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April 9, 2013

Brothers From Another Mother

Sparrow's Nio's win at open intermediate with Allie Blyskal at Southern Pines was just one victory for Grange Finn Sparrow offspring that weekend. Photo by Brant Gamma.

On the same weekend, two ponies by the same Connemara sire trucked around intermediate courses and won.

 While some experienced intermediate horses struggled to make time or get around the intermediate track at Poplar Place Horse Trials in Hamilton, Ga., on March 21-14, Sparrow’s Owen, a 15.1 hand Connemara-Appendix cross powered through the muddy going in his first time at the level. By the end of the weekend, he’d achieved the only double-clear cross-country round to win the intermediate rider division with Megan Harris.

Watch "Owen's" performance at Poplar Place...

That same weekend, 540 miles away, another Connemara cross by the same stallion, Sparrow’s Nio, was busy picking up an open intermediate win in similar conditions at the Southern Pines II Horse Trials in Raeford, N.C., with Allie Blyskal in the irons.

Both geldings are by *Grange Finn Sparrow (Coosheen Finn—Dun Sparrow, Carna Dunn), a Connemara bred by Lady Maria Levigne in Ireland, who competed successfully as a show jumper and hunter in both Europe and the United States before his death in 2010.

The stallion sired several advanced level eventers, including Windswept, Wil’Ya Love Me, Meadow Sparrow and Galway Blazer.

Sparrow's Owen has matured into a 
confident event horse for Megan Harris.
Photo by WNCPhoto

“Owen” and Sparrow’s Nio were both bred by Jennifer Jones of Lewisburg, W.Va. Six years ago, Jones asked Harris to take on Owen (Grange Finn Sparrow—Savings Carrie, Super Savings) as an unstarted 7-year-old project to sell. At the same time, Harris also bought a mare who was a full sibling to Blyskal’s “Nio.”

When the mare died in a pasture accident, Harris decided to keep Owen for herself.

Harris, who’s 5'3", brought him up through the levels, but it took some time for the now 13-year-old gelding to settle. “That particular bloodline is known for their bucks and their spins and their bolt. I wasn’t willing to set him up for failure, so I continued to take him to schooling shows until he could behave himself,” she said. “They’re pretty hot. They’re not your typical quiet, kick-around ponies. They’re really sensitive.”

At one point, Harris admitted she almost gave up on Owen and was considering just doing dressage, but once she tried foxhunting him, his opinion on jumping changed. “He learned to gallop and jump in the field and decided that going across country at speed wasn't so bad after all! He’s hunted on and off the last four years and helped me earn my colors with our club, the Bear Creek Hounds,” she said.

Harris was a little tentative before heading out on cross-country at Poplar Place, but her coach, Julie Richards, told her to go out and see how it went. “He never batted an eye or missed a step. We had never even made time at preliminary at that venue, but he just clocked around, and I let him gallop. He obviously likes the mud,” said Harris, 29.

Harris is a big fan of Connemaras and runs Fade To Grey Farm with her husband, Lee, specializing in breeding horses from the *Grange Finn Sparrow line for use in several disciplines. She currently has three mares from the line that she’s using in her program. Her mother, Nancy Buchanan, operates another Connemara breeding facility, Brambleridge Farm in Fayetteville, Ga.

For Blyskal, her experience with her first Connemara turned her onto the breed. She competed to the two-star level with Briar Fox Mundungus (Grange Finn Sparrow—Savings Carrie, Super Savings), a full sibling to Sparrow’s Owen, before he was struck and killed by lightning in 2010.

Blyskal, 22, found Sparrow’s Nio (Grange Finn Sparrow—JB), a Connemara-Thoroughbred cross, that same spring and started his eventing career. “I always laugh because I’m 5'10" and he’s 15.3. You wouldn’t think to put those two together, but he’s so big-bodied, and I don’t really feel that big on him,” she said. “He’s definitely like all the Connemaras. He’s got that ponytude. If you can channel that, he’s awesome.”

The pair have moved up the levels steadily and are now in their second season at intermediate. They completed the Dansko Fair Hill CCI** (Md.) last fall, which Blyskal, Landenberg, Pa., views as a huge accomplishment in her eventing career.

She’s currently a working student for Sara Kozumplik and Brian Murphy and hopes to move up to advanced with Nio this summer. “They have such a cocky, big horse attitude even though they’re tiny ponies. On cross-country they just have such a drive and such a will to do it. They love what they do, and it’s such a pleasure to be along for the ride,” she said.

 
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