Jun 21, 2024

Now on Course: Coree Reuter-McNamara Has Found Her Strength and Courage in a Special OTTB

GRC Photography photo (left), photo courtesy of Coree Reuter-McNamara (right)

New Years Eve 2015.

I was laying in bed, waiting for the ball to drop in Times Square, thinking about the previous year, and listening to my husband snore. A few months before, I had lost the ride on my heart horse to ring bone. He’d had to permanently retire before he was even 10 and went back to his breeders to be a pasture puff for the rest of his life. I was devastated to see him go—he had been with me through some really low points of my life—mainly my “quarter life crisis” where I quit my job, back packed Africa for six weeks and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, got engaged, blew out my knee five days after coming home, lost the job I was promised upon leaving, and decided to go back to graduate school, all in the span of about eight months. I had dreamed big with Liam, but unfortunately he was the one that got away.

I was so thankful that he had a soft landing, but I was absolutely crushed that I couldn’t provide him that myself. And so the months leading up to New Years Eve I was horseless and depressed and wondering if I was crazy to think about buying a horse. I had just finished graduate school, we had mountains of bills, but I was unhappy, and I knew it.

And then I read this blog and it was as if Kristen Carpenter was writing just to me. “It’s right, now, to do the things you want to do in this life,” she wrote. “I just want to quit living under the illusion that I have more time. I want to stop waiting for everything to be right before I execute a dream. It’s right, now.”

With tears streaming down my face and fireworks blasting on the TV, I nudged my husband awake.

“I’m buying a horse,” I said.

“OK,” he responded. “Happy New Year.” And then fell back asleep.

Coree Reuter-McNamara met Solo for the first time in 2016. Photo courtesy of Coree Reuter-McNamara

Spring, 2016

I told my trainer, Karen Conk, I was ready. She knew about two Thoroughbred geldings near Charles Town in West Virginia. So off we went one freezing cold morning to check them out. We liked both of them, and initially I picked the big bay gelding as mine. We brought both geldings to Karen’s and had them vetted.

Of course, the big bay didn’t pass the vet, which resulted in Karen handing me the lead rope to the smaller black gelding—a star on his forehead was the only white he boasted—Black Beauty in the flesh. A 6-year-old, he’d raced three times, won once, and had been hanging in a field since he was 3. He also trotted across the frozen mud perfectly sound with no shoes on, and was a cuddler from the moment we met him.

Another Concerto (Concerto x Her Gift) became mine on February 9, 2016. He will always be the best $100 I’ve ever spent, and I will be forever grateful to the Figgins family for giving me such a gift.

I find it hard to believe that Solo and I have been partners for eight years now. We have come a long way and been through a lot of life changes in the last few years. He proved to be a quick learner, and we did our first horse shows in the fall of 2016, moving up to Beginner Novice. We had plans to move up to Novice in 2017, but Solo ended up fracturing his splint bone, which ended our season prematurely. That same fall, I had a miscarriage, and we healed from those things together.

In the spring of 2018, I became pregnant again, so we decided to hold off on the Novice move up. Instead, we evented until I was about five months pregnant, and then Solo went on lease with a family friend’s Pony Club student. After I had my daughter, Ryann, I was eager to get back in the saddle.

Of course, riding after a pregnancy had its own set of challenges, and I hit the dirt multiple times, including three times in a row in our first jump lesson back, as I struggled with my balance and strength. However, I was determined to be back eventing by the spring of 2019, and we did just that! We spent the first few months at Beginner Novice and finally made our Novice debut at Hunt Club (Berryville, Virginia) in July of 2019. We finished multiple Novice events that season, but something wasn’t right. I wasn’t confident, and I wanted to be better.

Spring, 2020 - Fall 2022

“Will you hate me if I quit eventing?” I had sent the text amidst a flurry of tears in February after a somewhat disastrous show. I say somewhat because looking back on it now, it really wasn’t that bad—I didn’t fall off, but it felt horrible, and it was a far cry from where I wanted to be.

“No, but tell me why you feel that way,” Karen replied.

After I was able to take a breath and focus my thoughts, I told her how I felt and how I wanted to be better. That I didn’t want to be scared anymore, and I wanted to feel more confident in myself and in my horse. She told me a plan that no competitive person wants to hear: Take a break. Wait, what? Take a break from showing. Focus on lessons and training and doing better at home. Take the stress off of yourself and focus on doing things the right way.

So, in February, I buckled down and committed to the plan. I scratched all the shows off my calendar. I scheduled weekly lessons, and I dedicated myself to having quality rides every time I went to the barn. And then COVID hit, and everything came to a screeching halt anyway. I feel lucky that my barn never shut down, and I was able to ride almost every day during the quarantine. I could feel my partnership with Solo grow stronger every ride. And then there came a moment where everything clicked. We came around a corner to a jump while cross country schooling, I squeezed my legs, Solo locked on, and he attacked it. We ended up jumping several Training level combinations, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t stop smiling that entire day. It was FUN, and I realized that was what I had been missing. My own fears kept me from enjoying the sport I loved the most.

John Wayne famously said, “Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.” I’m not sure I had the kind of courage he was referring to in 2019, but I certainly had to dig deep in 2020 to fight through the slog of emotions and uncertainties of COVID-19, to throw my plans out the window and trust the process, and to kick harder when every instinct told me to pull back and quit.

We achieved one of my lifelong goals of riding in a USEA Classic Series Three-Day that fall. We finished ninth in the Novice at Waredaca (Laytonsville, Maryland) in 2020, ending on our dressage score, and to this day it remains one of my favorite horse show achievements. We spent 2021 doing lots of dressage and continuing to show at the Novice level, taking our time to keep building our confidence while I grew another human. I competed through six months for my second pregnancy, and kept Solo home so I could continue to ride. My last ride on him before I delivered my second daughter was only a month before she showed up, and if it weren’t for the weather, well, I probably would have been hacking as I went into labor!

I got back in the saddle two weeks after Taryn was born and had a fantastic season, ending with a win in the 2022 Area II Championships at Novice in the middle of a hurricane! It was the first time I had to go into the ring with everything on the line, show jumping last, and I had to jump clean to win. Solo had wings on his feet that day, and we led my first ever victory gallop. It was another one of those pinch me moments, and there were lots of tears amidst the rain drops that day!

Solo has never been an easy ride, but he’s always been kind and generous, and he certainly has never held a grudge. There have been so many times where he has saved my butt, especially out cross-country, and he’s taught me so many lessons about trust and believing in your partner. No matter how nervous or scared I have been out competing, Solo has never let me down. He always gets me home safe, and now that I am a mom, that means more to me than any ribbon or accolade we could win.

Kira Topeka for Erin Gilmore Photography photo

Spring, Summer, Fall 2023

I went into the 2023 show season with no real plans or expectations. I knew my job would be stressful in the fall, as I would be running my program on my own.

I am a Certified Athletic Trainer. Many people don’t understand my job. I am a health professional licensed by the Virginia Board of Medicine. My days consist of evaluating, diagnosing, rehabbing, and supporting over 1,000 athletes at Centreville High School in Virginia. I often tell people that I am a hybrid of a paramedic and a physical therapist—ATs are trained in all aspects of emergency care—from the most basic cuts and bruises, to broken bones, neck, and head injuries, ligament injuries, and practically everything else in between. We have a full service facility with every modality I need to keep our student athletes healthy.

But my job isn’t just focused on the physical side—I also support each student in their journey through high school and beyond. My job is so much more than the definition of my profession, and there have been many times I have simply been a willing ear, a friendly face—my room is a safe place for kids to gather, where they are not judged or pressured or asked to be anything but themselves.

We lost a student athlete to a fentanyl overdose in January of 2023. It was one of the hardest things I’ve had to handle as an educator and mentor. Not only did I have to figure out how to manage my own grief, but I had to be a supporter for the students who had lost their friend. I had to watch these young men and women try to understand such an unfair and unexpected loss; a lesson you don’t expect to have to learn as a teenager.

I love my job—it’s a passion and a privilege to be a part of the lives of the young men and women I work with every day.

But it’s hard. And exhausting at times. And even though there were days all I wanted to do was spend time with Solo, to have a little peace, the barn just didn’t take priority over my daughters, my husband, and work.

So 2023 was meant to be my year of just enjoying my horse. Of having fun. Of not stressing about ribbons and points and chasing championships. There was certainly no ambition or intent to go for a national title!

We started out the season at CDCTA Horse Trials (Berryville, Virginia) in April. It was definitely a show where we knocked the rust off, as we had an uncharacteristic run out in show jumping due to Solo leaving a stride out and almost tossing me in the grass. We managed to recover, though, and I was proud of myself for keeping my composure despite the snafu. We put in our usual speedy cross-country round, and off we headed to the season.

CDCTA was the only horse trial in 2023 where we didn’t finish in the top 5. What followed was an unbelievable string of horse trials that still has me scratching my head and wondering how I pulled it off.

Of course, the year wasn’t without a little drama, because what horse life is free of it? I unexpectedly had to move barns in late spring, due to no fault of my own. The incredible farm where Solo had lived for the past two years was being sold, and left me scrambling to find a new home base. I am so lucky to have landed at our current farm in Millwood, Virginia. It’s not fancy, it doesn’t have a ring, but the care and love and support that Solo and I have received from our new barn family has been incredible. All of the sudden I had a hype squad at the shows! It was awesome!

In the meantime we had a win at Waredaca in May, and finished second at Hunt Club, Middleburg (Virginia), and Full Moon (Finksburg, Maryland) before heading into the fall season. At that point I was lucky to get to the barn once a week to ride. Between juggling my daughters’ schedule and my work schedule, I was barely able to squeeze anything in during the week. Thankfully Solo was a seasoned pro at this point, and wasn’t overly phased by my lack of saddle time. I started to realize I was on the national leaderboards! It was very exciting, but I didn’t let myself get my hopes up—there was a lot of season left to go.

However, after winning at Old Tavern (Middleburg, Virginia), Solo didn’t feel quite himself. He didn’t drag me out of the start box like he usually did, and I had to really kick on when we were out cross-country. He jumped double-clear that day to seal the win, but I was worried.

I had a full work up done by my wonderful vet, Dr. Joe Davis at Piedmont Equine, and Solo got a clean bill of health. We upped his feed and gave him some time, and we had some great work leading up to our last two events of the season. And, of course, the Monday before Waredaca, he got an ulcer in his eye. Horses!

With much care and diligent applications of antibiotics, Solo was cleared to compete, but my worry really got to my riding that day. We had an uncharacteristic dressage test, and just didn’t have a great score. We then had a run out in show jumping. I kept telling myself that I would take cross-country one jump at a time, and would pull up if he told me no. But he busted out of the startbox with his tail on fire, and I knew I had my horse back.

Our road to the national title came down to our last horse trial—Full Moon. We had to win to win it all. At that point all I wanted was three good phases to end the season. With everything that had happened that year—the death of my student, the chaos of work and raising kids, my lack of ride time, moves, vet bills, ulcers, and pulled shoes—I just wanted to end on a good note.

I was thrilled with our dressage test and show jumping round, though we still pulled a rail which had been my nemesis all season. (Literally would have won every horse trial where we had a rail. Oops.) But our cross-country round was just fabulous, and I crossed the flags with tears of joy for an incredible year with my best boy. It was such a great way to end the year—Solo had carried me safely through the finish flags 10 times that season.

And then I checked the results and realized I had won! I am not even going to lie, I jumped up and down like a little kid with excitement! It was such a fantastic way to end the year, and on top of that our awesome CDCTA team finished second in the Area II Adult Rider Team Competition.

So, with that win, we ended up winning TWO national championships. Solo and I won the USEA Novice Adult Rider and USEA Novice Adult Amateur titles. I made the trip to St. Louis to accept the awards in person, and it really meant the world to me so see a photo of Solo and I up on that stage. Knowing how far we both had come since I pulled him out of a field in 2016, all of the cliche blood, sweat, tears, and setbacks, and all of the amazing support I had from my family and community, well, it was an emotional evening.

Looking back on it all, I still shake my head and wonder how I pulled it all off. How did I do this while working an insane full time job, raising my two beautiful girls, keeping connected with my family and friends, and managing to show enough and be successful enough to win?

All the credit in the world goes to Solo, but I would be absolutely remiss if I didn’t thank my trainer, Karen Conk of Bright Moon Eventing, my dear friend Farrington Wallace-Shaffer who was with me every step of the way, my farrier, Allen Michael, my vet, Dr. Joe Davis of Piedmont Equine, and the support of my husband, Steve, my parents, Lynn and Curt, and my daughters, Ryann and Taryn. I would not have been able to do any of it without my team supporting us.

Photo courtesy of Coree Reuter-McNamara

Spring, 2024

As of this writing, Solo and I haven’t competed yet in 2024, as I had to have knee surgery this spring, something that had been long overdue. I thought I would be itching to get back out and compete, but I find myself at peace with whatever happens this year. Solo has given me everything, owes me nothing, and every day I get with him is a gift.

This horse has fulfilled every childhood dream I ever had of winning it all, and I still pinch myself on the regular that he’s mine. I never, ever imagined I would win two National Championships, it was unexpected and wonderful, and I can’t help being emotional and proud. I have won “my Rolex,” and my heart is full. Solo is truly a unicorn in every way and no one will ever convince me he isn't. There are no amount of words or phrases that adequately capture the scope of his heart. I am looking forward to whatever adventures we have together this year and beyond.

Who knows, maybe in a few years, you’ll see him out with my daughters bopping around Starter. He is a unicorn, after all, and there’s no other horse in the world I would trust with such precious cargo. Ryann wants to go to the barn with me all the time, so it might not be as far away as I think. It’s pretty clear he’d much rather be my daughters’ horse, especially considering the amount of treats he receives increases exponentially in their presence, but for now he’s still mine.

If horses are good at anything, it’s about teaching us perspective. When I was young I used to dream about competing at Rolex Kentucky, but now I understand that those dreams of riding at the five-star level are no longer something I want to pursue. And that’s OK! And it’s also OK not to want to move up and compete and ride where you are comfortable. Sometimes I feel this sport places too much emphasis on “moving up” when it’s totally OK to stay right where you are. We should be celebrating victories at all levels of our sport, from the absolute pinnacle, to the Starter level. So many of us will never jump above Novice, and we shouldn’t be looked down upon for choosing what’s right for us. Your personal goals, achievements, and dreams are just as valid and important, no matter the height of the jump. And you know what? It’s pretty damn cool to be the ‘Novice Champion of the World.’ We used to always joke that title was never the goal, and that we were aiming for bigger things, but I’m pretty thrilled that we made that goal a reality!

I hope my story might inspire some of you to go for it. I see you all out there, just like me, trying to balance raising kids, going to school, working and all the other dramas and challenges life throws our way—keep going! It's hard, and frustrating, and you will always want more time for something—but trust me that your moment will come, and it is possible to be a great mom, friend, father, husband, wife, sibling, cousin, employee, and all those other hats we all wear, and still find success and joy in your passions, whatever they may be.

There’s a famous quote that goes something like, “When you throw your heart over the fence, your horse will follow”, but I’m not sure that’s true. I think when you give a horse your heart, they wrap it within their own. They protect it, and carry your courage, so when you feel like you don’t have any, they quietly remind you that you aren’t alone.

Over the years, Solo has given me strength and courage so many times—on days where I struggled with my own fears, days where I dealt with grief and hardship—he has carried me safely through two pregnancies, and through the finish flags more times than I can count, he greets me every day with the pure joy and affection of a love that knows no human insecurities or doubts, and has never once let me down when I needed him to remind me what it is to be brave.

And that, perhaps, is the biggest victory of all.

Do you know a horse or rider with a cool story? Email Lindsay at [email protected] for a chance to be featured.

Jul 13, 2024 Eventing News

Road to the AEC: Chalman and 'War Horse' Classic Greeley Are Headed to Kentucky

I have been working towards my goal of qualifying for AEC for quite some time now. I made the switch from hunters to eventing about eight years ago because I loved the adrenaline rush of cross-country. Although my family wasn’t able to buy a horse that had “been there, done that,” they have shown so much support for me in this dream.

Jul 12, 2024 Classic Series

Keyser, Caflisch, and Romero Add USEA Classic Series Wins to their Resume at Coconino H.T.

The Summer Coconino H.T. and Western Underground Inc. T, N, BN 3 Day Event is a staple on the Area X calendar for its fun environment and, of course, its Classic Series divisions. Competitors from all over flock to Flagstaff, Arizona, to check the box on one of their eventing goals. This year, the event at Coconino offered three long-format divisions and saw two first time winners and one Classic Series veteran rise to the top.

Jul 12, 2024 Adult Riders

Adult Riders All Over the U.S. Forge New Friendships Thanks to USEA Adult Team Challenges

One of the exciting ways that members of the USEA Adult Rider program can come together throughout the year is by participating in a USEA Adult Team Challenge! Adult Team Challenges give adult riders from across the country a chance to compete in a friendly team competition. Read up on some of the Adult Team Challenges that have taken place across the country so far below.

Jul 11, 2024 Eventing News

Weekend Quick Links: July 13-14

Are you following along with the action from home this weekend? Or maybe you're competing at an event and need information fast. Either way, we’ve got you covered!

Official Corporate Sponsors of the USEA

Official Joint Therapy Treatment of the USEA

Official Feed of the USEA

Official Saddle of the USEA

Official Equine Insurance of the USEA

Official Forage of the USEA

Official Supplement Feeding System of the USEA

Official Competition & Training Apparel of the USEA

Official Horse Boot of the USEA

Official Shockwave of the USEA

Official Horse Wear of the USEA