Converted Foxhunter: How Did We Get Here?

Farrier Scott Shiminski and his wife Alison are former foxhunters turned eventers who are now proud members of the Jessica Bortner-Harris Eventing Team. Scott and his horse, The Big O, completed their first recognized event this past weekend at Full Gallop Farm's June Horse Trials, and he kindly sent in the story of how it all began. Many thanks to Scott for writing, and thanks for reading!

Scott Shiminski and The Big O. Photo by Duncan Moody. Scott Shiminski and The Big O. Photo by Duncan Moody.

I am a 47-year-old farrier and former foxhunter turned eventer. So how did I get here? I have ridden horses on and off my whole life, receiving my first broken wrist at the ripe old age of 5 while on a trail ride, the first day of a family vacation. I have been hooked ever since.

Growing up I was always told that horses were too expensive. I picked up rides here and there with the parents of school friends, who would have preferred I had thrown the baseball or rode bikes with them. I visited my uncle’s Standardbred training facility, where my grandfather was the night watch. I begged for every campground that we visited to have riding stables.

My parents obliged as much as they could. Mom took grandpa and I to “Breakfast at Belmont,” and we visited Uncle John after he moved to the Saratoga area to watch his horses run.

As I grew up, my opportunities to ride grew further and further apart. I joined the U.S. Marine Corps at the end of high school, and after 18 months in Okinawa, I was transferred to Albany, Georgia, where I purchased my first horse for my 20th birthday gift to myself.

Tontos Jewel was a registered Paint 2-year-old filly who had been out in a pasture since she was foaled. She was working cow horse stock, and I was green! With the help of a few local friends, we broke and trained her. That was by far the easiest thing I had ever done. She made breaking look like child’s play. We went to a few team penning events, rode in parades and put many miles in the woods trail riding.

After two years in Albany, my tour with Uncle Sam was over, and I moved back to Long Island. Shortly after arriving home, I realized that I could not afford to ship her back and treat her the way she deserved to be treated. I made a heartbreaking decision to offer her for sale.

After several years at home, I married Alison, my wife of now 20 years. We leased a few horses, went back to team penning and trail riding. After two years of marriage, Alison got accepted to the Wake Forest University Physician Assistant program, and we headed back south to North Carolina.

After Alison completed school, she asked me if I wanted to go back to school. After some time I took her up on that offer and attended farrier school in Martinsville, Virginia. While apprenticing with Ted Whitfield, whose clients included many hunter/jumpers, I realized I did not know enough about their discipline to serve them well. So I took lessons at one of our shoeing barns, and before we knew it we were buying horses again.

We had only had our horses a few months when a friend introduced us to hunter paces at the local kennels. In just a few short rides, we were hooked. We joined Yadkin Valley Hounds later that year and hunted with them until they closed. During our time at YVH, we learned to go fast, hang on and stay out of the huntsman’s way. Eventually we tried our hand at whipping in and really enjoyed it. While hunting with YVH we were introduced to Jessica Bortner-Harris who was helping a fellow hunter with a green horse.

After the closing of YVH, we were somewhat at a loss for what to do with our horses. We leased them to a riding program for awhile and worked on our golf game. We also competed in some local triathlons, where I got the bug to try an Ironman. After three Ironman 70.3 (half-Ironman distance) races, I found a void that could only be filled by riding.

In March of this year, we were re-introduced to Jessica Bortner-Harris, who we had previously met while hunting with YVH. Jessica had taken on student at Sunnybrook Farm, where we have boarded for the last seven years. It didn’t take long for us to jump back in the saddle.

Jessica had her work cut out for her, but she was up for the challenge. We have come so far in just three and a half months. Jessica got us through one horse trial and a combined test early this spring, and we had our sights set on Full Gallop Farm June Horse Trials this past weekend.

Scott Shiminski and his wife Alison at Full Gallop Farm H.T. Photo by Mia Hughes.

Scott Shiminski and his wife Alison at Full Gallop Farm H.T. Photo by Mia Hughes.

We could not have asked for better weather at Full Gallop: June, Aiken, high 70ss, perfect conditions for our first recognized event. We arrived early in the day Saturday. We got our horses settled in and prepared for a lesson. We met up with fellow Team JBHE competitor Catherine Schumak and headed out for a dressage lesson. All things considered, our lessons went well. It was time to try to relax and prepare for Sunday.

Sunday morning came quickly. We arrived, fed and went to watch Catherine’s dressage test. It was incredible. We headed over to watch her jump, and I went to prepare for my test. I posted my best dressage score to date. I was anxious about the upcoming jumping rounds; we were ready, right? As Alison headed to the dressage ring with Jess, I headed to warm up for stadium with Catherine along to get me started.

Jess returned from dressage with a smiling Alison, who also posted her best score to date. Jess guided me through several warm-up jumps and sent me to the ring for show jumping. I vaguely remember hearing the whistle; we made it over jump 1. We rolled back to two and three, then around to the butterfly at four — success. On to five, six, seven, eight; I approached nine with a little apprehension, but Big O took it in stride.

Now just a turn back to the combination at 10. Wait, a combination; have I practiced enough of these? Success. We had an awesome jump round with one rail. Only one phase to go. Jess and I headed to cross country, and Alison prepared for her jumping phase.

We arrived at the cross country warm up, where I was instructed to jump the log, then the roll top and then that HUGE coop. “Jess, are you sure that coop is for my division?” I asked. She smiled, chuckled and said, “I told you this would be big. Now go jump it!” We did — I think I held my breathe momentarily — and then she said, “Jump the coop again and trust your horse.”

I cannot tell you what I was thinking when the count down began at the start box, but I kept thinking about what Jessica had told me: “One question at a time, don’t worry about the table at 14 until you clear 13.” We were off. As I started to fence one, I realized I was lining up on the jump for Starter division. A quick adjustment and we were back on the right course.

Questions one and two, check, a slight hesitation at three, down the hill to the log at four and over the barn at five. The lamb shed then up bank at seven. I can hear Jess in my head: “If he is going to look at something, it will be the mushroom at eight. No problem there.

On to the water, out over the roll top, over the cabin at 10, down to the ditch at 11. Three to go. Easily over 12, no look at the bench at 13, only one more question the big table at 14, safely over and a short gallop home. Five minutes later it was all over, I had completed my first recognized event. Overwhelmed, elated, at a loss for words.

Jessica came up to congratulate me. I was in some stage of disbelief that I had made it, and I was probably a little short in accepting her congratulatory sentiments. Nonetheless, I am grateful for my coach and all of her efforts to get me this far.

The Big O cooled down quickly and had a sponge bath, then I put him in his stall to chill and headed over to the ring to cheer on Alison. I arrived as she and Cody headed in. I stood back at the edge of the barn, not wanting to cause any nerves. The whistle blew and Alison headed to jump one. Cody refused, then refused again. Alison got over on attempt three.

Jumps two and three were perfect. Jump four came with an attempted refusal, but Alison won. She was riding stronger than I had ever seen her ride. Jump five was huge (in Cody’s mind), and he nearly unseated Alison. At that moment, Alison made the right, although very difficult, choice to retire. Cody can be a stubborn horse to ride, and today he was not feeling it. I know in the future they will do great things together.

As I reflect on this weekend, I am proud to say I am part of Team JBHE. I would like to take this moment to congratulate Catherine and Amore on their third place finish in their first attempt at Training level and Alison on a job well done with the stubborn Two Eyed Jack descendent. We cannot thank our coach enough for all she has taught us. I will close with a statement that I often tell my fellow triathlon competitors: “We pay to do this, and it should be FUN!”