Valerie Vizcarrondo Pride never thought she would be 40 and doing her first five-star. It doesn’t seem that long ago – but all at once also feels like a lifetime ago – that a younger Valerie was hip-deep in the sport, working with Karen O’Connor and planning out her life full of top-level horses and accomplishments.
But of course, with horses life hardly ever goes to plan. And it’s why Valerie now carries an overwhelming sense of pure gratitude for both her horse of a lifetime, Favian, as well as for the opportunity, after all these years, to finally make her debut at the top level of the sport.
It wasn’t for lack of trying that Valerie hasn’t quite made it to the level yet. She’s had a handful of other horses come up to the Intermediate and Advanced level, but whether it was the necessity of sales, injuries or simply that the most difficult level was just out of reach for these horses, she came up short on her biggest goals. So when she met the 16.2-hand Oldenburg gelding, Favian, she felt she was looking at a real chance at a clean slate.
Favian is a U.S.-bred horse out of Anita Nardine’s Hidden Springs Ranch in Mountain Center, Ca., and was originally campaigned in his eventing infancy by Tamie Smith and Heather Morris. Valerie, who had saved her dollars with every sale she’d had to make to keep her business going, was finally ready to purchase a horse for herself.
“I was looking for a while, all up and down the East coast, and just hadn’t found anything. A friend of mine, Liza Horan, was in California and I asked her to keep an eye out for a horse out that way,” Valerie recalled. “The next day, she called and told me about Favian. He was still owned by (breeder Anita Nardine) and had been with Tamie and Heather to that point.”
It was a whirlwind of a shopping trip as Valerie soon found herself hopping a plane to California for just about 24 hours – just enough time to take Favian for a spin, talk it out over lunch, and decide that she’d indeed found the horse she wanted to partner with.
With the help of longtime supporter Elizabeth Bonner, who also owns Sudley Farm where Valerie’s Blue Clover Eventing bases, Valerie and “Faves” officially began their partnership in 2016, methodically moving through the levels as they got to know each other better before making their debut at Advanced together in 2019. Favian is a cross country-loving horse, made evident by his record, which shows just two shows ever with cross country jump penalties. It’s given Valerie the feeling she’s always craved in a top partner, and she’s feeling keen to get the upcoming week underway.
It can be challenging for riders limited in the number of upper level horses in their string to stay sharp and in good practice. Unlike some of her counterparts, Valerie doesn’t have a large number of horses in her program. Running Blue Clover Eventing, just outside of Annapolis, Md., Valerie prefers to keep her program on the smaller side. What helps her get as much practice as she can? Her side gig as an “S” certified National judge and a Level 2 FEI dressage judge, which allows her to judge through the Advanced and CCI4* levels. She’s also in the process of obtaining her FEI Level 3 certification, which will give her the opportunity to judge at the five-star level.
“Having the chance to judge so many horses competing at the Advanced and four star level has been really helpful for me, only having the one horse going at the level,” Valerie said. She credits Marilyn Payne and Linda Zang, both longtime mentors, as her inspiration for becoming a judge. “I kind of realized I wouldn’t be able to ride forever, so I wanted to find something I could do for a long time.”
These days, Valerie can typically be found alternating weekends between competing Favian, taking out her younger horses and flitting away for judging gigs. It’s a true art, this juggling that the professional rider must perform in order to make all of the ends meet. But Valerie does it all without complaint, accepting of the fact that life’s best rewards require some hustle.
“At Kentucky, I will just be super grateful to be there,” she said. “This is as close as I have ever been. Everyone has their own path, and I’ve had a lot of nice horses on the way. It feels really good to be here, on a horse I own.”
Not the bloodiest horse in the field, Valerie’s been working hard to tailor Favian’s fitness program, relying on the use of a heart rate monitor to keep a keen eye on his condition. She spent a good portion of the pandemic year working on speed as well as fine-tuning the dressage and show jumping. Most recently, the pair finished in the top 20 in the CCI4*-S at The Fork at Tryon International.
Valerie says she’s feeling prepared and confident – ready to get the show on the road, really, as Kentucky hurtles toward us. Favian, who on the other hand doesn’t love traveling to away shows, will be attending Kentucky with his mini companion, Theodore, in tow. “Unlike most of the other horses, (Theodore) earns his keep!” Valerie laughed. “When Favian comes back from a ride he trots up to the stall whinnying for Theodore, who is typically glued to the front of the stall door with his little mini nose plastered into the grates awaiting Favian’s return. It is so pathetic it will melt your heart.”
Hey, whatever helps you perform your best, buddy – no judgement here. We look forward to following Valerie and Favian during their debut this week! Stay tuned for much more from Kentucky. Go Eventing.