"A Horse of a Different Color" features horses and ponies that have been successful in the sport of eventing while representing a unique breed. Do you have a horse that you think would be a great feature subject? If so, email [email protected]
Lauren Sumner and her family were casually horse shopping as Lauren’s eleventh birthday approached. Golden Memories, known around the barn as Ella, is a chocolate palomino Morgan/Mustang/Saddlebred mare who came to the Sumner family as a six-year-old as Lauren’s birthday gift. At the time, Lauren had been riding for about a year and was still relatively inexperienced. Ella’s previous owner did not do much more than some casual trail riding, so Lauren and Ella began their education together.
“A large part of the beginning was me getting run off with and her leaping around,” Lauren recalled of her first few months with Ella. “It was still awesome because she was my first horse. I didn’t know anything about eventing or dressage when I got her, and she had an ewe neck and was skinny and awkward looking.” Lauren and Ella dabbled in some 4H competition, but struggled to find a trainer who would take them on and help them work on their partnership.
Lauren decided to join Pony Club, where she and Ella worked up to their D3 rating and had a reputation for being a bit wild. “She jumped really well and was always clean, but we were just a bit crazy,” Lauren said with a laugh.
Eventually, Lauren and her family knew that they would need to find a suitable trainer to help the pair grow and improve their technique. “A lot of our previous trainers didn’t have a lot of confidence in her. It’s not that she was dangerous, she was just a little naughty and they didn’t trust her.” Lauren began working with a new trainer, and within five rides Ella began to show signs of pure talent and rideability. “It was like she was a different horse,” Lauren said.
Dressage has always been a struggle for Lauren and Ella, as Ella tends to be quite sensitive to the aids and exhibits tension. On cross country, though, Ella excelled. “Riding her on cross nothing is the best feeling in the world. There is truly nothing like it,” Lauren said. Together, Lauren and Ella blossomed as eventers, and at the age of 14, Lauren competed in her first Prelim with Ella.
Ella has proven to be a consistent performer in the jumping phases. “She is so consistent and safe when we take her out to compete, which is why she does so well even if we have to play catch up after dressage,” Lauren said. “She is always trustworthy and takes great care of me.”
Lauren and Ella have now completed three CIC* and two CCI* competitions, including a second place finish in the CCI* at the Virginia Horse Trials in 2012. Ella is 17 now, and Lauren plans to slow down her competition schedule as she prepares to retire her beloved mare. “Her hind end is not the strongest because of how she is put together,” Lauren said of Ella’s unique breeding. “I don’t feel like it’s fair to keep pushing her through the levels since she is not 100 percent built for the job.” While Ella has not had any soundness issues to date, Lauren feels it would be best to cap Ella’s career off with a few easier, fun runs this year.
Lauren said that Ella is often mistaken for a Thoroughbred due to her refined features. She feels that her mare is a true testament to the theory that virtually any horse can be successful if they have the right mind and intelligence for the job. “She lacks in the movement department a bit because of her breeding and how she is put together, but somehow she has this amazing jumping talent,” Lauren said. “Horses like her are proof that you don’t necessarily have to go out and spend six figures on a competition horse. If you have good horsemanship and a good relationship with the horse, and if they have a big heart and enjoy what they do, they can really progress and do well.”