Finding a penny on heads is pretty lucky, but finding a Penny that has a mane, tail, and talent to boot? Now that’s grounds for an eventing prospect. Mix a little luck and a lot of experience with the right opportunity and that’s the exact recipe that Area VII eventer Jacqueline Cameron found herself smack dab in the middle of in April 2021.
“She’s the little red mare that fell out of the sky,” says Jackie Cameron, laughing at the response she often offers anyone who asks about her mare’s history. Cameron is the proud owner of the 11-year-old chestnut Penny Lane, who came to her quite serendipitously after what seems like an unsettled past of unused potential. After a copious amount of online digging and even recruiting a research-savvy friend, Cameron came up dry with only a sparse breadcrumb trail of sales barns that mapped Penny’s movement to Montana. Penny had likely seen all three phases of eventing from the sales side only, having been sold from an eventing barn, a showjumping barn, and lastly, a dressage barn in Oregon to one of Cameron’s clients who resides in Bozeman, Montana. Sapphire Equine—Cameron’s training program—is a key player in this story because its existence is the product of Cameron’s personal journey back to eventing, the sport she’s always loved.
“I just knew that my heart had always been in eventing, and that’s what I really wanted to get back into,” says Cameron, regarding her return to riding after a three-year hiatus. She was in a gulley after a monsoon of upending emotions prior to this time off. First, an injured horse who ultimately needed to be put down, followed by an unfortunate colic episode that took the life of her beloved senior chestnut gelding. Heartbreak, as we all know, coupled with the reality of beginning a career after school is a heavy scoop for anyone’s plate. And then another unfortunate occurrence left Cameron right where she left off; her eagerness to find a new partner collided with the outrageous inflation of the horse market so options were far and few, prompting a rather discouraging deep dive for a suitable prospect. However, when Cameron’s client introduced her to Penny and Cameron got to ride her, a foundation for a lasting partnership started to form inadvertently.
“I started jumping her a little bit and we kind of just clicked. We all know the stigma of the chestnut warmblood mare is out there—not everybody gets along with them!” says Cameron. Over the course of about a three-month period, Cameron worked with Penny, quickly realizing over that timeframe that Penny was indeed athletic, smart, and capable but she lacked the training and confidence that usually comes along with a horse of her age. When Cameron’s client decided to sell Penny due to a poor partnership matching, Cameron presented Penny to her riding instructor Melissa Thorson at Nice View Sport Horses with the intent of purchasing her.
“Everything came together to buy her,” says Cameron, noting that Penny surprised both she and Melissa by trying each question they presented to her during that trial lesson. With Melissa’s support, Penny and Cameron became a team. But like all gifts, there’s some unwrapping to be done. Luckily for Cameron, carefully decoding and developing a horse is a skill set that she’s been groomed for her whole life. “I really took basically everything that I had done over the last several years—working with professionals, being able to clinic, being able to ride these client horses—and putting it all together, and then from there, word of mouth went around and that’s truly how I got introduced to the gal who had Penny,” says Cameron, referring to Sapphire Equine. “I probably would have never met her had I not been training and riding and being at the barn all the time. In that sense, it’s given me huge opportunities to develop my own skill set and continue to grow and educate myself, and I really feel that all of that—the hard rides, the great rides—has funneled me into how to work with this mare.”
With a stellar and wide-ranging resume of riding experience, Cameron felt that two components really made a fast marriage early on in her partnership with Penny: confidence and dressage. And it was the pairing of these two pieces that really paved the way to success and qualifying for this year’s USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena Feed (AEC) right in Cameron’s home state of Montana.
In the way of challenges, “There was a little bit of a rear,” says Cameron. “And it came out semi-early on. It was more of what I felt was a fear-based reaction, and given the fact that I don’t know a ton about her history, I don’t know if that was something that evolved from her being in situations where she felt that was the only option that she had.” Cameron admits that it hasn’t completely gone away but it was a clue into their biggest challenge: lack of confidence. “I think that a lot of her confidence issues were from feeling weak and feeling like she was constantly on the forehand and being asked to jump and she was scared,” says Cameron, which makes Penny’s history start to add up. Perhaps she was never truly in shape and capable of carrying her body efficiently enough to feel in control of the things she was being asked to do, therefore racking up a list of lost opportunities.
“I feel like she’s been passed around a lot in her life, and I kind of made a promise to her that I didn’t care how far we went in eventing, I wasn’t just going to pass her on to someone else,” says Cameron. But when confidence is your main goal at your first event on a new horse, success has a way of sneaking up on you. Cameron and Penny won the novice division at the 2021 Event at Rebecca Farm just shy of four months into their partnership. “When we finished our stadium course, it literally brought me to tears that this little red mare did it—that a handful of people said she wasn’t capable. It really did bring me to tears,” says Cameron.
It was just one day prior to the Spokane Sport Horse Farm Fall Event that Penny got into a pasture tussle and had a stifle injury present itself. Though untimely, Cameron confesses that it wasn’t all too unfortunate, allowing her the opportunity to prove her loyalty to Penny. “I just took care of her. I walked her and I groomed her and I cleaned her and I gave her medication, and after that, she started to realize that I was the person that she could look to take care of her.” With the two-tier confidence problem unwrapped—lack of strength and lack of trust—Cameron then added a crucial problem solver that would remedy both over the course of last winter: dressage.
After suffering a concussion several years ago, Cameron wasn’t sure that jumping would be in her future so she devoted herself to the discipline of dressage, which offered a fresh perspective on the sport of eventing and also inspired Cameron to start off with an important foundation with Penny—building her top line and developing a strong hind end. “I think it helped both of us in a sense of getting that strength and basically putting dressage between the fences,” says Cameron. When springtime rolled around, Cameron and Penny had a chance to put their hard work to the test, placing sixth in the novice division at the Spokane Sport Horse Spring Event, where some spookiness reared its head. Cameron honed in on these holes and together, they won Golden Spike in June and then took third at this year’s Event at Rebecca Farm after moving up to Training level.
“I feel so fortunate that I was in the right place at the right time and was able to give this mare the confidence she’s always needed,” says Cameron, who is gleaming after earning her place at the upcoming AEC. “It takes a village, and we know this in eventing.” Her harmonious time in the saddle with Penny has sparked new dreams for Cameron, who is careful not to discredit where she thought this partnership could take her but also is humbly surprised to be shooting for such lofty goals after such a short time with Penny Lane, who was undoubtedly and miraculously, a penny on heads just waiting for Cameron to come along and pick her up.
The United States Eventing Association (USEA) is pleased to announce the addition of the Modified Rider division beginning at the 2023 USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC), presented by Nutrena Feeds. The USEA AEC will move back to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky August 29–September 3, 2023.
Are you interested in competing in the sport of eventing but aren’t quite sure how to get started? Do you have a horse that is looking for a new career? Consider participating in a USEA New Event Horse (NEH) competition in 2023! The USEA NEH Program was created to be an introduction to the sport of eventing for both horse and rider, and the 2023 NEH Calendar is now available here.
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