Leading Grand Prix rider and coach Trapp O’Neal was out shopping for a flatbed trailer one lazy afternoon in August when he discovered in the dirt and dust of a modest Texas farm a gem of a Thoroughbred with the makings of an A-rated sport horse.
Though Au Girl lived in circumstances that lacked a standard ring to stretch her legs or pretty jumps to display her form, she went along quite willingly and smartly for O’Neal, who rode her in her jockey’s saddle over jumps made of orange cones and lumber. The bay mare just seemed a natural for the job.
“As a Grand Prix rider and coach, it’s never been typical for me to chose Thoroughbreds to work with. But as a horseman, I’ve learned to keep my eyes open. I don’t think you can be too prejudice as to what shape, size and breeds the talent comes in,” O’Neal says. “And when I tried Au Girl I knew I couldn’t pass up talent.”
O’Neal purchased the ex-race mare in August 2013 and took her home to his Magnolia, Texas facility TKO Sporthorses, where the green mare quickly proved herself as worthy as the fancy show horses in the barn.
Barn name: Lulu
Sire: Formal Gold
Dam: San Miguel Queen
Foal date: April 23, 2009Whip-smart and scopey, she trained for about a year before Trapp sold her to his longtime student Caitlyn Epperson, 20, who formed an instant connection with the mare. “The minute she sat on her, they just clicked,” says Caitlyn’s mother Kathryn Epperson. She adds, “They are a great team. They’ve already earned numerous grand championships and reserve championships … this mare just has a spirit like she’s in it to win it, and yet, she’s also very sweet.”
The pair has excelled at the TAKE 2 Thoroughbred Division at the lower heights, but has also ribboned at the High Adult Jumper Division as well. Her awards include: Low Adult Jumper Champion (1.0 – 1.05 meter) Dallas Harvest in October 2014; High Adult Jumper Reserve Champion (1.10 – 1.15 meter) Great Southwest Winter Classic IV in February 2015; TAKE 2 Thoroughbred Jumpers Reserve Champion (1.0 meter) Pin Oak Charity Horse Show in March 2015; TAKE 2 Thoroughbred Jumpers Champion Show Jumping Classic in May 2015.
Au Girl is ranked 9th in the National TAKE 2 Thoroughbred Jumper standings and 7th in the USHJA Zone 7 TAKE 2 Thoroughbred Jumper standings through April 2015.
But more than earning ribbons there is the deep satisfaction that comes from bringing along a green OTTB to compete at the highest levels.
“In this area you don’t see a lot of Thoroughbreds competing at this level. A lot of trainers just want the Warmbloods. Trapp was one of the first trainers in our area to step out and try a Thoroughbred, and now that people see her, other people have started to show an interest in them,” she says. “This horse is just a trooper. I don’t care how tired she is, or if she’s been at a show for three weeks, she’s going to give 110 percent every time.
“And she moves, very, very well. And she was a fraction of the cost of the other horses in her division. She was a true diamond in the rough.”