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“When I was a kid, I definitely had the horse gene and I was also inspired by the movie International Velvet!” says Jennifer Wooten. “So when I was 9, my mother thought she’d better enroll me in Pony Club. I loved this so much that I got into three-day eventing, which consists of dressage, cross country and show jumping. By 12, I was the horse manager for the combined training team.”

How can a little girl (she is still a wisp of a woman) be brave enough to participate in this daunting sport? “I loved jumping, because there was this exhilarating feeling of freedom when I was flying through the air on my pony. It was just so much fun!”

By the time she was 16, she had decided to focus on her dream and to make this her career. But there were endless obstacles to overcome. “You learn a lot about yourself in the process of becoming an upper-level rider,” she says. “You have to clearly identify your personal traits. Are you tough and determined? Are you a hard worker? Do you have the ambition to completely follow through?”

Additional challenges included the considerable cost of the horse, the endless competitions and the many other expenses. At first I would pull into a show with a client’s horses and groom, clean, show and haul them home. I loved it but I would really be exhausted by the end of the show. I really enjoyed showing and training Paul and Tina McEnroe’s fine warmbloods, but it was hard work.”

How about the best breeds for eventing? “It’s really about the individual horse, but my horses have been primarily Thoroughbred and Warmbloods. Other successful horses I’ve seen are some of the crosses like Arab, Quarter Horse or the Irish Connemara. The unique thing about this sport is that it is really about the horse’s mind!

“Having a horse with a trainable mind that really understands each phase of the competition is essential for success. All three of the disciplines are so different, so you really need an intelligent horse. One that can assimilate the training program, one that is very athletic, and a horse with the right mind set. They need to wear three different hats, in a way. I would take a less talented horse that has an extremely good work ethic over a talented horse with a crummy work ethic. Mentally they need to have a thirst for learning and then enjoy it. When they are enjoying it, their ears are pricked, their eyes are soft and you can tell they’re enjoying themselves.

“At a competition, when you are in the 10-minute start box waiting to go, the horses that love it are prancing around with their eyes on that first jump. In dressage you need a horse that has good movement, control and work ethic. In cross country you need the boldness, and a horse that loves to gallop. In the stadium jumping, you need a horse that will be obedient, be careful and use their refined skills.

“Compatibility between horse and rider is huge for eventing. It’s a partnership and almost like a love affair. I have traveled over more country with this Irish Thoroughbred, The Good Witch, than with any human. I feel extremely blessed because it is very uncommon for a horse and rider to be able to compete together for nine years in so many 4-star competitions. They are very physically and mentally demanding.”

Another amazing aspect of their partnership is that they have never had down time for an injury, which speaks very well for her care. Jennifer tells me that Don and Daisy Tognazzini bought this horse in Ireland, but that she was not Jennifer’s first choice. The dark bay horse is only 15.2 hands, and when she met Jennifer, she pinned back her ears and tried to bite her. When Jennifer climbed aboard, she tried to buck her off.

“However,” says Jennifer, “I could tell she had the ingredients to be a great athlete. She was very confident, very opinionated and very light on her feet – almost like a deer jumping. But it took a full year for us to become close friends.”

The Tognazzini’s have known Jennifer since she was a child and have been her wonderful supporters. But due to the large expenses, a rider really needs to get additional sponsors.

“Last year, I was on the short list for the Olympics. I was very disappointed to not make the team, but I had taken one of my rare falls and was disqualified. But that’s in the past and I am about to leave for England to compete in the Badminton which is the most prestigious 4-star, three-day event in the world. I am one of five Americans, out of 130 entries, that was accepted. Badminton is tougher than the Rolex or the Olympics. This is my journey!