Hard Work Pays Off for Eventing 25 Emerging Athlete Chris Talley

The Emerging Athlete Eventing 25 winter training session is underway in Ocala, Florida, January 8-11. We are excited to introduce you to some of the riders making their debut on the E25 list, which can be viewed here. Today: Chris Talley! 

Chris Talley and Sandro’s Star. Photo by ED/Hoofclix.com.

Chris Talley is much more than one of the most fashionable personas on the jog strip; he’s a self-driven, industrious, talented young professional with a bright future ahead. After a successful 2017 season which saw a move up to the Advanced and three-star level, Chris earned a spot on the 2018 Emerging Athletes Eventing 25 list.

At 23 years old, Chris has already carved his own path to the top levels of the sport and immersed himself in multiple facets of the equine industry. His journey to becoming a young professional started years ago, as an even younger professional who first formed his own business at the age of 14.

Growing up in Pennsylvania, Chris initially rode on the local hunter circuit before getting into eventing around the age of 12. “I think I wanted more of the thrill,” says Chris. “I started going to the open cross country schooling days at Fair Hill with my pony and got hooked on the adrenaline of it.”

Chris comes from a completely non-horsey family and can’t recall what initially got him hooked on horses. His parents tried to get him out of it because of the expense, encouraging his involvement in any other sport, but none of them stuck. Nothing bites like the horse-bug and eventually they gave in.

“I have to thank my parents for believing in me at a young age and letting me chase the dream,” says Chris. “They’re much more on the bandwagon now, but from a very young age they instilled in me that if I wanted do the horse thing I would have to pay for it myself.”

And pay for it himself he did.

At the age of 13, Chris got a job at the local Iron Spring Farm, a well-known and respected breeding facility, where he worked full-time on the weekends, holidays and during summer break. Soon after, Chris also forayed into business on his own by buying local ponies, working with them, and reselling them, and maintained this business simultaneously with his high school studies and work at Iron Spring Farm.  

Chris was able to set money aside from his sales business which he would later use to offset his cost of living while taking a working student position with Ryan Wood in 2011. After a two and a half year stint with Ryan and after he also finished up high school online, Chris was certain that he wanted to continue as a professional equestrian and decided to hold off on college.

Chris Talley and Unmarked Bills at the Bromont CCI3* jog up. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

After his working student position, Chris restarted his training and sales business — this time down in Virginia where he would rent a barn to work out of. He galloped racehorses to help finance his venture and in doing so made connections which would help him grow his business of restarting and reselling horses off the track.

Selling horses is an aspect of the business that Chris has always been drawn to. “I love matching the right horses with the right people,” he says. “And I like seeing what each horse has to offer — whether it’s a talent for hunters or jumpers or eventing. It’s fun to figure that out.”

The relocation to Virginia also set in motion the series of event that would lead him to meet Hannah Salazaar, a performance horse breeder and dressage trainer, who, with her husband Antonio Salazaar, runs Zaragoza Acres in Jeffersonton, Virginia. Working together, the Salazaars and Chris are successfully running a multifaceted equestrian facility.

Chris says that going into business with Hannah has been one of the best things for his career. “She’s there for me as a best friend, mentor, and role model,” he says.

And it doesn’t hurt to have dressage professional on your team either: “Dressage has always been my weakest phase, so it’s amazing to have a trainer to work with and always have a good set of eyes on the ground.”

Chris Talley and Unmarked Bills at Carolina International CIC3*. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Chris got his first taste of the FEI levels from his 14.2-hand pony Tucan Tango (aka “Comanche”) as they tackled the CCI1* level in 2013, but it was the OTTB Unmarked Bills that truly ignited Chris’ competitive career.

Bills himself has a remarkable story (which EN recounted last summer), having gone from the track to the three-star level within two years under Chris’ guidance. The pair tackled their first Advanced together at Pine Top last February and finished the season with five three-star completions under their belt.

Not to be outshone by his stablemate, Chris’ other top mount Sandro’s Star (Sagnol – Nostalgia’s Star xx – Envoy xx), an Oldenburg stallion owned by Hannah, stepped up to the Intermediate and two-star level this year and with top 10 placings in the majority of his events, was named USEA 2017 Stallion of The Year. With Hannah in the irons, he also claimed numerous accolades at Dressage at Devon including Champion Stallion and Highscore Born in the USA. Chris will be riding “Sandro” at the E25 winter training session this week in order to help further his partnership with the horse.

“I have always wanted to work with Leslie and see the High Performance side of everything and get my name out there,” said Chris. “I really think Sandro is such a promising horse for the future, so it’s in everybody’s best interest to work under Leslie since he’s a relatively new ride for me.”

Sandro is an American-bred and licensed stallion who was then produced to the one-star level in Europe. He holds the distinction of being the first North American bred horse to compete in Germany’s young horse championship, Bundeschampionate.

“I’m used to Billy and the caliber of horse is a bit different with Sandro,” said Chris. “Sandro is such an exceptional horse that I’m looking to get additional tools to help us enhance our performance in all three phases.”

Chris Talley and Sandro’s Star at the Fair Hill International CCI2* jog up. Photo by Jenni Autry.

After the E25 winter training session, Chris will start looking ahead to the 2018 competition season. He plans to move Sandro up to Advanced at Pine Top next month and then will spend the rest of the year working towards Fair Hill International in the fall. With both horses being relatively young, Chris is looking to have them gain further experience at the Advanced and three-star level before making an potential attempts at contesting a four-star.

“I’ve always wanted to ride at a four-star, it’s been my longest goal. Anything after that is icing on the cake,” said Chris.

“I’d like to spend this year really solidifying Bills at the three-star level,” he explained. “Cross country is Bills’ easiest phase, but as a thoroughbred he can get a little tense in dressage and show jumping. I want to make sure he’s very confident in those rings.”

Chris is also excited to begin competing another of Hannah’s horses, eight-year-old Hanoverian stallion Faramund (Fidertanz – Donnerschlag) who was originally purchased as a dressage horse, but has shown a real aptitude for eventing (“He’s a super jumper for being bred as a dressage horse and he’s really brave”) and Chris and Hannah hope to bring him up to at least the Intermediate level so that he can be licensed and approved to the American Hanoverian Society stud book.

With the breeding business booming at Zaragoza Acres, Chris will have his hands full over the next couple years bringing up babies in addition to competing at the upper-levels.

“I don’t see myself doing anything else, so hopefully it works out!”

Go Chris. Go Eventing.