Brick by Brick: Alex Baugh Makes Her Own Dreams Come True

Alex Baugh and Ballingowan Pizazz at NAJYRC in 2016. Photo by JJ Sillman.

For 15-year-old Alex Baugh, riding horses has become a lifelong pursuit of big goals. Possessing the talent needed to reach the top of the sport of eventing, Alex knows that one cannot get by on talent alone; hard work and sacrifice are the name of the game when you’re trying to make it in the horse industry. Fortunately, horses have become a family affair for the Baugh family, and one step at a time, Alex is making her big dreams a reality.

Growing up in a family who had always been involved with horses in some way, Alex first sat astride a horse when she was four years old, when her parents purchased riding lessons for her as a birthday gift. “Had I Known what would happen from that birthday, I might not have given that as a gift,” Alex’s mother, Kelly, joked.

Saddle seat was the first discipline in which Alex got her feet wet, but eventually her parents purchased a pony named Rhino who would give her the first taste of eventing. Alex had caught the bug, quickly outgrowing Rhino and moving on to another pony, Valentine, whom she would take through Novice.

“The plan was that Valentine would be a good horse for her through high school, but it became obvious that she would outgrow him as well,” Kelly explained.

Alex and Curioso. Photo by JJ Sillman.

Small but mighty

So the family purchased Curioso, a 14.2 hand Andalusian/Quarter Horse fit for a “Horse of a Different Color” profile. Though he was small, he was mighty, eventually carrying Alex through the Preliminary level. Curioso had previously competed through the Intermediate level with Canadian rider Genevieve Boutin, also completing the CCI1* at Young Riders in 2012.

“Curioso is a unicorn,” Alex explained. “Our first show together was the Hagyard Midsouth Team Challenge, and I wanted to be on a team with my friends so we went Beginner Novice and won — and he was two weeks away from doing a two-star at that point. He really is a wonder pony.”

Alex progressed through the levels with her gray wonder pony, picking up numerous top-5 finishes at the Preliminary level in 2015. The goal was to contest Alex’s first one-star, but in the end she decided that she wanted to preserve her pony who had done so much for her rather than ask him to continue to compete at the upper levels.

“He was such a good boy; if you pointed him at a one-star fence, he’d jump. I think if you’d ask him to jump a four-star table, he would trust you enough to try,” Alex said. “And I didn’t want to put him in a position where he could get hurt because he was trying so hard for me.”

Curioso is now in the caring hands of Alex’s younger sister, Tori, and at the age of 13 still going strong and enjoying teaching a younger rider the ropes at the lower levels. But once again, it was time to find Alex the next horse who would safely help her carry out her goals.

Michael Pollard and Ballingowan Pizazz at Carolina International. Photo by Jenni Autry.

A Dash of ‘Pizazz’

After making a few calls, on Boyd Martin’s recommendation the Baugh family traveled to Georgia to try two of Michael Pollard’s horses who were coming up for sale. One of the horses was Ballingowan Pizazz, who had enjoyed much success at the Advanced and three-star levels with Michael in the irons.

It was quite an adjustment for Alex to transition from riding ponies her whole life to 16.2 hand Irish Sport Horse that “Mango” is. With the help of her longtime coach, Jorge Montalvo, Alex set to work getting to know her new ride, who was a willing but quirky partner. “I had to really adjust my leg on him since I was so used to Curioso,” Alex said. “At first, it felt like a control panel without any labels! I definitely was not a rider like Michael, so it was a lot to get used to.”

But hard work paid off, and Alex and Mango won their first show together at Poplar Place in Georgia at the Preliminary level, just a few short months after the two were introduced.

“I think that Alex doesn’t give herself enough credit,” Kelly said. “For her to take that horse and within six months go out and win, that’s a really big deal. That sitting trot (on Mango) is no joke, and I think that’s really a testament to how hard she has worked to get where she is.”

Alex Baugh and Ballingowan Pizazz. Photo by JJ Sillman.

Turning Dreams into Reality

Originally, it was Curioso who had been tapped as Alex’s first potential NAJYRC mount. After making the decision to retire her pony from upper level competition, however, it was Mango who stepped in to fill his predecessor’s horseshoes. The pair picked up their final qualifier at the Ocala International, finishing in seventh overall as the second placed junior pair. From there, it was all roads leading to Colorado, where Alex and Mango represented Area VIII and finished fourth individually.

This season, Alex has once again set her sights on competing in Montana at Young Riders once again, qualifying again at Ocala over the winter and improving on their 2016 CCI1* finish with a fourth place ribbon. “The teams haven’t been announced yet, but we are qualified and I would love to have the opportunity to represent Area VIII again,” Alex said.

In order to prepare for Young Riders, all potential team members are tasked with raising $3500 to contribute to team expenses. Alex took this job and ran with it, selling socks at horse shows and also single-handedly organizing a fundraising clinic with show jumping rider Richard Picken.

“She thought about it and came up with the idea and started making calls,” Kelly explained. “She 100% organized it and put it on Facebook. It takes a lot of guts for a 15-year-old kid to call Rolex riders like Clark Montgomery and Allie Knowles and let them know about the clinic, but she did and she received a lot of compliments on her organizing skills when the clinic was over.”

Alex Baugh and her younger brother, Zach. Photo by JJ Sillman.

A Family Affair

Eventing has become a way of life for the Baugh family, with Alex chasing her upper level dreams and her younger siblings also learning the ropes of the sport. Her brother, Zach, also events casually with his horse Rock Encore, and Alex has been helping out with getting the horse more mileage at the Training and Preliminary levels.

“Zach is happy competing a few times a year,” Kelly explained. “Last year, he went to AECs and finished eighth after just doing a handful of shows, so he’s very talented.” While Zach prefers to take a more casual approach to competition, Alex has the opportunity to compete “King”, who is also an Irish Sport Horse, in order to help herself gain more experience.

At the end of the day, the entire Baugh family is all-in for their kids, who have shown talent and work ethic to make this sport a way of life. It isn’t always the easiest for a teenager growing up, and Alex has foregone “normal” kid activities such as football games (“I went to one once, I didn’t really like it.”), school dances and even physical attendance at school — Alex began online school in January.

“It’s hard to have a kid who wants to go to the Olympics,” Kelly said. “She’s had to miss out on a lot of other things, but as parents (her father, Dave, and I) are willing to support her. But ultimately, she has to be the one to make that happen. She’s proven that she can do it, and as a parent I am lucky to have such an awesome kid. I couldn’t be more proud of or grateful for her.”

As Alex looks down the road to hopefully competing at the top levels of the sport, she knows that her work ethic must match her talent in the saddle. For her family, it’s all a part of a journey that has brought them closer together around their four-legged family members, who have taught them that putting the time in really does pay off in spades.

Check out this awesome video made by Henry Malone about Alex’s journey: