By Hope Holland
Sometimes making a splash in the eventing world is not a good thing. The way that Alexandra Curtiss and her horse, Pumpernickel made a splash in the MCTA year end standings for 2003 was definitely a good thing.
Between s. Curtiss and her horse they managed to sew up the year end awards for not only the Col. Ott Schaurek Memorial Trophy and the Equiery Trophy for Training Level Champion, but also to garner the Horse of the Year title for Pumpernickel.
This is particularly nice as Pumpernickel is a homebred out of Peaches, a Thoroughbred mare owned by Alex’s mom, and is by Lisa Reid’s big halfbred stallion, BFF Incognito. In fact, Alex not only witnessed Pumpernickel’s birth but also (after the huge youngster was started under saddle by Lisa Reid for a couple months) has been Pumpernickel’s primary rider/trainer.
“I’m pretty sure that mom did not want to watch her 12 year old daughter green breaking even a very nice 17 hand two-year-old,” admits Alex with amusement lacing her voice.
It is even more impressive to learn that this is a comparatively young pair of competitors, as Alex was only 15 when she achieved her wins in 2003 and Pumpernickel was barely 6. Of course, Alex and her horse owe much to good coaching, with kudos going to both Gretchen Butts and Rumsey Keefe as mentors for cross country work and to Cathy Wilson for dressage training.
Pumpernickel, a bay gelding, has finished his growth at 17.2h. He was most of that size when Alex started him in the hunt field when he was merely a 3 year old and then whipped-in off him when he was a 4 year old. It takes a special kind of youngster to have the steadiness to become a field hunter at those tender ages and Pumpernickel has that good attitude in spades according to his young rider.
“He is just so calm and has such a wonderful attitude,” Alex confides about her horse. Of course, it is not much of a secret in the family that Pumpernickel is a puppy dog in a large horse suit.
Alex’s Dad often is tagged to come to the events as primary helper for Alex. Mr. Curtiss is not an experienced horse hand by choice, but from a caring heart for his child. It behooves that child to have a nice horse for what is basically a non-horse dad to hold for her, particularly when the horse achieves the height and breadth that goes with all 17.2 of himself. Pumpernickel is that horse. Of course, he probably feels a special bond with Mr. Curtiss for giving him his name, which does go nicely with a big round brownish sort of horse.
Besides being a nice fellow and a large one, Pumpernickel is definitely an accomplished horse. He and Alex not only competed in Maryland last year but also went outside the state to Radnor, when they were first in the Training Division and to the U.S. Pony Club Championships and Lexington, VA, where they had the best score at Training Level.
A fox chaser since the age of five or so, who hunted steadily until the age of 10 when she left the hunt field to refine her riding on a wonderful pony her mother found for her, Alex admits to being frustrated at first at having to drop back to train a young horse.
“It seemed that all of my friends were moving on in their riding while I was doing all the basic work with Pumpernickel to train him. They seemed to be making just a lot more of their of riding than I was at the time. I realize now that he needed that time to consolidate what he was learning under saddle on the flat. Because of the hunting, he had a natural ability to go cross country and he never had a problem with the jumping there,” Alex says.
Always one to keep her mind on the goal, Alex is as determined at other aspects in her life as she is with her eventing. A young lady with an eye on a veterinary career, she is keeping a 3.7/3.8 grade average at Glenelg Country School, where she takes honors classes and competes with the field hockey, basketball and lacrosse teams.
Pumpernickel has more than made up for keeping his rider from keeping up with her friends. “It is nice now to be able to go on to the Preliminary Division with its larger fences and more demanding flat work, explains Alex. “It was time to move up. I know that we have the key now to move forward together and, with a horse like Pumpernickel, I know that I can depend on him to work with me because this is something we have done together, you know. In fact, I think that the nicest part of all this is that I did it with a horse that I am so close to—one that I even saw being born right here on the farm. He is a wonderful horse and we have a great relationship: we know that we can trust one another.”