Molly Curtiss and Savannah: Continuing a Dynasty
For the past twelve years, The Equiery has sponsored a trophy through the Maryland Combined Training Association for the horse and rider with the most points at the Training Level obtained at Maryland U.S. Eventing Association recognized shows.
With the 2007 winners, Molly Curtiss and her horse Savannah, a dynasty has been established. Although Molly may be a part of this dynasty as the younger sister to the 2003 winner Alex Curtiss, she is her own woman and is quick to remind anyone of it. The dynasty does not stop there, Molly achieved her victory on Savannah, the half sister to Pumpernickel, sister Alex’s horse, and both horses are by BFF Incognito, a Clydesdale/Thoroughbred cross, who was The Equiery Trophy’s reserve champion in 1999.
The 16-year-old Glenelg Country School student has been riding since she was five-years-old as part of a family of foxchasing ladies, an interest first introduced by her mom Gayle. Molly jokes that her father Jim is not “a horse person, but he’ll hold them for you. He can get the bridle off and put on the halter. He’s very supportive, and he does the filming!”
Molly admits that she eventually followed her sister into eventing, but she still loves to go foxchasing. In fact, she’s now riding Pumpernickel and one of his full brothers out in the hunt field, reserving Savannah for competitions only. Molly finds that foxchasing helps with cross country. “It helps with quick decisions. Everything is natural, you go everywhere over all types of jumps. It helps with being more comfortable on cross country and adjusting to things.”
Though she spends the winters foxchasing, Molly sees eventing as her competitive niche. “I like the fact that it’s three phases,” she says. “Each event is different, not the same course over again. I don’t think I could just do show jumping or dressage. I have to have all three!” In her spare time, she has also managed to get her C3 Pony Club rating as a Howard County Pony Club member, and is planning on testing for her B this summer.
Competing seriously has become a family affair, and Molly is grateful for her family’s support. “My mom drives me all over Maryland and Virginia for events.” Last summer, they loaded up the trailer and went to Kentucky for Pony Club Nationals where they competed as part of the Capital Region’s Training Level event team. If Molly’s dad is the official horse holder at events, her mom is Molly’s rock. “She is so supportive and helps me figure out how and what to do.” Molly’s also quick to point out her sister’s role within the support system: “My sister pushes me a lot.” For Molly, family is everything, “I couldn’t do it without them.”
The Right Horse
How does a teenager make the leap from dabbling in foxchasing, pony club, eventing, and a few other things to becoming a serious competitor? Maybe it has something to do with the right horse. A horse first intended for Gayle to hunt.
Since Gayle already knew that she liked draft crosses, having produced Pumpernickel out of her Thoroughbred mare Peaches, Gayle went to Lisa Reid of Black Fox Farm, home of Pumpernickel’s sire BFF Incognito, to look for her next “right horse.” She had Molly try a five-year-old mare that was for sale. Lisa recalls that after getting on Savannah, “Molly started grinning her face off,” and never stopped.
Soon after Gayle bought the mare, Molly needed a horse to ride in a hunter pace, and Gayle offered her Savannah. After crossing the finish, she called her mother and told her “you need to get yourself another horse! I’m keeping her.” Amazingly, Gayle let her saying “I don’t think I have even been on the mare twice since! They really did form a wonderful partnership right from the get go!”
Molly also is fond of the draft cross as a partner, “they work hard and come home and can be your giant puppy dog, like great big Great Danes.”
Step By Step
In those early years, Molly remembers Savannah as “very green” and began to bring her along slowly. Being only 11 at the time, it must have seemed like an eternity to Molly, but the slow and steady training paid off. Savannah will be ten in May, and Molly has the satisfaction of knowing that she did most of the work herself. Lisa Reid agrees saying “[Molly] has done all the work on Savannah herself [since Savannah] wasn’t in training for eventing, she was only started as a field hunter” when the Curtisses bought her.
Molly knows that even more important than the awards is to see “how far I’ve come,” and how as a pair they have overcome mistakes. Savannah “really was hesitant to go into the water,” Molly recalls. “It took us forever to to get her into water. [We] got eliminated a few times at Training in water.” Those days are long gone and Molly knows that “every time we land in water, now it’s ‘yes!’ But it’s always in the back of my mind, and sometimes, she’s still saying `Mom, are we really doing this?’” It’s those little victories that make this award a lot sweeter.
If any young rider could handle these challenges, it’s Molly. “Molly is dedicated and works quite hard at the training aspect of riding,” says her current trainer, Paul Ebersole. “She can ride different horses and is pretty capable… that mare is not that easy to ride.”
Bringing along a green horse would be time consuming for anyone, but Molly’s schedule could only be called frightening to the faint of heart. In the Curtiss household “school comes first, before you can ride.” And Molly’s not taking the easy way through, taking classes such as AP biology, physics, and chemistry. Her school also requires students to do sports, so Molly’s freshman and sophomore years had her competing in volleyball, and in her junior year, she added basketball. She’s active in clubs, too, community service and foreign language. This year, she was able to substitute riding for volleyball, but she’s quick to point out that “non-horse people don’t understand how it’s an athletic endeavor.”
It wouldn’t be surprising for someone with Molly’s talent and tenacity to say she wants a career in the horse industry. Not Molly, who knows exactly what she wants and where she’s going. College is looming on the horizon, and though she was considering the University of Miami, she’s now contemplating the University of South Carolina. Her goal? She wants to go into marine biology to study cetaceans (whales and porpoises for the rest of us) and coral reefs. She looks forward to riding as an adult, but she wants to remain an amateur.
One of the goals of The Equiery Trophy is to encourage training level riders to take the leap into the preliminary level. Molly’s already made that leap having competed at the Maryland Horse Trials last October, where she finished in 8th place adding only cross country time faults to her dressage score. Even with the big “move up” on her 2007 schedule, Molly is most proud of her ride at the 2007 Training Three Day (the “Half-Star”) held at Waredaca in October. In less than ideal conditions, Molly was one of only five people to complete the cross country course with no penalties. Upon crossing the finish line on endurance day, she remembers thinking “Wow! I just did that!” “That” being a full 3-Day including a modified roads and tracks with steeplechase. A dropped stadium rail landed the pair in third place overall.
Molly believes that Savannah has the ability to continue at preliminary, and for her, the “difference [between training and preliminary] is in technicality. You always need to be precise, especially in cross country and stadium.” Molly jokes that the preliminary “dressage movements are hard. I’ve got more muscles doing the preliminary dressage movements.”
Paul feels that “Molly is at the cusp of hitting the difficult levels. If she can keep going on this curve, she’ll be able to get to the International level.” This season, Molly plans on making a bid towards being on the U.S. Young Rider team. “If she’s successful there,” Paul says, “there will be no stopping her.”
Molly has the talent, temperament, and tenacity to continue in the sport of eventing and who knows, perhaps one day she will breed Savannah and produce another Equiery Trophy winner, continuing the Curtiss family and Incognito dynasties.