Rider Connect from Bit of Britain: Robyn Hardy

 

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Rider Connect from Bit of Britain: Robyn Hardy

Today’s featured rider is Robyn Hardy, a U.S. Marine who has produced numerous OTTBs and is now working her way up the levels with her warmblood mare.

If you would like to be featured in Rider Connect, email me.

 

Get to know Robyn, her horses and her story

I am a 39-year-old amateur, originally from WI. I currently live on a little 16-acre farm in Milton, FL. I started riding “English” when I was 14 and rode mostly Quarter Horses showing at local shows. I was 16 when I went to my first horse trails with Leslie Chelstrom as her groom in TN. I can still remember the first time I saw cross-country. Even at 16, it brought tears to my eyes and I absolutely knew without a doubt, one day, I was going to be an eventer. I purchased multiple OTTB’s throughout the years and they each taught me so much. I joined the USMC at the age of 21, but just didn’t quite make enough money to have my horse and compete it, much less take lessons. I got stationed in Japan and met my ex-husband and continued riding in Okinawa for three years, but still not able to event. I got married in 2004 to a USAF ParaRescue guy and left the USMC behind. When we got stationed in Tucson, AZ, I finally thought, now I’ll be able to event.

I started riding with Manuela Propfe with a OTTB mare, Greta. My first recognized horse trials was in Romona, CA at Copper Meadows. As life would have it, my husband at the time started deploying and my focus had to change to focus on my kids and so my dream was pushed to the side. We moved to the Panhandle of FL in 2008. Greta was then diagnosed with navicular. I then pulled another Thoroughbred off the track from out of CA. I got him to a point where he was ready to compete and we did a schooling show at Rocking Horse where I met the two people who would change my horse life forever. Dean Graham and Megan Fischer-Graham immediately offered me guidance and friendship. Over the next few years, I trailered back and forth from the Panhandle to Dean and Megan getting lessons. These two people offered the perfect package with Megan’s expertise in dressage and Dean conquering any jumping issues I may have.

It was in 2010 I met the next person who would forever alter my thoughts on dressage. In 2010, Jodie Kelly came to the USAF base we were stationed at to teach. I couldn’t quite afford weekly lessons with her so I offered my stall cleaning/grooming 😉 services if she ever needed help in exchange for lessons. At that time Jodie was riding nights with the FL heat. I would get my son fed and bathed and ready for bed and then drive to her place and groom for her til 1-2:00 in the am and then Jodie would let me crash on her couch and get up and clean her 30 stall barn in exchange for lessons. We did this for a couple of years and became the best of friends in the process. She showed me why we ride circles for days. She offered me her retired Prix St George horse to ride. I found a strange appreciation for dressage and finally realized why it’s the first phase of three. As my dressage improved, my jumping became a piece of cake. “You’re only jumping when you’re in the air, the rest is dressage,” is what she would tell me.

As we transferred to Tampa, Jodie traveled to see my first ever Training level and I continued to drive up to Tallahassee to meet her halfway at Carol Dover’s farm to continue to work on my dressage. With my ex-husband’s multiple surgeries and kids, my dream of Rolex seemed so far-fetched, but I kept pressing on. I rode with Leah Khorsandian down in Tampa to help with stadium and Dean for my cross-country.

When we got stationed in Colorado, I had hopes of hitting the ground running, however, my horse, On My Six (Rex) hated the elevation and became rather difficult. It was in Colorado that I met Lauren Akers. This hard-working young lady babysat for my son, Tyler (you’ll see later where she plays a HUGE role). I rode with Janet Foy weekly, however, at the point where we thought we were ready for a ht, life took over yet again. My ex was diagnosed with PTSD and with the multiple traumatic brain injuries, he was institutionalized and my riding took a back seat to caring for my family and him. My horse became my therapy more then than ever. My neurotic Thoroughbred became my sanity with working 40+ hours a week, caring for my kids, and trying to help my husband hold on to his mental stability. It wasn’t long before we came back to the Panhandle and our military life came to an end with his retirement. FINALLY, I thought this it, now it’s MY time. Now, I can truly focus on my dream. With the trip back to FL, at one of our stops, Rex took a bad step in a paddock and tore a deep digital flexor tendon. I was so discouraged!!! With Rex off for a minimum of six months, I pulled yet another Thoroughbred off the track, this time from Belterra Park. His name was Semper Fidelis (Evan). He too was a little quirky but had all the ability to at least do a two-star. Again, riding with Jodie Kelly, doing my jumping with Dean and clinicing with Lucinda Green, we got the horse going Training level, but his trot was truly horrific and I just couldn’t quite put all the phases together to be successful.

The horse I have now… I had just finished dinner and I received a phone call from Megan Fischer-Graham and she told me that she had a horse that her and Dean wanted me to have… In my mind, I knew I could never afford a horse out of their barn and I sort of chuckled at her. She told me it was a horse that Dean had bred to be an upper-level horse for him. Dean had broken his back years prior and didn’t anticipate at that time competing at the upper-levels. Her name was Inga and she was sired by a Dutch jumper stallion, named Richard out of a Holsteiner mare they owned. Without hesitation, I agreed. I hadn’t even seen her, but I trusted them implicitly. Dean started her and put 90 days in on her while I sent Evan down to Lauren Akers (who moved to FL from CO) who was working for Sinead Halpin and Tik. Lauren filled the holes in Evan’s training and offered the exposure he needed to find the right home for him. Without Lauren, I would’ve never been able to continue with Inga’s training.

 


 

Once Inga came home, I never realized the challenges I would face having an opinionated warmblood mare. It took Jodie coming home from Wellington to scold me and remind me that if I didn’t make friends with this horse and stop bullying her around like my TB geldings, I was going to ruin her. With a heavy heart, I took my friends advice and drove home that day not having a clue “how to make friends” with a horse I had no history with. Jodie told me to play with her. I was so confused, what did that even mean. I just wanted to get on and ride. Play with her??? It was such a foreign concept. I took Inga home, Jodie went back to Wellington and I spent the next 3 weeks not riding her, but rather hanging out with her in the field, having her chase me, bouncing around, grooming her, etc, etc. When I finally did get back in the tack, I started having conversations with her, instead of just riding her. I learned very quickly to respect the power underneath me, as when this bucked, I ended up in her ears whereas before when my Thoroughbreds bucked, I would chuckle and think “silly horse”. Her jump was massive, her gaits took an active seat that was so foreign to me. When I took her to schooling shows, she would meander out of the start box, she would stop at fences to poop, and stroll through the water, taking a drink while she walked through (most embarrassing moment ever). I wondered if she’d ever take this job seriously. This horse has changed me as a rider more than any. Over the last six weeks, I have ran her Beginner Novice at Fleur de Leap, where she went clear on cross-country for the first time and came out of the box on a mission. We then did a schooling show at Novice and then went to Rocking Horse and had the best dressage score to date at Novice. I’ve never been in the ribbons at a horse trial and last weekend we came home with a 2nd place ribbon.

My most triumphant moment is yet to come. We are just getting started and the future with Inga is unknown, but I sure am excited for what is to come.

The rest of this year is going to be spent training. We are doing the Doug Payne clinic in December in LA and further establishing the foundation needed for Training level. I’m planning on doing a couple more schooling shows at Poplar at Training Level and then finishing Spring 2019 out with two horse trials at Training Level. I have been conditioned to not plan too much as only God knows what tomorrow will bring.

As I’m approaching 40, doing a four-star is not “the dream” anymore, my dream has become “getting in the box”. Every time I get in that box, I’m living the dream. At this point in my life, I wonder if I’ll still have the nerve required to ride at the upper-levels.

There are so many people that have helped me along the way. Leslie Chelstrom to this day still doesn’t know the impact she had by dragging a kid down to TN. I would’ve never experienced the world of Eventing without her and I’ve never been able to thank her. Manuela Propfe taught me so much about the horse required for eventing. Dean Graham came out to Rocking Horse and coached me after not seeing us for a year. Dean Graham and his beautiful wife, Megan offered a random amateur the chance at a dream. Their breeding program created a remarkable mare that is so versatile, their training program established a strong base that has been built on, and their lesson program created a foundation that I ride with every day. Jodie Kelly, well…. this professional has gone above and beyond every time to help me chase my dream. She has set her life and her dream of riding for the Team aside on multiple occasions. Lauren Akers is a young lady chasing the dream herself and even after working 18 hour days found the time and energy to ride Evan. This young lady put her heart into helping me find a home for Evan. These three professionals and Lauren(still has an amateur status) got me exactly where I am today. They didn’t do it for money, they didn’t do it to benefit their riding careers, they did it because they cared about a random amateur with a dream. My parents and stepmom consistently are babysitting my son and my farm so I can hit the road and chase the dream. I couldn’t do it without them.

Best of luck next year Robyn! 

 

If you would like to be featured in Rider Connect, email me

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