Some horses are destined for greatness: they’re well bred, have a picturesque upbringing, and world-class training right from the start.
This is the story of a horse who had none of those things — a horse who could have fallen through the cracks but instead fell into the right hands and with the help of the right people has found himself as one of Buck Davidson’s entries for the 2019 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event.
Jak My Style’s origin story begins inauspiciously at an estate sale in New Jersey. The owner of a racing farm had passed away, leaving his possessions, horses included, in some manner of disarray and needing to be liquidated. One of those horses, “Jak”, had been race-trained, but never made a start — or even been tattooed and registered — because he kept dumping his exercise jockeys. Breeding unknown and without papers, the three-year-old bay gelding was purchased at the sale by a local New Jersey family interested in the hunter/jumpers.
Enter Matthew Bryner, who was working as a rider in the area and recently relocated to a barn just down the road from Jak’s new owners. Matthew began giving the daughter of this family lessons on another horse and eventually they asked him to come look at the now 7-year-old Jak, who they called “kind of naughty” and had been out of work for the past few years. Reminiscent of his early days on the track, Jak had taken to dumping the daughter. A hunter he would not make.
“We put him in a pen and he trotted nicely so then we put him in an arena and set up a vertical with no guide rails and he trotted right over,” Matthew recalls. “He just seemed to like to jump and kind of did it on his own, so we kept putting the jumps up and he kept jumping in good form.”
Matthew saw that the horse had talent so he took him on, purchasing him inexpensively, and brought him to his own farm down the road … but Jak didn’t want to stay at Matthew’s farm at first.
“He kept jumping the fence and running back to his old farm!” laughs Matthew. “I had a Novice/ Training level jump in a four-board fence line and he kept getting over it. I used a tractor to put a big tree branch over the top of the jump, but he still got out, which means he jumped that four-board fence.”
Around the same time as Matt took the horse on, the song Some Nights by fun. was making waves on the radio and struck a chord with Matthew. The horse had always gone by the barn name ‘Jak,’ but without papers or a tattoo it was up to Matthew to bestow a registered show name upon him and Matthew settled on a line from the song.
“He was such a different style horse – the way he went and his quirkiness – that the lyric seemed to really fit him.”
Jak eventually settled into his new home, but he still maintained his naughty streak for a while yet.
“He kept dumping me on the trails,” Matthew remembers. “There was one time he dumped me on a dirt road two miles from home and I probably ran faster than I have before in my life because I was so afraid he’d get hurt by traffic, but he made it home and put himself back in his stall.”
“After that, I told him: ‘You need to stop being naughty because you’re talented enough to go to Kentucky.’”
It would appear that Jak listened to Matthew that day. While the pair still had to overcome some quirks at events: spooking at the first fence, running away with his jockey, and running out at corner combinations, for example. Jak began to figure out the job at hand once they begin running Preliminary, settling in to the routine of competition and seeking out the fences on course. Jak never incurred another cross country jump penalty with Matthew after that.
Matthew recalls a time where he brought Jak to Debbie Adams’ Flora Lea Farm for some schooling. Debbie watched him school for a while and offered to buy him on the spot, but Matthew wasn’t quite ready to part with the gelding yet.
“He was always a bit tricky on the flat and always a bit looky in the show jumping, so we always had to balance out the schooling leading up to an event, but when he was out schooling he would just jump anything — it was like it was in his breeding,” says Matthew.
Matthew went on to run two Advanced and two CCI3*-S with Jak before deciding it was time to offer him for sale. Justine Dutton and client Kat Cuca, a first-time upper-level horse owner who began riding as an adult in her thirties, took an interest in the horse. Kat didn’t set out to get involved in eventing when she began riding but fell into in thanks to the horse she was riding at the time and was soon hooked.
“I had fun supporting Justine at events, along with Patti Weiser who owned Justine’s upper-level horse Huck Finn so when someone said we should go see this horse, I figured let’s try it!” recalls Kat.
Matthew brought Jak over to Buck Davidson’s Chesterland Farm for Justine to try. Buck kept jacking up the jumps up … and Jak kept clearing the fences with ease. Buck gave Justine and Kat a straightforward recommendation: “Just buy the horse.”
“He was really nice and as genuine as the day is long. I just liked him,” recalls Buck. “I quite like Thoroughbreds, obviously. Jak came with a good attitude and was totally willing to learn, and if they’re willing to learn then they’re trainable. Thoroughbreds are so smart and willing and trainable. If you can explain things to them and encourage them then they’ll do anything for you.”
Kat certainly thought that Jak was plenty talented, and Jak seemed to turn on the charm to seal the deal.
“He stuck his head out of his stall and put it on my shoulder and I thought he was so sweet,” remembers Kat.
And so, over the next of couple years, Jak went on to be campaigned through the CCI4*-L level by Justine under Kat’s ownership, up until the Nations Cup at Great Meadows International CCI4*-S in 2017 when the pair came to grief at the final water and suffered a rotational fall.
Buck Davidson then took over the ride, and his first stop with Jak was a get-to-know-you ride in the Open Intermediate at Millbrook the following month, followed by the CCI4*-S at Plantation Field, the CCI4*-S at Morven Park with a second place finish and then finishing the 2017 season with the CCI4*-L at Fair Hill finishing 6th, which thrilled Kat.
Their 2018 season started out strong with a second place finish in the Advanced at Rocking Horse Winter II H.T. and Kat recalls that they were initially aiming the horse at Kentucky 2018, but something didn’t feel quite right in Jak after his first few runs of the season and they discovered a small ligament strain in one of his legs.
“It was nothing serious, not a tear, but it’s the kind of thing where you want to give them more time rather than hurry,” Buck explains. “If we had pressed him on then we would have been disappointed so we just let him chill out.”
Jak never showed a true unsoundness and despite not competing at any point during the remainder of 2018 he stayed in consistent work all year.
“It probably did him some good because he had some time to get stronger and fitter and get confirmed with the things he was doing,” Buck says.
Kat echoes the sentiment: “I really appreciate that Buck had Jak’s best interests in mind. Taking the time off was clearly the right thing to do because he’s so strong now since he never actually stopped working.”
Buck and Kat planned for Jak to have a slow start to the 2019 competition season, beginning with a run at Prelim and then at Intermediate before stepping back up to the Advanced level at the Carolina International CCI and H.T in March. With Jak feeling good, Buck had planned to let the horse really run and see what he could do in his first start at the Advanced level in over a year, but the ground there ended up being harder than expected so Buck decided to dial it back. The pair still finished strongly in seventh place at Carolina, but Buck wanted to get the horse out once more for a good run and took him to the Chattahoochee Hills H.T. earlier this month.
“We lucked out that at Chatt Hills the ground was perfect and he did it very, very easily,” says Buck.
Easily, indeed — with a double-clear show jumping round and the fastest time across country of the day, Buck and Jak earned the horse’s first blue ribbon at the Advanced level under Kat’s ownership. He even made some friends along the way: during a hold on course Buck brought Jak over to the ropes and let spectators pat him — a testament to how well Buck knows the horse and to the easy-going personality and love of attention that had blossomed with him.
“He might not be the one that everyone goes ‘Oo’ and ‘Ah’ over, but he’s a trier and he’s a competitor and he’s a super, super honest horse to ride and that’s all you can ask,” Buck said.
So honest, in fact, that Kat has even been able to ride Jak herself, with Buck’s encouragement — something she never expected to be able to do with an upper-level horse — taking him for trot sets and even having a few flat lessons on him.
The horse who was originally known for dumping his riders is now known for his great mind and love people, demanding cuddle time with the working students that feed him and turning Kat’s non-horsey husband, Roberto, into one of his biggest fans and supporters — so much so that Kat gifted him with an ownership share for Christmas 2017.
“Jak makes it known that he needs to be loved and he makes you pay attention to him in a good way,” said Kat. “That’s Jak’s personality — you can’t shake him. He makes you love him.”
Matthew certainly hasn’t been able to shake him; he’s remained one of Jak’s biggest fans. Matthew and Kat have stayed in touch ever since his sale and text each other whenever he has a good run. He’s thrilled that the horse who he credits for opening many doors for him in his equestrian career landed with a wonderful person who loves him so much.
And Kat is glad that Matthew has stayed in touch as well: “I’m really happy that everyone that has been involved in his life is still involved. That’s what I love about eventers — everyone stays in touch with their horse and are so excited for them. Eventers just love their horses and they’re really impressive. It’s been really really fun for me to be more involved in eventing and what it takes to go to the upper levels and I’ve also been able to bring my friends along to events and help them see how great eventing is.”
And the next stop for the unregistered Thoroughbred with the inauspicious start? The biggest event in the country, and Matthew says he can’t wait to stand at the ropes and cheer Jak, Buck, and Kat on.
“It doesn’t matter if he wins, loses, or doesn’t show jump,” said Matthew. “It’s just the fact that he’s made it there and proved himself. What’s important is the fact that he’s making people happy and now we get to enjoy the fact that he’s made it to Kentucky.”
Go Eventing and Go Jak!