Tiffany Stewart hasn’t always been an eventer. She grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, where she rode primarily in the hunters. In 2011, she was competing on the A circuit and owned her own farm, where she always kept a stall open to foster horses with the Georgia Equine Rescue League. She got a notification that they needed help for an upcoming auction and so she signed up to lend a hand. That’s where she met Clover.
Crimson Clover, or “Clover” as he’s called in the barn, was discovered by the police tied to a cinder block in the yard of a meth lab when he was 10 months old. The police called the Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA) and had Clover impounded, but he was so emaciated that the GDA didn’t think he would make it. But, he pulled through and was sent to a prison in Northern Georgia where horses were used as part of their prisoner rehabilitation program.
Almost a year later, at 20 months old, Clover was dubbed healthy enough to be auctioned off. It was at that auction where Stewart saw Clover for the first time. “When Clover trotted out, no one wanted him,” Stewart recalled. “He was little, lanky, and had a huge head and ears. I thought he was adorable, so I decided to take him home.”
“When I picked him up from the auction, you couldn't touch his head,” she described. “You couldn't move quickly around him.” Stewart waited until after Clover had turned 3 to back him. “When I had Clover broken, we all thought he might be gaited. I had no plans for him.”
Thirty days after Clover had been started, Stewart’s hunter trainer offered to buy her current competition horse off of her. “He wasn't a great fit for me,” Stewart said of her Warmblood, “so I said yes. He was sold within a week. I figured I would ride my newly broke rescue horse until I found another big pretty warmblood to do the hunters with. I fell in love with riding Clover, though! He is small and weird, but there was something about him that I fell in love with.”
Knowing Clover wasn’t going to be a good fit for the hunter ring, she called up Mary Bess Davis, an eventing trainer at Triple Creek Eventing in nearby Mansfield, Georgia. “At the time, I knew nothing about eventing, only that it was a sport for very brave people,” Stewart said. “Mary Bess taught him to jump and taught me how to ride outside of an arena.”
Davis took Clover to his first USEA recognized event at Chattahoochee Hills in August of 2015 just months after he’d been started and he won on his dressage score of 23.5. Stewart’s first-ever horse trials was with Clover just three weeks later at the Tryon Riding & Hunt Club Horse Trials at the FENCE Equestrian Center. “Keep in mind I had been riding on a flat surface in an arena my entire career – I stress that because it still scares me to canter downhill!” Stewart said. “Now I was going to canter up and down hills, over ditches, up banks (which is almost impossible to do with perfect equitation), and jump fences that look like houses. I was terrified. So was Clover. We made it around clean and when we passed through the finish flags, I teared up. It was by far one of the most rewarding experiences I had ever had on a horse. I have been riding my whole life and nothing ever challenged me like cross-country.” Stewart and Clover finished that weekend in fourth place on their dressage score.
In the five years since his first event, Clover has made the trip to the USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) twice, has more than 20 top-5 finishes at the Beginner Novice and Novice level, six of which are blue ribbons, and recently won the Area III Beginner Novice Championship with Stewart in the irons. “He still has some lingering skeletons in his closet and can be spooky under saddle,” Stewart said. “He is very careful over fences and almost never has a rail. He is quirky in dressage but goes into the ring thinking he is the fanciest horse at the show. He is like a dog in the barn and is everyone's favorite. He loves to lick and he will lick any part of your body. He is a very sweet little horse!”
After a stop in the Novice division at the AEC last year, Stewart made the decision to drop Clover back down to Beginner Novice. “He is very spooky on cross-country,” she described, “so I decided to move him back to Beginner Novice. We have had a great time this year competing at Beginner Novice and he has done very well. I am itching to try Novice again, but who knows!”
“I’m always the only one at competitions where, when I trot into the show jumping arena, the announcer says, ‘Now on course, Tiffany Stewart riding Crimson Clover, a gelding of unknown breeding,’” Stewart observed. “I think having an unknown breed because you rescued a horse is a badge of honor.”
“The thing I love about eventing is that, no matter what breed your horse is, you can do it,” Stewart concluded. “The horse needs to have the ability, but I think you can find that in rescue horses, at least at the lower levels. There are a lot of horses that need homes and I don't think you should overlook a horse with a difficult past when finding your next horse. Especially if you don't have thousands to spend. Plus, isn't it nice knowing you saved a horse?”
The USEA is made up of over 12,000 members, each with their own special horses and experiences. The USEA's Now on Course series highlights the many unique stories of our membership. Do you and your horse have a tale to tell? Do you know someone who deserves recognition? Submit your story to Jessica Duffy at [email protected] to be featured.
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There is still time to experience the long format of three-day eventing this year, by competing in a fall USEA Classic Series Event! The USEA Classic Series offers long-format eventing at the Beginner Novice, Novice, Training, Modified, and Preliminary levels, and there are still a few left on the fall calendar in various Areas.
This story first appeared in the August 2022 issue of Sidelines Magazine.
I have had many young horses in my time, and one thing I’ve learned is that it’s rarely the perfect, easy baby that becomes the next superstar. In fact, I’ve always considered it a positive to have the well-behaved youngster throw a little bit of attitude my way, as I believe that it takes fight to become a great event horse.