Sep 09, 2023

The Amato Family Shares A Special Week at the AEC

By Lindsay Berreth - USEA Staff
The Amato Family (from left: Andy, Addison, Tonya, Snowman the Great Dane, and Hermione Granger the Connemara). USEA/Lindsay Berreth photo

While they’d both been to the USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) presented by Nutrena Feeds in the past, Andy Amato and his wife Tonya Cummins Amato hoped to one day share the special experience with their 12-year-old daughter Addison Amato.

With all horses and humans healthy and with the AEC being held in Lexington, Kentucky, 2023 was their year.

Tonya and Addison qualified first, with Tonya at Training on her 12-year-old Connemara stallion Get Smart (Wylde Wytch Éclipse x Fairyhil Queen) and Addison at Beginner Novice on her 8-year-old Connemara mare Hermione Granger (Morning Glories Illyusion x Brambleridge March Mayhem). Then it was up to Andy and his 14-year-old Holsteiner-Connemara gelding Superman (Sébastien x Corola), which he did on Father’s Day, securing an Open Preliminary win at Full Gallop Farm June Horse Trial in the family’s hometown of Aiken, South Carolina.

“He was at home joking, ‘Well I guess I can go be a groom this time.’ I was like, ‘No, no. You can do it,’” Tonya said with a laugh.

Addison and Hermione Granger. USEA/Meagan DeLisle photo

Andy works full-time as a funeral director. He and Tonya met 13 years ago on equestriansingles.com. The couple commuted 500 miles between Andy’s home in Maryland and Ontario where Tonya was working as a nurse. Andy taught and rode while Tonya worked as a nurse, then when they relocated to the states, their roles switched, and now Tonya works full-time with the horses. She didn’t have a high chance of having children in her 40s, but along came Addison, who started riding early on with a mini, then a pony and now Hermione Granger.

The family had quite the journey to get to Kentucky this year, with a blown transmission in their brand new truck just two weeks before they were set to leave, then their lovable blind and deaf Great Dane Snowman played too roughly with one of their other dogs, leaving him with a torn ear and blood all over their truck on the road to the event. Add in two blown tires and they were just happy to be pulling into the Kentucky Horse Park.

It had long been a dream for Addison, who’d helped out at the last AEC her parents competed at in 2019 in Kentucky. This time was different as she got to compete her former hunter pony who she’s worked hard with to convert to eventing over the last three years.

“The first time I was here and I wasn’t competing I loved it immediately,” she said. “That’s when I first came up with this as my goal. I could have gone last year, but it wasn’t in Kentucky, and it didn’t feel right. I wanted to make sure it was in Kentucky because it’s like the Olympics. Coming here you feel like you’re going to the Olympics, and this is as high as it gets, even though it’s not. Pulling in here, I remember every bit of it from two years ago. Now I have my pony here, and I get to jump in the Rolex Arena.”

They finished up in 16th place in the Junior Beginner Novice, 14 & Under, division on their dressage score of 36.3.

Andy congratulates Addison at the finish of the Beginner Novice cross-country. USEA/Meagan DeLisle photo

Tonya’s journey to the AEC got off to a rough start last August when she had a bad fall on cross-country from a young homebred. She broke her back in eight places, as well as some ribs and her scapula.

A former full-time nurse in her home country of Canada, Tonya knew immediately that she’d broken her back.

“I just made a really terrible mistake, and down we went,” she recalled. “It was pretty scary, and I don’t like to sit still very long, so the recovery was tough, but I just got a different perspective about it, like, I’m still here, and I can still walk. I was back riding three months after the accident.”

Tonya struggled with some anxiety about eventing after the accident, but knew in her heart what she’d done wrong to the jump and owned the mistake, which helped her regain her confidence.

“I did contemplate doing some reining,” she said. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to feel the same way about [eventing,] but I’ve jumped the same jump now, and I feel OK.”

Tonya and Get Smart compete in the Training Rider division at the AEC. USEA/Lindsay Berreth photo

Get Smart is her breeding stallion at the family’s Jump 4 Joy Training Center in Aiken. The pair have competed through Preliminary, but Tonya’s found their comfort level at Training and Modified. “Smartie” came to her as a foal, and he has several of offspring, with the oldest being 7.

Tonya’s always loved the Connemara breed and has purebreds and half-breds at home.

“It improves any breed out there,” she said. “It just makes them sound and hardy, and they love to compete, and they’re strong and bold and sweet and smart. [Smartie is] 14.1, but he thinks he’s much bigger than that! He’s definitely mine! He loves [Addison and Andy] too. He’s really comical, and has a lot of personality. He always makes me laugh.”

Smartie is easy enough that Addison’s competed him a few times, but for the AEC, Tonya competed him in the Training Rider championship, finishing in 18th place. Tonya also won the Training Rider Adult Pony Rider Award in memory of Avery Dudasch.

Andy and Superman compete in the Preliminary Rider division at the AEC. USEA/Meagan DeLisle photo

Andy and Superman finished 14th in the Preliminary Rider championship. The gelding is a homebred and towers above his Connemara stablemates. “He hit the ground as a little black thing,” Andy said. “He was a premie. You’d never know it by looking at him now and the way he goes. He has the pony attitude in a 17-hand body. It’s kind of comical.

"We as a family unit are very fortunate to have the opportunity to show horses we have trained at the AEC, and all of our horses are a prime example of the versatility of the Connemara breed," he added.

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