Welcome to EN's brand new series, West Coast Wonders! We'll be spotlighting horses and riders who are making a splash on the West Coast. We continue our series with Andrea Baxter and her precocious mare, Indy 500. Do you have a horse and/or rider that you'd like to see on West Coast Wonders? Tip me at [email protected]
Many upper-level riders will tell you that it’s infinitely more difficult to see success at the top of the sport without having multiple horses. Should your plan of action derail with one horse, you have another to fall back on. For California-based rider Andrea Baxter, this was a strategy that left her top mount Indy 500 on the back burner while she focused on some of her other horses.
An 11-year-old Thoroughbred mare, Indy was not a horse Andrea immediately pinpointed as the horse that would fulfill her upper-level dreams. Originally registered with the Jockey Club as My Gifted Indyanna (Cromwell X Tensofthousands, by Spend A Buck), Indy ultimately did not race, as the farm that bred her was liquidated by the owner, Alex Trebek of Jeopardy fame.
It took Andrea several years to make the decision to take Indy on as a training project. “Linda Miller, who owned her and purchased her as a weanling, was very proud of her,” she said. “She had AP Indy lineage and was really excited about that. My farrier mentioned to me that we might be a good fit, so I went and saw her as a 2-year-old. She had toothpicks for legs and was built rather downhill and overall was just something I wasn’t interested in.”
This went on for the next two years, with Andrea paying Indy a visit and again deciding against purchasing her. Finally, when Indy was a 4-year-old, Andrea’s other horse sustained an injury, and she found herself seeking a new project. “I agreed to take her in training to help sell her,” she said. “We actually got along great as soon as she stepped off the trailer.”
Andrea still had other horses that she focused on while training Indy, who smoothly began her eventing career, showing agility and prowess for the sport. She eventually elected to breed the mare, producing her first foal, Laguna Seca, by crossing her with the Holsteiner stallion Linaro.
“Shortly after foaling, she suffered a serious battle of post parturition colic during one of our events at Twin Rivers,” Andrea said. “At the time she’d completed only a handful of shows and wasn’t insured. I took her and the foal to the emergency clinic and the prognosis wasn’t good. As the night unfolded I knew that financially surgery wasn’t an option. Unbelievably, the next morning the clinic called to say she was OK, and I swear she’s been determined to prove to me her worth ever since!”
The mare still showed an appetite to compete after her colic scare, and so Andrea continued to test her abilities, stepping her up to Prelim after she came back from foaling. “She was just ready to do whatever I wanted her to do,” Andrea said. “I always knew she was very careful, but it was always kind of an experiment to move her up because I wasn’t sure if she had the scope or not. But she always just stepped up to the plate and figured it out.”
One struggle Andrea had with Indy was her jumping technique. “I was kind of getting away with the fact that I had to manually rebalance her in front of every fence, making her sit down pretty much just from my hands. I was almost riding a bit backwards to get the right balance. It was hard for her, as she wasn’t as scopey as some of my other upper-level horses had been. It was a learning curve, looking back, and I honestly probably used to ride all of my horses like that, so it’s cool to see both of us grow forward out of that style,” Andrea said.
“She has helped teach me to ride my horses forward to the fences. I had to not ride so manually and trust her a bit more. She has always been really trainable, so letting her sort of learn on her own instead of me micromanaging every stride was helpful for both of us and has really made us improve.”
Andrea and Indy moved up to Advanced together in 2012 at Twin Rivers, the event her family has run since 2004. They eventually went on to complete their first CCI3* together at Galway Downs in 2014, finishing in eighth place. Now, the pair really seem to have hit their stride, with a top-15 finish at Jersey Fresh and a sixth-place finish at Rebecca Farm. It’s been enough of a stellar season to make Andrea look towards that big event that begins with an R in Kentucky.
Andrea made the trip to Kentucky once before with her former upper-level horse, Estrella, in 2010. The pair was unfortunately eliminated on refusals on cross country, but Andrea feels she’s done her homework this go-round to improve upon that disappointing finish.
“Estrella and I had a lot of experience together and spent a lot of time back east. I battled soundness issues leading up to Kentucky, and I was not really in the right frame of mind to be there. It was a hard lesson, but I feel like I learned a lot about what to do better. I’d always hoped I’d get Estrella back there, but I just couldn’t quite keep her sound enough,” Andrea said.
“I swore I was going to go back to Kentucky and do it right. I felt like I made so many rookie errors when I went the first time with Estrella. Indy and I did get our first CCI3* qualification at Galway two years ago, but I didn’t feel quite ready to go that year. Now we’ve got three qualifying runs at that level and a lot more experience, so I feel we’re both ready to go.”
Despite the fact that Indy spent some time on the back burner, she’s steadily worked her way into a special place in Andrea’s heart, as unexpected as it may have been. “It’s not as if I saw her and said, ‘Now this is my four-star horse!'” she said. “But somewhere along the line she became very important to me, and I’m really proud of how far we’ve come.”
Andrea is now looking ahead to Kentucky and beyond, with her breeding program producing horses she hopes will become her next upper-level mounts. Coronado, a 2-year-old colt by Chilli Morning out of her former Advanced mare Estrella, is definitely going to be an exciting one to watch in years to come. Additionally, Andrea has several other young horses, including Laguna Seca out of Indy herself, who recently stepped up to Training level.
As if a career at the upper levels and a breeding program weren’t enough to keep a girl busy, Andrea is also heavily involved with Twin Rivers Ranch in Paso Robles, which was purchased by her family in 2001 and has since grown to be a staple horse trials and FEI destination for West Coast eventers.
“My parents have been very involved in it, and we’ve all done what we can to build an event people want to come to,” Andrea said. “They’re beginning to step back a bit, which means it’s time for me to step up. It’s been a labor of love for all of us, and we’re thrilled with how successful it’s been.”
Twin Rivers hosts four recognized events each year, with the last one of the season approaching on September 22-25. Entries for this event, which runs levels from YEH and Intro up through Advanced, opened on August 9.