Mar 21, 2020

Horse Heroes: Mastercraft

By Jessica Duffy - USEA Staff
Photo courtesy of Kaitlin Hartford.

Irish Olympian Kevin Babington imported Mastercraft, an Irish Sport Horse gelding born in 1999 with the name Take It E Z, to the United States to be a show jumper. “He was a bit too much of a handful,” recalled Wendy Lewis, who purchased “EZ” from Babington to be an event horse in 2009. “The girl that worked for me at the time, a friend of hers was a student of Kevin’s and she said, ‘We have this horse, he’s by Cavalier – I know they produce a lot of event horses – do you want to come and try him?’ So, I went to try him at Kevin’s and ended up purchasing him.”

Lewis was pregnant at the time she purchased EZ from Babington and so took him to his first couple of horse trials before passing the reins to Buck Davidson at the beginning of 2010 to continue EZ’s introduction to the sport of eventing. “He was already a very experienced jumper and he was really, really brave, so he went up the levels quickly with Buck,” Lewis said.

Sure enough, within just a couple of short months Davidson had taken EZ around his first Intermediate level events, placing second at both Rocking Horse in March and Chattahoochee Hills in April, and in May of that year Davidson and EZ placed fifth in the CCI2* at Jersey Fresh.

“I credit Buck a lot with getting him going,” said Lewis. “I think it worked out really well that I was pregnant and Buck started him. He was a bit quirky and a bit difficult and I think it could have gone either way with me, but Buck got him going. I think that was a big part of his success, that he got such a good start.”

“He was really good on the ground and really safe about stuff that most horses would be weird about, but then he did have his quirks,” explained Lewis. “He was funny about getting on, he was really difficult to get in the start box – someone experienced had to help you into the start box. He had an unusual way of going that looked a lot more frantic than it actually was – he gave you the most amazing feeling. You knew he was going to get there and jump the jumps 110 percent of the time. He was a great jumper and really brave cross-country.”

Lewis and Mastercraft competing at Bromont. Photo.

Lewis gave birth to her son in late March of 2010 and took the ride back from Davidson after their fifth-place finish at Jersey Fresh. She continued to compete EZ at the Preliminary and Intermediate levels for the next year, ultimately moving him up to Advanced in the spring of 2012. When EZ sustained an injury in the late summer of 2012, Lewis made the decision to turn him out and give him time to heal.

At the time, Savannah ‘Woodge’ Fulton was working for Buck Davidson and was looking for a horse to ride. “I was without a horse and Wendy had EZ,” Fulton explained. “He wasn’t going to go back to the top levels of eventing, but she thought maybe he’d be able to teach me something.”

“He’d been hanging out in the field and since he had a previous injury, we really took our time bringing him back slowly,” Fulton continued. “He was the epitome of riding a Ferrari when you’re used to riding a minivan. He had so many buttons and he definitely was not easy to ride but he taught me a lot.”

Fulton competed EZ during the fall of 2013 before acquiring the ride on her current five-star partner Captain Jack. “I learned a lot from EZ and then it was time to pay it forward,” Fulton said. “So, we put an ad out on Facebook saying we’ve got this great horse that can teach someone a lot, but he’s not one we want to let go to just anyone . . . That’s how we met Kaitlin.”

Kaitlin Hartford came across EZ’s ad on Facebook and was intrigued. “The Fultons had put that they were looking for the right home for him, but they didn’t put a price, so 14-year-old me said, ‘Hey, let’s try this and see what happens,’” Hartford explained. “So, I contacted Karen Fulton and convinced my parents that this was a good idea somehow.”

Photo courtesy of Kaitlin Hartford.

Hartford admits that the first year of their partnership was not without its challenges. “It was a learning curve,” she said. “I was coming off of a 12.3 hand pony and going onto a 16.1 hand Irish Sport Horse who knew what he was supposed to do. It was a bit rough sometimes.”

She recalled that they didn’t even make it out of the start box at their first event. “He was rearing and spinning and we were just not comfortable, so we came back and did it again and this time we came in a minute and a half under optimum time at Novice,” Hartford said. “It was a little quick! At our next event we trotted the entire Novice course and came in a minute and a half over optimum time.”

“He was grumpy old man most of the time,” Hartford said. “He hated to be curried – you ran a hard brush over him and you were good to go, so he was never the cleanest. He enjoyed being a swamp monkey with his best friend, my evil 12.3 hand pony. As he got older, he got better, but when I first got him I would get bit when I curried him. But he was the sweetest thing, he would do anything for treats. We worked our partnership around his needs.”

Newsflash Photography Photo courtesy of Kaitlin Hartford.

“He was a beast,” she said. “You could set him at any line and even if I screwed up he would say, ‘I’ve got this.’ Cross-country warm-up was always terrifying – l almost took out Laine Ashker, Jon Holling, and Kyle Carter in one swipe, but once he was on course he had his job done. I could set him up horribly but he was still going – no ifs, ands, or buts.”

Right before Hartford and EZ were supposed to attempt her first Training level event, EZ colicked and they thought they were going to lose him. “But then he popped up and was completely fine,” Hartford said.

In June of 2016, after competing at Training level for six months, Hartford and EZ came in fifth in the Area III Training Championships. “From there we stepped up to Preliminary – he got me around my first five Preliminary level events and then took me around my first Intermediate with just a handful of time to finish seventh.”

That fall, Hartford and EZ were entered in the Intermediate at Chattahoochee Hills – it was Hartford’s birthday. “We were five fences from home and he landed off the fence and tore his tendon,” she said. “We knew he wasn’t going to last forever, but I owe so much to that horse.”

Mastercraft teaching a dressage lesson in his retirement. Photo courtesy of Kaitlin Hartford.

EZ lived out his retirement before his passing in January of 2020 as a “dressage schoolmaster – but a very bad one,” Hartford shared. “He knew the movements, but he didn’t want to do them. In a lesson with Leslie Law, he once referred to his extended trot as ‘an orangutan trying to do an extended trot’ – that about sums up our dressage tests. I taught some lower level lessons on him and after his tendon rehabbed I was able to pop him over a fence or two but I didn’t want to bring him back and risk him tearing it again.”

“Kaitlin did such an amazing job with him and I think it really epitomizes how important the partnership is,” Fulton reflected. “She started at the ground level with him and took him from Novice to Intermediate and he was not an easy horse at all. They had a great partnership because if EZ didn’t trust you he wasn’t going to do anything for free. We were happy we could help another young rider out and also give EZ a great home.”

“My relationship with him was amazing,” Hartford reflected. “It was hard the first year but it’s the biggest bond – he gave me his all. Just riding him every day was incredible. His forelock rides around cross-country with me now because he’s always been a part of me and he always will be.”

The USEA Horse Heroes series celebrates equine athletes who have contributed to the sport again and again, competing with multiple riders at the upper levels of the sport. Do you know of a horse hero who deserves recognition? Email your tips to [email protected].

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