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Starting Over: Leading Amateurs Build Partnerships with New Horses

Most highly successful equestrians are driven and always up for new challenges. We talked to amateurs that are starting over this year with new horses. Some of them will be debuting at the Arizona Sun Circuit. GoHorseShow sat down with Mackenzie Preston, Jamie DeVencenty, Jennifer D’Onofrio, Vanessa Froman, Carey Nowacek, Lauren Stanley, and Nicole Barnes. 

These top riders have been highly successful with their former partners and are now starting over with new horses. Many of these talented ladies have taken green horses and finished them to go on and become Congress and World Champions. Let’s find out why they chose this new formidable challenge for 2022 and what advice they may have for riders wanting to start over with a new horse.

Starting Over

Mackenzie Preston, largely known for owning multiple APHA World Champion Brokers Lucky Kid, has a new partner this year – Dirtie Money, a four-year-old stallion by RL Best Of Sudden and out of Zippos Good Image. This team is under the guidance of Sara Simons.

“We enjoy starting over with a green horse. It allows us to help develop new horses in the industry. Although, as a non-pro, a challenge I have is waiting for my trainer to tell me my horse is ready for me to show, trusting the process is challenging but rewarding in the end.”

Jamie DeVencenty, who jokingly says she is mainly known as the mother of her daughter Natalia, is also looking forward to showing a new horse this year. 

“I have actually loved starting over with a new horse that nobody really knows, and I can make my own. When I was showing Chex Is The Choice, Kelly and Natalia were just sure I was going to mess him up, so they warmed him up, and I just jumped on to show,” Jamie shared. “It finally became time to find myself a new ride and let Chex enjoy retirement. So we flew out to Christa Baldwin’s and tried out The Only Deal. I was instantly in love. Kelly has a talent for putting teams together, and he did not disappoint in finding Damon. He has been the perfect fit, and I feel nowhere the pressure when I step into the ring. He is a little bit younger and not as experienced, so that has been the most challenging because I have had to step up my riding game a lot, but I couldn’t love him more.”

Jennifer D’Onofrio, who, like Jamie, has jumped in and started to show along with her daughter, has a new three-year-old hunter under saddle horse, Good As Ever, “I do like the excitement of starting over. I have a tough time selling them, but you can’t keep them all. So having a time frame and plan really helps me prepare myself for parting with them. I love watching videos on social media and picking ones that have something special.”

Vanessa Froman has a new horse this year, Its All Good Man, saying that she is sure that her son Colin is glad he doesn’t have to share horses anymore. “Starting over with new horses has taught me a lot about what type of horse matches best with my personality and riding style. I’ve learned that, no matter what horse you start over with, you will have good shows and bad shows, but if you truly love this sport, you will keep pushing to get all the stars to align and to improve yourself.”

AQHA World Show All-Around Amateur Lauren Stanley has two new horses this year – Willy Worth It and One Hot Chilly Willy. She recently sold her horse, multiple AQHA World Champion Extremely Good Stuff, to Miranda Mitten. “I was blessed to accomplish every goal I set out to with my previous show partner. He taught me so much about the process of bringing a young horse along in this industry, and I felt it was time for him to make someone else’s dreams come true. I wanted to see if I could reach another horse to compete at the same level.”

Carey Nowacek and her new horse Dont Kare Im Blazin, will be showing in Arizona. “I love starting over with green horses because it challenges me in different ways. Not every horse is the same. Some pick up the new events quickly, some are slower learners, and some might not fit the events I like at all. That is probably the biggest challenge, not treating every horse the same.I think it is hard to really get to know each horse and figure out their strengths and weaknesses and use that to further their education.”

And finally, Nicole Barnes, who is an expert when it comes to taking a green horse and turning it into a champion. Her new partner for this year is Its Tool Time. “Having been showing horses since I was a child, I’ve had the great fortune of showing several talented horses throughout the years. Starting over with a green horse is like being a painter with a blank canvas – the options are limitless. My goals are to be able to take that blank canvas and develop it into something beautiful for both myself and others to enjoy.”

Limelight & Pressure

Top champions know that there will be high expectations for them to do as well as they did with their prior horses. Also, most have to come to terms with not being in the limelight for the first few years of their new partnerships.

“I definitely feel pressure to do well with our horses, but that is any horse that we own,” Preston reflects. “Once you have been successful, there is almost always pressure I put on myself to be once again successful.”

DeVencenty explains her experience. “Fortunately, I feel less pressure because he’s 100% mine, and I feel like I don’t have to fill Natalia’s or Chex’s shoes. So I can go out there and win, lose, or draw. It’s my circus and my monkey.”

Froman says that she definitely doesn’t show horses for attention. “ I absolutely feel pressure every time I walk in the pen,” Vanessa says. “However, for me, it doesn’t come so much from external forces as much as from myself. I’m my biggest competition. I love the thrill of when the pieces all come together in the show pen for us, and we can put down our personal best performances each time we head out there.  That’s what keeps me coming back, weekend after weekend. “

“The hardest part is altering my show schedule to fit the young horse’s needs,” Stanley told us. “They need to go to more local shows to build their confidence. I am more progress-oriented than judgment-oriented, so my personality fits the young horse process. If we don’t place well, but my horse gave me all he could at that point in his training, I’m happy with him and even more excited to go home and have something to work on.”

Nowacek agrees, “It is difficult to change your mindset from winning over the loudspeaker to winning small goals you have set for yourself and your horse. Of course, I love to win and am always striving for that, but I must remind myself that those wins will come if you really trust the process and teach the horse before trying to win. “

Barnes adds, “I would be lying if I didn’t say that I like to win. Isn’t that why we all pay entry fees? To be judged and rewarded? But, being in the limelight and winning don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. To hear the applause outside the show pen means just as much as a trophy. A horse trainer telling me he likes my new horse or that I’m making another great prospect or selling that horse to another deserving non-pro, means just as much as being in the limelight.”

Advice for Others

Many of these amateurs have great advice for others wanting to start over with a new horse. For example, D’Onofrio states, “My advice is to be patient and trust your trainer. I enjoy spending time with the young ones. Even if they get to come to a show, but aren’t showing, you can still bond with them and spend time with your horse. Flexibility is also important. It’s good to have a plan, but with the young ones, they often dictate the pace at how quickly a training program can progress, and when you need to wait on them to grow and get stronger.” 

Preston echos D’Onofrio, “By taking a step back, I can watch and learn from our trainer, Sara Simons, as she teaches our horse new events. Watching her helps me better prepare for when I get to swing a leg over. Also, riding a young horse has taught me lots of patience. There is a whole process of learning to ride a green horse as a non-pro rider. We both are learning simultaneously and my actions are now contributing more to his learning than if he were finished.”

Nowacek adds, “My best advice for someone wanting to show an unfinished horse would be to be able to take a joke and to be okay with not always having a great run. It’s a process, and there will be more times than not that you will not be great. So, take your time and remember, one day it will be great if you trust yourself, your horse trainer, and your horse.”

“If it’s something you want to try your hand at, absolutely try it! But know your limits and restrictions and be willing to wait,” Barnes states. “Owning that in a young horse is key. Knowing that each horse is different and being able to mold your training to match their abilities will go a long way.”

DeVencenty wisely asserts, “It’s amazing what a horse will endure and go through to satisfy a human being. Owning one of these incredible animals and being a part of this sport is truly a gift from God…it’s an honor and a blessing I don’t take for granted.”