Every CCI5* first timer has had a different road to travel before sending in that inaugural entry. For some, it’s a quick trip to the top, making a climb up the levels with their first event horse. For others, it’s riding out a dream they never knew existed until the right horse came along.
For Andrew McConnon, getting to Kentucky took throwing out the timeline, changing his program, and focusing on the process.
Andrew considers himself slightly tardy to the eventing party. “I feel like a lot of upper level riders were getting ready to run their first Advanced or at least their first FEI about the time I was moving up from Novice,” he said. “I’d been around horses and ridden my whole life, just didn’t get the chance to event until later. It was after high school when I was even thinking about Training level.”
In 2014, tragedy turned into opportunity when, after unexpectedly losing his upper level horse, fellow Southern Pines eventer, Rachel Jurgens, invited Andrew to come along to Kentucky and be in the barns. “I’d been to Kentucky a lot as a spectator, but this was my first chance to really see the behind the scenes. It’s a whole different experience and it really just inspired me to want to be there as a competitor,” he reflected.
That weekend also turned into a chance of a lifetime, one that seemed too good to be true. Rachel offered her Kentucky mount to Andrew. And he thought she was joking.
“Who would ever give up the ride on their five-star horse?” had thought Andrew. “So I didn’t really think anymore about it until she called me and was like ‘so do you want him or not?’”
Ziggy gave Andrew much needed experience at the Advanced level, but the time for him to step down into a less strenuous role was looming. Even with a booming teaching business, Andrew wanted to use the pause between horses to advance his own riding education. The opportunity to work for William Fox-Pitt arose, and Andrew jumped on a plane.
“I originally thought I’d stay for a year, but I ended up having the opportunity to ride and compete over there a lot more than I thought I would,” he explained. “I flew home, sorted out renewing my visa, and spent another year taking advantage of that opportunity.”
Andrew used the time in England to improve his riding, but also sharpen his mental edge and business mindedness. “While the pressure of Kentucky is obviously a lot, nothing can compare to the pressure it felt riding in front of William,” he reflected. “He had been my lifelong idol and to ride in that program felt more intense than any event… but I also learned that at the end of the day, it’s a business no matter what you’ve achieved.”
Coming back to the U.S. with a new perspective on the industry, Andrew allowed himself to sell his nice young horse as a smart business decision instead of holding onto it in the hopes it would reach the pinnacle level. He changed his approach to focus less on end goals more on the journey, and finding the ride fit for each horse.
Ferrie’s Cello, Andrew’s Kentucky entry owned by Jeanne Shigo, found his way to Andrew by way of a mutual friend. The 11-year-old, Dutch Warmblood, has all the classic physical traits of a top event horse, but (also like many top horses) can also be mentally tricky.
“Jeanne is wonderful. She loves the horse and loves the sport. Her support has been amazing, and she is so patient and flexible as to how we develop him,” he said. “He spent a long time at Intermediate, having these things we call ‘Eddie moments’ where I’d just wonder why he did what he did.”
Obviously no one knows if a horse has what it takes to be a 5* horse until they cross Sunday’s finish line, but Andrew had a good feeling as Eddie made the move up to the Advanced level. “He ran his first Advanced track at Millbrook, and it just felt great – like he had something to focus on and he felt really mature,” he reflected.
“[Eddie] can go quite nice on the flat and be very careful in show jumping, but I’m really looking forward to galloping him across that wonderful ground,” Andrew continued. “I keep lying to myself that it’s just another horse trials, but it’s always been a dream to be inside, rather than outside, those ropes.”
We (along with the thousands of other spectators at the little horse trials) can’t wait to watch the big bay go blazing by at the Land Rover Kentucky Three Day Event and wish Andrew the best of luck.
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