Gas Station Kismet: The Eventing World Is a Small World After All

A serendipitous gas station meeting. Photo by Chandra Bratton.

Chandra Bratton, her daughter Tori and a couple horse-crazy friends were stopped for gas on the way to the barn when a truck and trailer pulled in behind them. Chandra teased, “Surprise girls, your new ponies just showed up!”

Squeals of shock and excitement followed as they turned around. The girls pondered what kind of horses were inside, and Chandra told them to go ask the lady behind the steering wheel. They hemmed and hawed — she was a stranger, after all — but curiosity eventually got the better of them.

The trailer driver, as it turned out, was Florida-based four-star rider Jennie Jarnstrom, accompanied by her working student Cora Frisby.

Cora recalls, “Jennie asked them if they knew what eventing was, and all three girls nodded excitedly — they were Pony Clubbers! We told them we were heading to Phillip Dutton’s in Aiken, and they told us they had recently attended a Pony Club grooming clinic that his groom Emma Ford taught.”

By now the girls were starstruck and giddy. They were talking eventing with a big-name rider who trained with Phillip Dutton! Jennie dazzled them further by opening the trailer and introducing them to her three bay mares Lily, Penelope and Khelsia.

Everyone agreed that it was a small world, wished one another safe travels, and their separate ways.

That night one of Jennie’s out-of-town clients, Ashley Price, sent her a Facebook message. The morning that Jennie and Cora had left for Aiken she had messaged a Facebook friend, Chandra, whose daughter Tori does eventing, and told them that they needed to take a trip down to Florida to train with us.

“Turns out Chandra, Tori and her friends were the group that we met at the gas station!” Cora says.

The connection had already been made. Jennie invited Chandra and Tori up to Aiken to watch some of her lessons with Phillip, and they happily made the three hour drive.

Jennie on Calicia Z during her lesson with Phillip. Photo by Chandra Bratton.

“It wasn’t Disney but for a little girl that loves all things horses, it was even more magical than Disney,” Chandra says. “I couldn’t make it up if I tried. Within 48 hours of meeting, we were blessed to be invited by Jennie and welcomed by Phillip Dutton to watch her private training lessons. Upon arrival we stood in the middle of two groups being put through their paces on the cross country field, one group getting instruction from Phillip Dutton and the other group from Boyd Martin. To be in the graces of such accomplished riders was just incredible.”

Phillip, Tori and Jennie on Lily. Photo by Chandra Bratton.

“But let me tell you about Jennie … she is so incredibly accomplished and talented,” she continues. “Watching her ride was mesmerizing and she concentrates with a beautiful smile on her face. We were able to watch her ride two of her three horses she brought up with her. The horses had completely different personalities and she rode both with so much glamour and grace.

“She greeted us like we’d been friends forever and put Tori to work helping her and her gem of a working student Cora. Tori was on cloud nine, watching, holding, walking, helping tack and untack these big, beautiful girls. She even got to sit a spell on Lily. Keep an eye for that one — she’s going to do grand things soon, and the darling Cora is going to be doing even grander things. Still in awe!

Tori taking a spin on Lily. Photo by Chandra Bratton.

Tori and Cora leading out Flower Girl (Lily) and Penelope. Photo by Chandra Bratton.

“We even got to stop and chat for a few with Emma Ford as she was getting off work early, and she remembered Tori immediately. The whole day was perfect and we are so thankful for everything.”

Cora called it “gas station kismet,” and noted that serendipitous moments like these proof that the eventing community has some of the biggest-hearted people in the world.

Tori and Penelope. Photo by Chandra Bratton.

“Everyone knows being a working student can be a hard gig and we’re happy to make jokes about all the wine and ice packs we go through, but at the end of the day this is what it really amounts to: incredible opportunities, adventures, ‘good people finding good people,’ and indulging in what we all have in common — a love of horses and sport,” Cora says. “In the nearly two years I’ve been working for Jennie I can’t even begin to list all that she’s done for me and all the experiences and education I’ve accumulated during the journey. It’s truly a blessing. Here’s to many more!

Sometimes it pays to talk to strangers — especially when that stranger is an eventer!