After visiting the Kentucky Horse Park 11 years ago to watch the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, it never even crossed Tracey Hopper’s mind that she would ride across the famed bluegrass. But after graduating from physician’s assistant school seven years ago and taking up eventing seriously with her rescue horse Scooby, the chance to go to the 2023 USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) presented by Nutrena Feeds was one she couldn’t pass up.
“He is just the coolest horse for just being a little rescued Appendix,” she said of Scooby, who she’s had since 2012. “He doesn’t really like dressage, but he tolerates it! It’s harder for him because he’s not built like the nice warmbloods, but man he sure loves to jump and loves cross-country. It’s been such a fun journey and getting to go to Kentucky was just icing on the cake.”
Hopper was born and raised in Spokane, Washington, and while she’d seen famous eventers from the East Coast on TV like Karen O’Connor and Theodore O’Connor, her family couldn’t afford a horse.
As an adult, she knew she wanted to try eventing, but money was tight. She came across Scooby when he was 6. He’d been rescued by Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service (SCRAPS) after his owner couldn’t afford to feed her animals and surrendered them.
The Appendix gelding was greenbroke but emaciated. He was castrated while under the care of the rescue before Hopper found him.
“He was just this really sweet rescue horse that had had a rough life, and I just fell in love with him at first sight,” she said. “I brought him home, and he started having these weird episodes where 99 percent of the time he was the most dead-head horse you could ever imagine, and then one percent of the time he would have these horrible bucking fits. That’s when we found out he had an infection in his spermatic cord, which is left behind after castration.”
Since Scooby was a stallion until he was 6, his testicles were fairly large, and since he was emaciated when he was castrated his immune system was likely down, putting him at risk for infection.
“Instead of doing the normal twist off and cut, they used a form of suture to help because of the size of the testicles, but it turns out that’s what caused the infection,” she said. “His body just didn’t like it, so it started building an abscess, and it walled off. We did surgery on him to fix it and started a long road to recovery because it was a true abdominal surgery. Eight months later the other side blew up.”
Hopper had just started PA school, and Scooby didn’t recover well from the surgery. He had ongoing problems with drainage and there was talk of a third surgery by vets, but Hopper couldn’t afford it. They tried a 45-day course of high-potent antibiotics and to Hopper’s relief, Scooby got better.
Once Hopper graduated PA school and got her career started, she was ready to learn everything she could about eventing. She started with basic dressage and jumping under various clinicians in Spokane, and eventually found professional Nicole Aden.
Hopper and Scooby did their first Intro event in 2018 and are currently competing at Novice.
“He’s so unflappable,” she said. “He’s the type of horse that you can sit in the backyard for a year and come out, and he’s just as kind as he was if you’d ridden him every day.”
Hopper, 42, works in the ER and took two weeks of vacation to travel to Kentucky for the AEC.
“I thought about it—it was a lot of hauling and was going to be really expensive, and I didn’t think we could afford it,” she said. “Initially Nicole wasn’t going to go, then she got a qualifying email. Then we had another team member who was going to go. We did some fundraising to see if we could come up with the money. I did a GoFundMe, and we raised enough money to pay for the transportation costs. Then Nicole didn’t qualify for the division she wanted to ride in, and neither did the other gal, so they withdrew on closing date, and I was the last man standing.”
Hopper knew she couldn’t pass up the chance to go, especially since Scooby (Doc Bar Storm Dancer x Brown Thing) is 17 this year, so she and her husband Nick Hopper packed up the trailer and drove for three days from Spokane.
Tracey admits she started crying as she pulled into the Kentucky Horse Park with her horse in tow, and said the whole week was a big learning curve, even things like getting her stall set up, as her experience at Area 7 events was much different.
The pair finished 24th in the Beginner Novice Master Amateur division, but it was the overall experience that Tracey will never forget—everything from hacking on the steeplechase track to riding in the Rolex Arena.
“He definitely was tired and not used to the humidity,” she said. “He was very strong on cross-country, so I slowed him up a little bit and ended up with one time penalty! He had two rails in stadium because he was a little bit tired.”
Their four-day journey home included a visit with the emergency vet when Scooby had a bad case of diarrhea in Bozeman, Montana, but he recovered quickly with some medication and electrolytes and was back to his old self the day after he got home.
Tracey has a planned move up to Training level this month, but she’ll never forget her trip to the AEC.
“It was amazing, and I would recommend to anybody, just do it once,” she said. “Even if it seems like it’s a long distance or if seems like there are insurmountable finances or barriers. Just try because it’s worth it.”
The U.S. Equestrian Federation has announced the host location and dates for the 2024 and 2025 USEF Eventing Young Rider Championships (CCI1*, CCI2*-S, CCI3*-S). The Maryland International and Horse Trials will host the Championships in Adamstown, Maryland, on July 5-7, 2024, and July 6-8, 2025.
For the second year of the program, the United States Eventing Association (USEA) is proud to award free Digital Memberships to qualified participants of the Volunteer Incentive Program (VIP) that completed 10 or more hours of volunteer service through EventingVolunteers.com in 2023. The Digital Membership, which was introduced in January of last year, serves as a “thank you” to the loyal volunteers in our sport for their dedication to supporting events around the country throughout the year.
Spend the day immersing yourself in the intricacies of producing Young Event Horses at the 2024 Ocala Horse Properties USEA Young Event Horse (YEH) Symposium tomorrow, Feb. 20, in Ocala, Florida. A star-studded list of presenters and demonstrators will be on-hand to educate the audience on the proper training and evaluation of the next generation of 4- and 5-star horses. Click here to register!