Eventing 25: Never a Dull Moment for Jacob Fletcher

Jacob Fletcher and Atlantic Domino winning Best Dressed/Best Turned Out at Blenheim. Photo by Samantha Clark for PRO. Jacob Fletcher and Atlantic Domino winning Best Dressed/Best Turned Out at Blenheim. Photo by Samantha Clark for PRO.

Arkansas native Jacob Fletcher has been back home for a few months now after spending a year abroad as a student for Australians Kevin McNab and Emma Dougall at their yard in Surrey, England.

While he’d always wanted to spend time abroad, Jacob, 20, said it wasn’t until his upper-level horse The Prof died from lung cancer just before Bromont in 2013 that he actually decided to seriously consider going.

A horse shopping trip to England that summer with Susie Pragnall, whom Jacob affectionately calls his “fairy godmother,” sealed the deal. When they tried a horse at Kevin’s yard, Susie pitched the idea of Jacob staying there, and the rest of the details fell into place.

Jacob rode with Kevin and Emma for several weeks that summer and again in the fall, arranging to return for the full year in 2014. Then the news broke that Kevin and Jock Paget’s horses had tested positive for the banned substance Reserpine at Burghley.

Silver linings in England

“He texted me the next day and asked if my plans had changed, and I said, ‘Not on my end.’ It was a perfect time for me to go because Kevin had more time than usual. It was a silver lining,” Jacob said.

Though the investigation quickly revealed Reserpine-contaminated bottles of LesstressE as the cause of the positive tests, it took nearly 10 months to go through the FEI Tribunal process before Jock and Kevin’s names could be cleared.

So with Kevin’s time freed up considerably during his suspension, Jacob immersed himself into the eventing mecca that is England, and — like so many Americans before him who have crossed the pond — found that all the advantages he’d heard about were even better than he could have imagined.

“There are so many things you can touch on, like the fact that there are more competitions, and you don’t have to drive as far. There are so many more courses available to you, so you can really personalize every horse’s schedule,” Jacob said.

“Also, just riding with Kevin and Emma in the ring every day was extremely educational, and competing and watching other people — studying their position and trying to emulate that is so important.”

Jacob and Domino at Blenheim. Photo by Samantha Clark for PRO.

Jacob and Domino at Blenheim. Photo by Samantha Clark for PRO.

Back home in the U.S.

Now that he’s back home in Arkansas, Jacob is trying hard to maintain that quality in his riding, which isn’t easy when his longtime trainer Mike Huber lives six hours away and the closest CCI event is 18 hours away in Ocala.

“I send videos to Kevin and Mike all the time,” Jacob said. “I have people film me when I’m riding, and I’ll play it back even when I’m still on the horse. That’s how I’m keeping the quality of my riding over the winter.”

He’s also hard at work finishing his business degree at the University of Arkansas, taking classes Monday through Thursday, as well as working a few days each week at his father’s car dealership. And, of course, he’s also been busy legging up his horses for the start of their 2015 season.

His top horse, Atlantic Domino, a 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding Jacob bought from Mark and Tanya Kyle, successfully progressed from Novice (the equivalent of Preliminary level in the U.S.) all the way to the CCI3* level last season in England.

“He did the CCI2* at Tattersalls really well, and he went around beautifully at the CIC3* at Camphire,” Jacob said. “While some pilot errors on my part might not show it on paper, he really had a very strong season.”

Domino was meant to end his 2014 season at Blenheim Palace CCI3*, where he and Jacob scored 54.2 in dressage to sit in 45th place in the star-studded field before going into cross country. They were having a cracking clear round until Jacob was held for 25 minutes before the main water complex.

“I tried to go straight into it after the hold, and he’s such a careful, good jumper that it just wasn’t going to happen,” Jacob said. “He picked up his front feet and, trying to be careful, he trotted a step with his back feet. His back feet went into the ditch, and he landed on the fence and rotated in.”

Thankfully, both Jacob and Domino walked away from the fall unharmed. “Kevin and I were still really happy with him,” Jacob said. “Kevin thought we looked safe and like we should be out there up until that point.”

Jacob and Domino at Blenheim. Photo by Samantha Clark for PRO.

Jacob and Domino at Blenheim. Photo by Samantha Clark for PRO.

Time to get to work

Now Jacob said it’s time to get to work to show what Domino can do. Though he originally worried whether Domino could be a proper four-star horse being only about 50 percent Thoroughbred, seeing how well he handled the sloppy going at Ballindenisk on an 11-minute CCI3* course solidified in his mind that he has what it takes.

“His plan for this spring is Red Hills CIC3*, and then we’ll crack on to the CIC3* at Chattahoochee Hills before heading to the Rebecca Farm CCI3*, which is his big goal for the year,” Jacob said.

And Domino is just one of the many talented horses in his barn right now. Fly Away Ferro, an 8-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding Jacob has had for two years, completed his first CCI* at Weston Park last year and will start his season at the Red Hills CIC* before aiming for the CCI2* at Rebecca Farm.

“He’s super talented, but he’s definitely not the easiest horse,” Jacob said. “After I got to England, Kevin jumped him for a full month and a half, and I only rode him on the flat, which was hugely beneficial.”

Willunga, an 8-year-old Dutch/Irish gelding he bought from Nicky Roncoroni last year, did his first CIC2* at Camphire in July. Jacob gave him the rest of the season off, as he didn’t want to push for a big year-end event with the horse just being 7, so he’s excited to get him out this spring and summer, with a CCI2* as the end goal for this year.

Jacob also has Van Gough, a 7-year-old Dutch/Irish gelding that won the CIC* at Firle in August; he also successfully completed his first CCI* at Tattersalls. “He’ll also aim for Red Hills CIC*,” Jacob said. “After that, I’m not sure I want to do a CCI2* in his 7-year-old year, so his plans are still up in the air.”

Legging up in Florida

All four horses came home from England to Jasper Springs Ranch in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where Samantha Morris — who groomed for Jacob last year in England and followed him to the States — keeps things running smoothly.

The horses made the long haul to Florida last week with Mike, with Jacob staying behind so he can keep up with his class schedule. “The horses will stay in Florida through Red Hills, and I’ll be flying back and forth,” Jacob said.

“I figure that if they’re competing every weekend, they’ll have Tuesday off, Mike will flat them on Wednesday, and I’ll be there in time to ride them on Thursday. Then I’ll ride them Thursday through Monday. I’ll miss one day of flatwork, which stresses me out a bit, but I can live with it.”

After Red Hills, the horses will come home to Arkansas, and Jacob will aim for several Area V events, as well as the three-star at Chattahoochee Hills. He’s looking into spending the summer at Roebke’s Run in St. Hector, Minnesota, where he’d stay through Rebecca Farm.

He’ll also be participating in the Eventing 25 training sessions with Leslie Law in his second year participating in the USEF Developing Rider program, all while keeping his eye on his ultimate goal of making it to a CCI4*.

“I’d love to get good and try to compete with the best of them,” Jacob said. “I feel like I need to start my year abroad now, but I know I needed to come home and work on finishing school. I can’t wait to get back.”

Want to go along for the ride with Jacob? He’s currently looking for a competition groom! Go check out the listing he posted on Sport Horse Nation.