How does one quantify success? Is it the number of ribbons won? The number on the podium stood upon? The number of clean runs completed? The number associated with the value of a horse? Success, more often than not, is directly linked to the amount of something achieved over time. But, success is not necessarily always defined by the best of something or the lowest score or the fastest time. In the sport of eventing where numbers and scores and times are utilized to define how “good” or “bad” a rider or horse is, at the end of the day it should be about what each person takes away from a competition or lesson. Instead of riding the fast track to success, a slow burn can culminate into the greatest measure of success.
How many eventers can say that they own or have ridden a horse that had competed in over 100 horse trials? Not many. Though, it is not necessarily the number here that matters, but the hard work, care, attention to detail, and passion for the welfare of the horse that led them to this prestigious honor. These horses are not just superior athletes, but the greatest teachers of all. It was not a grand prize, or ribbon that or single moment that these horses’ success is hinged on, but the knowledge, love, and trust that they have given in return to those who have always done right by their mount, just like Sydney Shinn and her 17-year-old Thoroughbred mare, Paprika.
Shinn first laid eyes on the petite chestnut mare during her time as a working student with Jennie Brannigan. A homebred of eventing legends, Tim and Nina Gardner, Paprika was owned by Alexa Lapp who took the mare from Training level all the way up to the three-star level. In 2009, Paprika entered her first ever horse trials with Ryan Wood in the YEH program as a four-year-old. Though the small and unassuming mare did not end her campaigning of stellar riders there, as she went on to train with Phillip Dutton and Jennie Brannigan to then be sold to Paige Hurley who had her for a few years. In 2015, she returned to Brannigan and the duo tucked a few extra trials under their belts before Lapp took over the ride. With a wealth of knowledge and training already apparent with the then 8-year-old mare, Lapp was able to meet her goal of riding at the three-star level with Paprika. Even at the ripe age of eight, the fiery mare showcased what is her greatest attribute - her ability to teach. Having been given the greatest care and training possible in the sport, the Thoroughbred exceeded all expectations and carried her first young rider to reach a dream of theirs.
“While she isn’t the scopiest, fanciest little horse she gives every phase her all,” stated Shinn. “Paprika is a horse that loves the sport of eventing, and not only gives many kids the opportunity to learn about the sport, but to also enjoy the sport to its fullest. She also teaches you to not get caught up in the scores and placings, but to enjoy every show and every piece of confidence and progress you gain. You learn to enjoy the process of your riding improving and just enjoying the horse you have without comparing it to all of the other fancy horses you are against. The spark in this mare when you bring her to a competition is unbeatable! She shows you her dedication and excitement to perform. No matter the size of the jumps, she gives it her all, and gives you the best experiences and memories along the way. She may be small, but she is certainly mighty.”
Shinn’s first real experience with Paprika came under unfortunate circumstances when her horse, Nyconn Cat, sustained an injury. Having maxed out at the Intermediate level, Brannigan and Lapp saw a golden opportunity for Shinn in letting her learn from Paprika. The initial lease turned into a lease to buy as Shinn learned more than she ever could have imagined with the tiny mare as her coach.
“I feel so privileged to have been in the right place at the right time,” noted Shinn. “I am so incredibly fortunate to have this mare in my life, and to have learned the lessons I have on a horse that always feels one hundred percent like a partner. She gives the feel of being a true pair and having the closest connection I had ever experienced.”
From the beginning of their partnership, the goal was to get to young riders, though Shinn stated, “...to be completely honest, I wasn’t sure if I would be good enough to get her to another three-star, let alone a long-format. Young Riders was a wonderful experience, where we finished just outside of the top ten and team silver! There was no feeling better than finishing my first three-star long on her. There were so many first times for me, but I hardly felt nervous for anything because we believed in each other and our partnership so strongly.”
Being brought up in several top-notch professional programs allowed Paprika to trust her riders, and work together as a pair, as well as create a solid foundation of training. Shinn noted that Paprika has a unique teaching style for her riders stating, “She can teach proper aids, and you can get to the point where you only need small amounts of pressure to get the response you are looking for. She will let you know when you aren’t asking correctly and will ignore you until you ask her correctly. She knows what is right and what is wrong and will not respond to improper aids. I feel as though this also contributes to her soundness as a horse who has competed at more than 100 events.”
Over her career, Paprika has competed in a total of 115 horse trials, and thanks to Shinn’s meticulous wellness routine, Paprika is still competing and is in as good of health as can be.
“She has been well looked after, kept up on joint injections, wellness exams, and well-maintained feet. We are all so privileged in Area II to have such an incredible group of vets, and farriers. These individuals keep your horse running comfortably and effectively. We have the best of the best vets and farriers between Pennsylvania, Aiken, and Florida. I cannot thank Mary Griffin, Kevin Keane, Ashley Taylor, and Lisa Casinella enough for their dedication to keep these performance horses in their best condition. I also am a strong believer in getting my horses massaged, which I use Nicole Leikert during my winters in Aiken, and Bryn Byer during the summers in Pennsylvania. Alongside with the bodywork, I get chiropractic done by Bonnie Kibbie to help get the horses more symmetric and release any locked areas. Keeping these competition horses on a four week shoeing schedule, keeping up on Adequan and Legend, and even looking into supplements that best suit your horses overall wellness is very important. I am a huge fan of Platinum Performance supplements, as well as adding Vitamin E to their diet. The other aspect of keeping performance horses in tip-top shape stems from the saying ‘no hoof, no horse.’ Their feet support every ounce of their body, and proper shoeing is very important. I was beyond fortunate to have Steve Teichman, Elliott Jennings, and Ben Groves keeping her feet well maintained when the Pennsylvania ground would fluctuate between rock hard and mucky deep footing.”
In May of 2021, Shinn saddled up for her last CCI3*-L with Paprika at the Jersey Fresh International. What may have been a bittersweet moment for most was one of pride for Shinn. Having already made the decision to bump her heart horse down to the lower levels to maintain her health, Shinn stated, “She absolutely did not owe me anything, and she had already made many dreams and goals come true. I had the mentality that I didn’t want to have my last show with her be one to break her or be a bad experience. This created my three-star to be more sentimental and allow for our partnership to end in a bang. This is the other important part in keeping older horses going for longer. They age just like we do, so expectations must lower as they get older.”
Though Shinn may not saddle her up for international competition like she once did, she finds the most joy in watching the mare that made her dreams come true, do it once again for another lucky kid.
“I was very fortunate to find a very hard-working and dedicated kid named Peyton Frankovich. This pair was made through the coach that really got me started in Eventing. Megan Pappler at Bit ‘O’ Woods farm started my eventing career and guided me to Jennie Brannigan from the beginning. I trust Megan immensely to keep an eye on my special mare, while also helping teach Peyton the ropes of eventing and riding the little red mare. I always knew she would continue to teach younger generations, and she makes sure Paprika doesn’t compete more than every other weekend and makes sure all of her wellness is of the utmost importance. The care she receives is the care she would have if I were personally taking care of her, which is the most you could ask for. Everyone treats her like the queen she is, and she knows it!”
Having just been partnered earlier this year, Frankovich secured a fourth-place finish with Paprika at the Flora Lea Spring H.T. in the Novice division. Though Paprika may not have been the fanciest horse, or the flashiest, or the most expensive, or have gone to the highest levels, Paprika’s measure of success can be seen in the number of riders she has graced with her presence and whose dreams she made a reality.
"My goal with this horse is to learn as much as possible from her as she knows so much and can teach me the best ways to ride," said Frankovich. "Another main goal I have is to continue moving up the levels. I would love to go as far in this sport as I can and Paprika is a perfect start."
Shinn concluded stating, “She always has a home with me when she ends up retiring, and she will get plenty of treats."
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