It’s not everyday a fourth-generation ranch kid becomes a four-star eventer. Cindy Anderson Blank grew up working cows and running barrels in southeastern Oregon. Today, she’s fought tooth and claw to build what’s now Monarch Eventing in Berryville, Virginia.
Cindy’s earliest memories involve horses: “My sister and I both started riding with my mother before we could even sit up, basically. My parents were working cows or whatever, and we had to go with them, so we grew up in the saddle.”
Cindy’s introduction to English riding was thanks to her kindergarten teacher and 4-H leader Denny Duke. Another local trainer, Norma Angele, introduced her to eventing. She did her first event when she was just eight years old on her trusty cow horse, and from then on out, Cindy was hooked.
Finding eventing opportunities in southeast Oregon wasn’t easy. As soon as she turned sixteen and got her driver’s license, she started hauling her trailer over the mountains to take lessons in Medford, OR, which was three and a half hours away.
Cindy attended Oregon State University to get her degree in Equine Exercise Physiology and spent her summer and holiday breaks working for David Acord with New Heights Training Stables. But, after college, she knew she had to head East, where there were far more opportunities to turn an eventing hobby into a full-time career. “After I graduated college, I worked as a tech for a little bit, like full-time small animal vet tech, just to build up enough cash to then start working my way East.”
Instead of taking a direct flight to the East Coast, Cindy slowly worked her way eastward as a working student. “I took a working student job for Jim Graham in Florence, Alabama for a couple years and took two horses with me, and stayed there until I basically ran out of money. Being a working student doesn’t pay very well,” Cindy said, laughing.
While Cindy said she learned a lot in her time as a working student, she said no one can afford to do it for very long without significant financial backing. She found what seemed like a blessing: a barn three hours outside of Chicago needed a barn manager and trainer. After three years working for herself, she realized she needed more instruction than she could afford to pay for. “If you go off to start your own thing to make some money too early, then you never get the knowledge base you need, you know? It’s just too hard to get instruction when you work for yourself and are just starting out. That’s why the working student thing is nice, but you can’t do that forever,” Cindy said.
With three Preliminary horses and one Intermediate horse, she had made just enough of a reputation for herself that she could ride for someone professionally. Finally, she found the perfect position to grow her knowledge base and launch the rest of her career -– Olympian Phyllis Dawson was looking for a competition rider and assistant trainer. Not only had Cindy finally made it to the East coast, she had also found a mentor with a veritable wealth of knowledge. “At Phyllis’s, I was able to really gain a lot of competition miles and just so much experience. Her knowledge base helped me along and taught me about developing horses, conditioning horses, and training,” said Cindy.
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Cindy believes that the ten years she spent riding for Phyllis is what really allowed her to finally launch Monarch Eventing. Riding for Phyllis allowed her access to a great eventing education, without requiring the massive financial backing of being a working student or paying for lessons. While living and working at Windchase Farm, Cindy got the ride on Windchase Phoenix Star, who became her first 4* horse. “Windchase Phoenix Star was one that she owned, and I was able to take him Advanced. That was super,” said Cindy. “So I got four-star mileage on him and that’s kind of what got me to where I am today.”
While we routinely refer to young professionals who are just starting their business as “going off on their own,” it’s rare that someone is truly on their own. Cindy, for example, needed the help of two amazing friends, Darlene Judd and Andrew Brower, that she had met at Oregon State University. “They had a little extra space and they let me kind of build onto one of their barns to house a few more horses,” said Cindy. “And it worked. It worked really well to get my business going.”
Cindy helped Darlene get her homebreds started under saddle and in exchange, Darlene allowed Cindy to run her burgeoning business from their home. Darlene and Andrew were actually the inspiration behind the name of her business, Monarch Eventing. The two are entomologists and Andrew is actually a butterfly specialist. “I liked the idea of — it sounds kind of cheesy, but — new beginnings, you know?” Cindy said. “The idea that you can crawl out of something and just make a beautiful vision a reality. The name Monarch Eventing was really to honor them.”
As Cindy’s business continued to grow over the next few years, she became too big for Darlene and Andrew’s home farm. Luckily, that’s when Sam Potter and Carlos Hernandez, CEO and COO of Equestly respectively, stepped onto the scene. Having already worked with Cindy as a sponsored rider for the Equestly brand since the fall of 2021, Carlos and Sam stepped up to the plate when she was searching for a new place to go.
Equestly was leasing a farm in Virginia and offered it to Cindy so that she could build her program true to her vision. “They were very adamant that I could just build the training program out of their barn how I wanted it,” Cindy said, almost sheepishly. “That’s the thing that’s great about them — they’re not leasing the barn to make money, they’re leasing it to help my business get going and be able to stay going. In return, my business helps their business, since I’m a sponsored rider. Sam has her horses here and I’m able to help her with them. It’s very much a shared vision of what everybody wants it to be.”
Together, Cindy and Equestly are creating a barn and training program that any horse would be lucky to be a part of. Their philosophy is simple: Horses first. Money second. “We’ve really tried to do everything absolutely for the horses’ best interest,” Cindy explained. “The best of feed, the best of care. We try to hire the best people you can possibly find. It’s important to us that we’re not making money at the expense of the horse.”
Of course, there’s a reason why some new business owners choose money over five-star horse care: it’s expensive to provide the best possible of everything and it takes time to grow a business the right way. Thanks to Equestly’s support, Cindy is able to take the slow and steady path to building the program of her dreams. Cindy believes that their shared vision is what makes the symbiotic partnership work so well. “It takes time to build a business up like that, but after a couple of years, you really start to see the benefits of that. And that’s also what Sam and Carlos are very focused on with Equestly,” Cindy said. “They’re very focused on quality and being able to create a brand that’s not just there to turn a profit, but to actually help people and make a difference for their sponsored riders and horses.”
Whether it’s mucking the occasional stall as needed or moving fencing around to create more pastures, Carlos and Sam have been hands-on in helping Cindy create the farm that she needs to grow her business. The new home of Monarch Eventing is located on more than 50 acres in Berryville, VA. It currently has 12 stalls, but that number is soon to go up with the addition of two more stalls. There’s an all-weather outdoor arena, which Cindy says she was able to ride in all winter long, plus a continuously growing cross country field out front — but Cindy’s favorite part of the property is the turnout. “The really nice thing about the property is it has exceptional turnout, like the turnout pastures are huge. The horses think they’re wilderness animals,” Cindy laughs. “They enjoy the land.”
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Monarch Eventing is located in a red-hot eventing community — the exact opposite of where Cindy grew up. But for her, it’s a paradise filled with new learning opportunities everywhere you look. “It’s easy to move to an area where you can be a big fish in a small pond. But in this area, even as a four-star rider, it’s like well, that doesn’t mean anything. You know, the knowledge base is already so high in this area,” Cindy said. “But it’s the place to be if you want to continue to educate yourself and continue to become a better rider and trainer.”
Building Monarch Eventing from the ground up hasn’t been an easy road for Cindy. “You have to take that first plunge of ‘I have no money behind me and I have nothing except the ability to work really hard,’” Cindy said. “We have a friend that says she spent her life jumping out of a plane and building the parachute on the way down and that’s pretty much what I did.”
The risks Cindy has taken are paying off. When asked what she’d tell other up-and-coming professionals who are looking to start their own program one day, she answered, “It’s all about having the right timing, being in the right place, and finding people that share your goals. Then you start to establish a vision of what you want and then you start to get a little bit of confidence like, ‘Okay, this is working and this is where I want to go.’ That’s when it starts to grow.”
Keep an eye out for Cindy in her Equestly gear galloping around the Advanced level this season with her horse, Faberge.