In 2020, Cornelia Dorr was busy gearing up for what would have been her debut at the 5* level. Having run around the tough English 4*-L at Blenheim the previous fall, she now felt she and her “heart horse”, the splashily-colored Sir Patico MH (Queen’s Lite xx – Lite the Fuse) were ready for the next step: the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event. Everything was on track — until it wasn’t.
First, the event was canceled due to the growing Covid-19 pandemic. Opting to let “Hugo” down from his 5*-fit state, Cornelia brought the paint Zweibrucker gelding home to Arkansas for some time off. Then, Hugo began to show signs of lameness, and it was later discovered that he had a hind suspensory injury that would require surgery. With a successful surgery and rehab, though, it was thought that he’d be back and sound enough to continue his competitive career.
What Cornelia wasn’t prepared for was for her horse of a lifetime to break his leg while waking up from the anesthesia.
“It was one of those things where he put a leg out awkwardly and put too much pressure on it,” Cornelia, who was away teaching a clinic during the surgery, remembers. To make matters worse, one of the bone fragments from the break had gone into the tendon. Once the injury was identified, several options were discussed, including euthanasia. In the end, it was concluded that Hugo could recover from the injury, with at least a year of stall rest, to eventually be pasture sound.
“I listened to my gut,” Cornelia says. “This happened in September, and I think he was in a stall until February. And he was just so depressed. He loves being outside, so I went and bought a twelve-by-twelve enclosure so he could be out in the sun every day. I did x-rays every two weeks, and as soon as we got the thumbs up, I turned him out.”
Here Cornelia credits #supergroom Katie Strickland for her work caring for and rehabbing her horse. “Katie and her mom took him to their place in Georgia, where he stayed for the last two years. They did a wonderful job, and so did their vet. I never worried about him.”
In her mind, the ending to Hugo’s story had been different than she thought, but better than it could have been. “The vets told me he’d never canter again, and to me I was just happy to see him thriving, even if it wasn’t with me.”
But then, Cornelia received a call from Katie’s mother, Allina Bell. Hugo didn’t really want to be retired, she felt. At 75 years old, she’d been hacking him out, but he was getting increasingly ‘sassy”‘ What the heck, Cornelia thought, as she got in her truck and hauled up to get him. The x-rays and follow-ups had been more positive than the veterinarians had originally forecasted, and Hugo was as sound as he’d been before his suspensory injury.
A few days later, Cornelia tacked her horse up and jumped her first jumps with him in more than two years.
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“He didn’t miss a beat,” she says. “It was amazing. He just went around on a loopy rein.”
Cornelia says she doesn’t have any specific plans for Hugo now that he’s back and happier than ever, though she did borrow him for this winter’s USEF Developing Rider Training Sessions with Leslie Law. She also handed the reins over to her working student, Emily Stamper, to do some lower level competitions in Florida. For her, the biggest reward is simply having her friend back.
“I got him when I was turning fourteen,” Cornelia reminisces. “He was there for so many major life events. He was my security blanket when I went to school. And he was just family. I didn’t get serious about eventing until I was a sophomore in high school, and he was there with me every step of the way.”
Cornelia’s now been able to take what she learned from Hugo and apply it to her up-and-coming horses, including the talented and quirky Daytona Beach 8, who was tenth in her 5* debut at Burghley last fall.
“In hindsight, I’m not sure I appreciated it so much in the moment, but [Hugo is] such an individual and he doesn’t fit into any box, even down to his color,” she says. “And I think that I now appreciate that if a horse comes into my program, they’re very much an individual. I try to find the middle ground. I think that’s what’s made me successful with Daytona now. I allow the horse to be who they are and then capitalize on their strengths. That’s what he taught me.”
And for what it’s worth? Hugo has certainly not lost his competitive chops: he successfully returned to eventing this winter at Rocking Horse, where he won an Open Novice with Cornelia and finished eighth in a Training Rider division earlier in March with Emily in the irons.
“He’ll tell us what he wants to do, but he can do as much or as little as he wants,” Cornelia says. “As long as he’s happy and healthy, that’s the thing that matters most.”
This story is brought to you with support from World Equestrian Brands. For Cornelia, her Amerigo saddles are among her favorite items sourced from World Equestrian Brands, which carries top-end equipment from Vespucci, Sergio Grasso, Equilibrium, and Mattes, too. “I’ve never seen a saddle company that’s as versatile as [Amerigo], and every horse, Robin and the World Equestrian Brands team work hard to find the correct tree and fit for every horse,” Cornelia described. You can equip your equine athlete with the best by shopping at worldequestrianbrands.com.
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