By the time Brenda Casey turned 47, she had four children, a happy marriage, and a room in her house virtually overflowing with objects devoted to a dream that never came true.
Each year, she added something to that room. Maybe a painting or a pillow, or some other cherished trinket depicting the classic scene of a huntsman in red, surrounded by hounds, and all those beautiful horses gathered before the hunt.
In these scenes she saw something that excited her for reasons she can’t even now put her finger on, and that she never thought she’d experience.
“After I moved from Maryland to Massachusetts, I thought I blew the only opportunity I’d ever have to go foxhunting,” Casey says. “I started decorating the room in my house with hunt scenes and I would privately badger myself for never trying it.”
Then two years ago, an ex-racehorse appropriately named Dream Potential, carried Casey from fantasy to reality.
Race name: Dream Potential
Barn name: Lilly
Foal date: May 8, 1999The mare, who had come into her possession a short time earlier, gave Casey the thrill of her life at the Myopia Hunt Club in Hamilton, Mass.
Very “hot” and overly excited at first, the Thoroughbred she calls Lilly cantered at the back of the pack, while all around, the scenes from all those paintings burst to life.
The hounds bayed. The horses moved in a rush from field to jumps. And the master of the hunt led the way.
“To be in the midst of a real hunt was amazing,” she says. “The tradition of it, with the hunt master in his red coat, and the hounds and the horn—it was one of the most exhilarating and exciting things I’ve ever experienced.”
Equally as fulfilling as the ride, was the camaraderie and casually friendly way riders of all levels were treated. “The Myopia people were so inviting and nice that they put me at ease right away,” she notes.
After first holding Lilly to the back of the pack until the horse settled down, she felt confident enough to move up toward the front and do some jumping. It went so smoothly that after the hunt was over, the pair continued to jump cross-country obstacles on the farm where they wound up.
But some of the most memorable moments took place before the hunt.
“To me, the best part was being part of the hunt gathering, to see it and be in the midst of it,” she says. “We were crossing streets and people in their cars were stopping to watch. It was thrilling to be part of such a beautiful tradition.”
And her Thoroughbred has now also settled nicely into riding hunter/pace and cross-country, she adds.
Recently, and is spite of a last moment hiccup, Lilly and Casey competed on a Father’s Day ride at Groton House Farm in Hamilton, Mass., accomplishing some of their best jumping together.
So excited was Casey as she came out of the woods and approached Jump 17, the last in the course, that she actually forgot to jump the 16th jump, and was disqualified from the competition.
“It was disappointing,” she admits, “but we had a phenomenal ride.”
Lilly and Casey came together in 2009. After first leasing the Thoroughbred, she was presented with the opportunity to own her outright, and she took it.
“I wasn’t planning to own a horse again. I had owned Thoroughbreds in the past, but preferred the leasing scenario,” she says. “But once Lilly came into my life” she didn’t want to risk having her sold by her owner.
Not every ride has been clear sailing. Early on, out on a trail ride, Lilly spooked and threw Casey. But by the time the intrepid rider had dusted herself off and called the farm, Lilly had found her way back to her stall.
“The first few months were a bit scary for both of us. I don’t think Lilly had much trail-riding experience, or really anything outside of the racetrack,” she says. “At this point, every rock pile, log and water puddle could potentially spook her.”
But with patience and experience at hunter/pace schooling shows, Lilly blossomed.
They won their first event, a Beginner Novice Schooling show at Valinor Farm in Plymouth in the fall of 2009 and placed fourth in an Apple Knoll Schooling event last fall.
With the Groton House show and foxhunt now under her belt, Casey plans on more of the same for Lilly this year.
Living the dream with her mare Dream Potential is so much better than imagining that life from the confines of her foxhunting shrine.
“When I put foxhunting on my bucket list of things to do before I die, I wondered if it was something a woman in her mid-40s should be doing,” she admits. “But now I feel so lucky to be doing it. This is the most fun I’ve had with horses in my 40 years of riding!”