen semen in Wisconsin, which was very close to where I was in Illinois,” she said.

The first of the cross was Mayzie’s older brother, Crystal Crescent Moon (“Tally”), a gelding that Springer successfully competed to CCI3*-S level, and won the 2019 USEF Two-Star Eventing National Championship, before he was sidelined with an injury in 2022. A suspensory strain in their first outing back last year again waylaid their plans, though Springer is optimistic that he’ll be back competing this fall.

Now, it’s Tally’s full sister’s time to shine. “I never thought Mayzie would surpass his abilities,” says Springer. “But he’s got to give her a run for her money to keep up with her now.”

As youngsters, the two traveled to Cathy Weischoff’s farm in Kentucky to learn basic fundamentals before beginning their formal careers with Springer as 4-year-olds. Later, Tally had success in the USEA Young Event Horse 5-year-old classes and easily progressed up the levels. “Mayzie was way more spooky and unsettled,” recalled Springer. “Probably being a mare is part of that, but she was always on a slower path than her brother.”

Allison Springer and No May Moon on their way to victory at Bromont this year. Cealy Tetley photo

Springer is quick to credit her team, particularly her head groom Paige Ansaldi, for their efforts in keeping the mare at her peak. “Mayzie has tied up in the past a couple of times, but it’s closely related to the sugar levels of the grass in Virginia,” she said. “So, we really try to keep her body as comfortable as possible, whether it’s Regumate or therapies like Bemer or RevitaVet. My groom Paige has done an extraordinary job of monitoring her health and keeping her most comfortable.”

For Springer, competing such a small horse took some getting used to. “Her ears are at my shoulders, but I actually like that adjustability as a dirt bike,” she said. “I was always nervous moving her up, because the jumps looked massive to me. But this year, she’s actually been one of my easier horses to do huge gallop fences on. I just feel very in sync with her. It’s probably her breeding, being a Connemara, but she’s always been in balance and can jump from a range of distances very well.”

“Mayzie has been a challenge at times,” said Winter, “but Allison is fabulous at bringing young horses along.” In fact, she’s trained every single foal that Winter bred at her farm in Illinois in the last 25 years. The two met years ago when Springer was in her daughter’s neighboring Pony Club.

“Allison actually grew up riding ponies,” she said. “She’s not afraid of speed, and she’s not afraid of the size of the jumps. Hearing the national anthem play for her on Sunday [at Bromont] was a dream come true. I coached and was chef d’equipe on her Area IV Young Riders team I don’t know how many times.”

As for the rest of this season, the pair is aiming for Millbrook (New York), but haven’t settled on a fall four-star. “Either she’ll do Morven [Leesburg, Virginia] or I’m also considering raising my hand for the Boekelo team,” said Springer of the October CCIO4*-L which will include a team of four American riders. “I think the timing’s right for that.”

Regardless of upcoming plans, Springer is thrilled for the future. “Nancy didn’t quite make the Olympic team and neither have I,” she said. “So maybe this little mare can take us places neither one of us have been yet. I think her most competitive years are yet to come.”

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