Mar 28, 2023

Davis and Imperio Magic Are Making Their Mark at Advanced

By Lindsay Berreth - USEA Staff
Mary Bess Davis and Imperio Magic finished 10th in the CCI4*-S at SRF Carolina International. USEA/Lindsay Berreth photo

The Setters’ Run Farm Carolina International featured a strong group of experienced pairs in the marquee CCI4*-S division, and by the end of the competition, held March 16-19 in Raeford, North Carolina, the top-10 was packed with several five-star veterans and Advanced level winners.

Mary Bess Davis wasn’t exactly expecting to find her name in the mix with Imperio Magic, as she’d just moved her 9-year-old Anglo European gelding (Cassender C x Khadija Des Hayettes) up to Advanced last fall, but by the end of the weekend, the pair had made one of the biggest leaps up the scoreboard from 23rd after dressage to finish 10th.

“He’s a 9-year-old. I just keep telling myself that,” she said. “I don’t know how he understands everything like he does with the experience he has. He started eventing in August 2020. When he goes through something like that, it shocks me how much he understands it; he’s a freak, he gets it, he wants to be perfect, and he pretty much is. I was thrilled. I cannot say how proud I am to own him.”

It's been more than a decade since Davis, 44, has ridden at the Advanced level. She grew up in Covington, Georgia, and enjoyed vaulting and Pony Club before she got more serious about eventing alongside her father, Mike Sigman. He’d started riding at age 50 to help keep Davis’ brother Michael Sigman’s eventing horses in shape. Mike was an equine vet who was involved with the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and eventually became an FEI vet.

USEA/Lindsay Berreth photo

Davis took a Thoroughbred named Mojo Rising to the now-CCI4*-L level during college at the University of Georgia where she earned a degree in biology, and she managed a few barns before setting up her own business at the family farm.

In the ensuing years, Davis took three other horses to Advanced, including two Thoroughbreds. She was named to the Developing Rider list with both, but she broke her back, and then when she was better, the horses weren’t sound.

Once she met her husband, Mark Davis, Mary Bess took some time to have her two sons, Grayson, 6, and Austin, 9.

It wasn’t until 2019 that she returned to the international level after feeling a little bored and craving to do more with her riding.

She enlisted the help of her former coach, Canadian five-star rider Mike Winter, who’s now based in England, to help her find her next upper-level prospect. She wanted one resale prospect and one to keep.

When the first resale horse didn’t pass the vetting, Davis went home, but then Winter found her Imperio Magic, or “McCall,” who was 6 at the time and jumping 2’6”.

“The next week he called me, and he said, ‘I found the one for the resale, but I don’t think you’re going to want to resell it.’ He sent me a video, and that was McCall,” she said.

USEA/Lindsay Berreth photo

“He was very quirky, which I do like, but I had a lot of questions in the beginning of, ‘Oh dear, am I going to be able to handle this?’ He’s very quirky but very loving. He’s a pet for sure. There were a couple of times where I’d be like, ‘Oh lord, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to hold on in the warmup ring.’

“After we worked through that, from the get-go, he always understood the sport,” she continued. “It’s always been like, if I told him this is what needed to happen, he understood it. Never protested, always just loved it and has always been very trusting of me, which has been really amazing and rewarding and pretty unreal that he’s just done it so effortlessly.”

Being back at the upper levels has brought on “all the emotions,” according to Mary Bess, but she’s been able to balance life as a mother with her Triple Creek Eventing business in Mansfield, Georgia, alongside her own riding goals.

Family is a huge part of Mary Bess Davis' life. Photo courtesy of Mary Bess Davis

“I’ve had really good horses. It means the world if you’re on a good horse,” she said. “My husband has been so supportive of me doing this, so it’s been as good as it can be. I also have a huge support system at home. My mother-in-law takes care of our kids when I go to the shows so they can stay here and do their sports so they don’t miss being kids. It’s about as easy as I could have it with the support system I have around me.”

Mary Bess and McCall finished fourth at the Stable View Oktoberfest CCI4*-S (Aiken, South Carolina) last fall and then were second at the TerraNova CCI4*-S (Myakka City, Florida).

“Going into Carolina, we’ve been working on the dressage, and we still have a long way to go with that, but I just wanted to jump well and have a good round and improve on the dressage, which we had one moment in the dressage which was unfortunate, but the rest was improved,” she said. “I was very excited about how it went. I was disappointed in the rail—I caused it. Always the goal with him is to let him show everyone how special he is and try not to get in his way. It was fun. The cross-country was probably the best run we’ve had so far. That was incredibly rewarding.”

Imperio Magic has always been a little quirky, according to Mary Bess Davis. Photo courtesy of Mary Bess Davis

Mary Bess had a fall from her CCI2*-S horse Monius after completing her four-star ride at Carolina, and she’ll be laid up for several weeks with injuries to the C1 and C7 vertebrae in her neck. She’s hoping to be back in the tack soon and is eyeing a CCI4*-L with McCall this summer, but she’s in no rush.

“I’ve been happily surprised by everything we’ve accomplished when we first moved up to Advanced in the fall,” Mary Bess said. “My goal was to be competitive, and he was just eating up everything and being so successful that I think he went above and beyond. Coming into this season I think I had to tell myself to calm down and realize that we had gone way above my goals in the fall and just be reasonable because he’s 9.”

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