Ava was not a pretty girl.
Standing 15-hands even, the bay mare appeared to have such a sloping, downhill build that some wondered if the poor thing was slightly deformed.
“At one point I measured her, and she was several inches” shorter in the front than in the back, says CANTER Mid Atlantic Executive Director Allie Conrad.
To make matters worse, Ava was having none of it from people. She didn’t want to play, and she appeared so immature in development that the idea of putting a regular-sized rider on her back seemed preposterous, Conrad says.
Her Ways Okay
New name: CMA Special Messenger
Sire: Black Mambo
Dam: Inaspecial Way
Foal date: March 27, 2008So out in the field Ava went, where for the first year she was given free rein to do just as she pleased. The following year, in 2012, Conrad returned for the ugly duckling and found that while she had not morphed into a beautiful swan, she had undergone a radical personality change. For the better!
“She was a brand new horse! We started playing with her, and when we started free jumping her, we said, Oh my God! She was extremely powerful as a jumper, knew where her feet were at all times—it was like she born to it,” Conrad says.
And at that point, Ava began to train beautifully. She jumped, she went trail riding, and she worked on the flat. And yet, her downhill build continued to dissuade prospective adopters, until about a year ago, when Michelle Frazier received an email with Ava’s free-jumping video in it.
The avid rider, who had adopted a horse from CANTER Mid Atlantic the previous year, and was searching for another, was blown away.
“Suzanne Konefal, who starts a lot of Allie’s horses for her, sent me this 10-second clip of her in a jump chute. I sent it to my trainer in Virginia and she looked at it and said, ‘Buy her!’ ”
She tried the horse, clicked with her immediately, and took her on the spot. The full-time lobbyist gave her new mare a show name of Special Messenger, a term that refers to the people who run important material to and from lawmakers.
And with time and expert tutelage of Southern Pines Event rider and trainer Andrew McConnon, the downhill horse became a very correct mover and jumper.
Initially a bit skeptical about how he would fit his 5-foot-11 frame to the mare’s 15.3-hand build, McConnon soon learned Ava had a surprise up her sleeve.
“She was all business and very workmanlike. And although she’s built downhill, she doesn’t travel downhill,” says McConnon, who notes that she measures 15.3 hands in the front and 16.1 hands at the top of her hind end. “She’s quite a good mover, and in fact, I’ve had several friends who, once they saw her go around, were very serious about the mare.”
In the short time they worked together, Ava quickly moved up from Novice to Training, and is equally impressive on the flat as she is doing dressage or going cross-country.
“She scores really well. She won the dressage Full Gallop (Horse Trials) by about 4 points,” he says, noting that she has learned to carry herself up to jump, and then sit back down before rising up to jump the next fence. “When she came to me, she was like a puzzle with all the correct pieces, and we had to help her put them together.”
McConnon decided early on to let her carry herself where she felt most comfortable. As she grew stronger, it became easier for her to lift her carriage, and get off her forehand, he says.
“She’s moving up a little faster than most horses I train, but she has such a great work ethic, and is so trainable.”
And now the petite little mare so often passed over for her downhill conformation, is a tour de force on the Eventing fields and moving up up up!