Andrew McConnon Learns from a Master with Ziggy

Andrew McConnon and Ziggy. Photo by Jenni Autry. Andrew McConnon and Ziggy. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Andrew McConnon made a good friend when he met Rachel Jurgens, who produced the 19-year-old OTTB gelding, Ziggy, to the CCI4* level as an amateur. After Rachel and Ziggy finished in the top 30 in their first Rolex together in 2014, Rachel decided to focus on her up and coming horses and began thinking of new options for her veteran partner.

Ziggy is the type of horse who wouldn’t do well ‘retiring,’” Rachel said. “He doesn’t like not having a job. I thought I’d ask Andrew if he’d like to ride him — he’d been so impressive with how helpful and hardworking he was.”

Rachel was nervous about handing over the reins to Andrew, as she’d been the only one to ever sit on the gelding’s back in the past. “I did have a young rider try him at one point, and I just kind of thought he would be bored doing lower levels. He wanted to continue going Advanced.”

Andrew had previously competed through the two-star level and was searching for an opportunity to gain some mileage at the Advanced level. “What I needed most was to get experience around larger tracks,” he said. “Ziggy is so good on cross country — he’s given me a lot of confidence. They say good horses make good riders, and I absolutely believe that’s true.”

Andrew and Ziggy got off to a great start together, winning their first outing together in the Intermediate/Preliminary at Full Gallop in August of last year, Ziggy’s first event back after completing Rolex.

From there, Andrew set his sights on the CCI2* at Fair Hill in the fall, which they completed in 16th place — no small feat in an event in which many competitors fell victim to the tough cross country. This all came after a nail-biting start in which Andrew was wait listed for the entry list.

“I had waited until the CIC* at Plantation to enter, so I was put on the wait list,” he recalled. “It was nerve wracking being on the wait list. We were able to get in right at the last minute; we jogged on Friday morning right before our test. I think I walked the cross country for the first time on Friday, but he’s so phenomenal on cross country that everything just rode great.”

“He’s so efficient on cross country — you don’t need to take hardly any time to set him up for the questions. He’s very efficient, which makes the time quite attainable,” Andrew continued. “I had a look at my watch after the last water at Fair Hill and realized he was coming in quite early, so I was able to just lope him home. It felt great on a day when the time and the penalties were so influential.”

Andrew McConnon and Ziggy at Carolina International. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Andrew McConnon and Ziggy at Carolina International. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Andrew reconvened with Rachel after Fair Hill to map out some other goals to attain. Andrew still aimed to move up to Advanced with Ziggy, and with Rachel’s blessing he moved up to the big A at Pine Top last month, where they finished a very respectable sixth.

“He was the only horse to come in ahead of time at Pine Top,” Andrew said. “I didn’t even pay attention to the time — that wasn’t our goal for the event. But I don’t ever have to go fast with him, he’s just so efficient. We just sweep through the turns and spend very little time rebalancing.”

Andrew contested his first CIC3* at Carolina International this past weekend, where they romped around cross country double clear and added just one stadium rail to their dressage score.

Ziggy did a great job holding in his excitement in the dressage ring where he’s accustomed to show jumping,” Andrew said. “He jumped extremely well over a technical and influential show jumping course, followed by a double clear cross country round.”

Andrew and Ziggy received lots of praise from commentators Karen O’Connor and Kim Severson on the USEF Network live feed — Ziggy received the praise from Karen, who said that he’d be a horse that could pull her out of retirement to ride!

Rachel is thrilled with the partnership Andrew has quickly formed with her gelding. “He’s a very good rider,” she said. “He’s the easiest horse anyone will ever ride on cross country. I’m an amateur, and I miss — thank God he seems to have 10 legs! Sometimes I think Ziggy likes Andrew better than he did me!”

Rachel took care to not put an excessive amount of runs on Ziggy as he got older, which she credits to his soundness over the years. “Knock wood, he takes really good care of himself,” she said. “He’s got low miles so we’re blessed that his physical being is as great as his brain.”

What’s next for Andrew and Ziggy? “I’d love it if they could make it to Kentucky, but with the qualifications I’m not sure it will happen,” Rachel said. “I know they can at least do a three-star together, but after that it’s up to Ziggy what he wants to do next.”

Andrew is grateful to Rachel for providing such a wonderful opportunity to learn from a master of his craft in Ziggy. “She’s one of the kindest, most selfless people I’ve ever met,” he said. “I know it’s hard watching someone else compete your horse, but she’s been unbelievably supportive and and given me an opportunity that most people dream about.”

Andrew McConnon working with a CANTER horse. Photo courtesy of Allie Conrad.

Andrew McConnon working with a CANTER horse. Photo courtesy of Allie Conrad.

Giving back to the OTTB cause

Andrew also keeps busy at his home base in North Carolina helping the local CANTER chapter, CANTER Mid-Atlantic, in the retraining of their OTTBs.

“Allie Conrad is here in Southern Pines and she contacted me for some help with a homebred horse of her,” he said. “She later asked if I’d be willing to help train and re-sell the OTTBs, which I was happy to do.”

Andrew favors the Thoroughbred, so working with the horses coming off the track has brought him supreme pleasure. “I think they have such heart and athletic ability. I like to do whatever I can to help with the program. I’ve got several horses in the barn re-training, and it’s been a really rewarding job.

Allie and Andrew will typically select horses who show potential together, and those horses will go on to begin their new careers with Andrew before being sold. “CANTER is more focused on finding them good homes in different disciplines, whichever they want to do,” he explained. “Allie has a spectacular ability for picking horses and matching them with people. It’s been really great to be able to give back and see these horses go on to be successful in their careers.