by Katherine O. Rizzo
(printed in the April 2010 issue of The Equiery)
Stephen Fulton will be the first to admit that the driving force behind his successful eventing career is his wife Karen. “The most important trainer [I’ve had] is my wife. She is very very good. I’m not the world’s best natural rider and look what I’ve done. You can also look at my daughters [successful eventers Savannah and Grace] to see how good she is,” boasted Stephen. In fact, the only thing Stephen seems to boast about is his family… not the fact that he himself placed in all 10 events he competed in with homebred FMF’s Manila Bay in 2009, including seventh place at the American Eventing Championships and second at the Area II Adult Rider’s Training Three-Day at Waredaca. Or the fact that under his guidance, FMF’s Manila Bay was ranked eighth in the country at Training level with an impressive 50 points. All of which adds up to claiming The Equiery’s 2009 Perpetual Combined Training Award.
Stephen started riding at an early age on a pony owned by his grandparents. Both his older sisters rode, so naturally Stephen picked up the sport as well. “It’s all their fault,” he mused. When he was about 10-years-old, his parents bought a small farmette in Howard County and two horses, Sunny and Moon. Soon after, Stephen discovered foxhunting.
“I hunted with Taylorsville Hunt Club and took some lessons here and there,” Stephen said. His first instructor was Paul Hohedder, who he credits with teaching him “how to sit in an English saddle, gallop, jump and foxhunt in about a half dozen lessons.” He went on to add, “Paul was great. If I had a more traditional ‘proper’ riding instructor I would have quit out of boredom. Paul made it fun and fast”
Stephen earned a Bachelors of Arts degree in Equine Studies from Salem University in West Virginia and became a licensed farrier in 1983.
The Eventing Bug
Stephen met Karen in 1985 at Woodland Horse Center where they were both instructors. The couple was married in 1998 and purchased the first Full Moon Farm (located in Howard County) that year. They later relocated to their present Finksburg location in 1994.
Karen was an eventer so Stephen figured he might as well give it a try. Before that however, Stephen had leaned towards the jumper ring and raced in a few hunt meets. “Karen said I couldn’t do that anymore,” joked Stephen, who loved the speed and excitement of the races but recognized the dangers as well.
In 1986, Stephen entered his first horse trials under Karen’s encouragement. He went Novice at Waredaca and admitted he was scared to death. “Karen said she wouldn’t be married to a man who went Beginner Novice,” added Stephen. Since then, Stephen has competed several horses at the lower levels and moved up to Preliminary in 2008 aboard FMF’s Ides of March (Clay).
Breeding a Champion
FMF’s Manila Bay (Thunder) was one of the many horses bred by the Fultons. “We had this nice [Thoroughbred] mare that we wanted to breed and liked Earle Nicholson’s Percheron stallion Shammy,” Stephen said, who liked the draft cross breeding.
Thunder was foaled in 2001 along with two other siblings (General MacArthur and Claremont) from the same stallion. “We didn’t think that all three mares would get pregnant,” laughed Stephen. Karen said they would have kept breeding to Shammy except that the stallion passed away in 2002. “They are just all good natured, sweet horses,” he explained. Specifically about Thunder, Stephen said, “he’s a really nice horse… and good looking too!”
Karen noted that Stephen and Thunder never have a bad lesson or event day. “Seriously, it’s fun. [Stephen] is very easy to instruct [and] takes input well. [Stephen and Thunder] are both very outstanding individuals in their own right and when they come together, they are even better!” she added.
General MacArthur and Claremont both still live at FMF, though they are now owned by two of Karen’s students. Both horses and riders have had great success at the Training and Novice levels. In fact, General MacArthur and Mary Ballew were just a few points behind Stephen and Thunder in the race for this award.
A Stellar Season
The 2009 season was truly a memorable one for Stephen. However, it came after several great seasons aboard Thunder. In the last four years, the pair has competed in the AECs three times (twice at Novice and once at Training) and has placed 28 times out of 30 competitions. Almost half of those placings have been third place or higher and all have been in the top 10.
Stephen considers September’s AECs as the highlight of 2009. At the championship event held at the Lamplight Equestrian Center in Wayne, Illinois, they scored a 37.4 in dressage and jumped clean and within the allotted time for both cross-country and show jumping. He is most proud of the cross-country round in which they easily made the time. “He’s an amazingly fast horse for [a horse] that looks like a sofa,” Stephen remarked. They ended the competition in seventh place in the Training Amateur Rider division.
Upon returning to Maryland, Stephen and Thunder placed fifth at The Maryland Horse Trials at Loch Moy Farm in October 2009 and then ended the season with a second place finish at the Area II Adult Rider’s Training Three-Day at Waredaca (a traditional long format three-day event). “That was a lot of fun,” Stephen said, who entered the competition along with his older daughter Savannah.
The 2009 season was also Stephen’s first year competing at Preliminary, placing sixth aboard Clay at MCTA Horse Trials in May 2009. Stephen and Clay went on to complete five more Preliminary horse trails in 2009.
The Road Ahead
Stephen’s main goal for 2010 is to complete a CCI* with Clay. He also has a few more homebreds that need to start their own show careers and then be sold to new homes.
As for Thunder, he too is looking for a new home as Stephen feels the horse has given him as much as he can. “The girls want to keep him but he’s just too big for them,” he said.
Stephen is also looking forward to yet another competition season eventing as a family. “I think it is great that [the girls] want to event,” Stephen said. “They are as good of riders as I have ever been and are even better. Savannah has beaten me before,” he said proudly. Thankfully for family dynamics, Stephen rarely competes in the same divisions as his daughters, who typically ride in the junior ranks, but that doesn’t keep them from nipping at his heels though.
“We had this rule that they are not allowed to move up until I do but they’re catching up quickly,” he added. Savannah has successfully competed two horses at the Training level and several at Novice. Grace just started her recognized Beginner Novice career.
In the end, it all comes down to the Fulton family. “My family is my greatest support system,” Stephen said, and gives them every credit for his and Thunder’s success.