The well-rounded show hunter from Washington lives life to the fullest in the ring and out of it.
There aren’t many USHJA International Hunter Derby winners who spend their winters trail riding in the woods and galloping on the beach, but Maple lives his life just a bit differently than the typical show horse.
During the spring and summer show season, he’s in training with Philippa Fraser at Side By Side Farm in Aurora, Ore., and shows consistently. But when the cooler weather rolls in, he goes home to Vancouver, Wash., with owner Martha Howe Crowley and takes on the role of family horse.
“He goes out in a field with other horses and lives like a horse,” Crowley said. “He can be spooky and very high when it’s cold, so a couple of years ago, I thought, ‘We can ride all winter and be frustrated, or we can just skip that.’ So we just skip that. We do groundwork and we trail ride. We go for canters on the beach and do all kinds of things.”
The cross-training has paid off in spades, as Fraser and Maple cantered to the top of the $10,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby at the Country Classic in Wilsonville, Ore., on July 15. Fraser and the 9-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Don Larino—Violina) won both the classic and the handy rounds on the way to the top check.
“He’s a pretty well-rounded guy, and that’s because of Martha,” Fraser said. “He’s a total real horse. It’s been a little bit of a process, but I think all the things she’s done with him, as far as taking him trail riding and to the beach, have contributed to making him so good in the show ring. If he’d just been kept in a show program fulltime and rushed, I don’t think he ever would have turned out so nice. It certainly helped develop him as a young horse.”
Crowley bought Maple in the spring of 2008, after he’d spent a few months showing at the HITS Desert Circuit (Calif.) in the first year green and green conformation divisions. She started out showing him in the adult amateur hunter and adult equitation classes, then in the summer of 2009, she moved Maple up to the amateur-owner division. Crowley and Maple joined forces with Fraser in early 2010, and Fraser campaigned Maple in the second year green division while Crowley continued to show in the amateurs.
Maple’s show schedule is light—he showed at five shows in 2010 and just twice in 2011. Crowley’s daughter, Lurana, 16, also shows, and Fraser said the family chooses to focus their limited budget on Lurana’s showing.
“She sends Lurana everywhere and is super supportive, but it’s tough to take both of them everywhere. Maple gets to go to the next show because he won some prize money, though!” Fraser said. At the Country Classic, Maple was reserve champion in the conformation division with Fraser and amateur-owner hunter champion with Martha.
Maple and Fraser competed in their first USHJA International Hunter Derby in late June, at the Early Summer Classic in Wilsonville. They didn’t place, but Fraser got to see that the derby format suits Maple.
“Between the last derby and this derby, we hadn’t jumped any 4'3" stuff, so at home, we jumped him over some spooky verticals with no ground lines and bigger oxers. He just kind of said, ‘I know how to do that,’ so I felt confident doing most of the big options in the class, and he didn’t touch a thing,” Fraser said.
“In the handy, there was one pretty tight inside turn to an option fence. The inside turn left you with just two strides to the high option. I think down the road I will definitely do those kinds of things with him, but I thought, ‘OK, he’s been so super, and I don’t want to shake his confidence.’ So, we jumped the smaller option there. But he jumped it as high as the high option,” she said.
Keeping Maple confident is the key to his success, Fraser said. “He’s always been a bit of a skeptical and spooky kind of horse, but that’s never really bothered Martha or me. We’re just on his page and able to go as slow as he needs to go,” she said. “We both have a really good chemistry with that horse, which makes it really easy for him to get better and better.”
Martha’s strategy to keep Maple’s life simple and easy comes from her early days. “I grew up riding and showing, but my mother required that my horses get turned out for two months every year. And so I try to stick them in a field for at least a month, if not more,” Martha said.
Now 54, Martha grew up in Iowa and spent time in Virginia in her teenage years, working for amateur rider Maggie Moss and riding with Bucky Reynolds. “I didn’t foxhunt much. We were showing, but we spent a lot of time hacking out on the hills all day long,” she recalled.
By the time she was in her early 20s, allergy-induced asthma caused her to hang up her tack. It wasn’t until 27 years later that she started to ride again.
“By the time I was 49, the medication had gotten so much better, and my allergies really decreased,” Martha said. “A very good friend of mine had a farm, and our kids ended up at the same school, so she kept encouraging me to ride. I went on a trail ride once and got my daughter into her beginner lesson program. She finally put me on one of her daughter’s junior hunters and sent me around, and a year later I bought a horse and down the slippery slope I went.”
If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing. The original version of "Maple Goes From Beach Gallops To Derby Win At Country Classic" ran in the Aug. 6, 2012, USHJA Hunter Derby Finals Preview issue. Check out the table of contents to see what great stories are in the magazine this week.