In the six years since Jessica Paquette threw in her lot with a horse so cranky he once had to be cordoned off with orange cones, the pair has literally faced blood, sweat and tears on a journey filled with many challenges.
After she purchased New England champion What a Trippi in 2010 knowing full well the adorable bay gelding had a bad-boy disposition and a “bag of tricks,” the pair toughed out a rough ride before finding their happy place.
“Last year we had the perfect storm of unfortunate incidents,” says Paquette, race analyst and handicapper for Suffolk Downs. “He had a couple of substantial injuries, he was kicked in the shoulder and required stitches and staples, and after that we had a downward spiral.”
What a Trippi
Dam: Avert Your Eyes, by North Pole
Foal date: March 18, 2004
Earnings: $111,228 in 42 startsIn addition to testing all of Paquette’s adult amateur riding skills, Trippi pulled out a few maneuvers, pushing Paquette to her limits. “When I decided to buy him, I underestimated how hard he would be. He’s just so opinionated and athletic, and sometimes he uses his powers for evil,” she says, chuckling. “Early on he learned how to push my buttons, and which moves made me nervous.”
When he really wanted to get her goat, Trippi would shift his balance to his hind end, and lift up both front feet and stomping them down like a toddler in a fit at a toy store, she says.
“He doesn’t exactly rear up. But he manages to stomp his legs like he’s having a temper tantrum.”
Though her moody OTTB had her questioning her confidence and commitment more than once, it was after his paddock accident last year that caused Paquette to hit the reset button.
After recovering from a horse kick to his shoulder, Trippi got worse when he should have been better. He grew intimidated by fences, started to buck, and duck out of jumps. At their lowest ebb, the pair fueled each other’s insecurities, she says.
At which point, Paquette hopped off her horse and went back to the blackboard. Calling in her veterinarian Dr. Richard Sheehan, she spared no expense to figure out what was wrong with her grumpy horse. “By this point, he couldn’t pick up the canter in either direction without bucking the entire time. He’s not a bucker. And I knew that I had a sound horse beneath all the shenanigans,” she says. “I never wanted to give up on him.”
Soon after, blood tests confirmed that Trippi was suffering from a severe bout of Lyme disease. Her vet personally came to the barn for 21 straight days to administer antibiotics intravenously.
And as she waited for her adorable bay gelding to feel better, Paquette decided to return to her riding roots.
In October, she shipped Trippi to Volo Farm in Westford, Mass., the hunter/jumper facility where she took weekly lessons as a child, and where she was first bitten by the horse bug. Situated closer to her home, the familiar property felt only too welcoming after a long journey.
“I decided that a change of scenery would be a good idea,” Paquette says. And from the moment Trippi stepped off the van, and she led the horse around the new facility, pointing out where she trotted for the first time as a child, Paquette says a new sense of confidence returned to them both.
“My trainer Hannah Lavin took us back to square one and set us up to succeed. All winter we did flatwork so I could learn to be much more effective with my aids. When we returned to jumping, we were given jumps that were low enough that we could approach them quietly, without having to worry in between jumps,” she says. “We’ve also been getting Trippi out into the world so he can play and have fun. We have logs and planks outside that we jump and we recently went trail riding!”
Trippi will begin showing this week in Halifax, Mass., and after years of setbacks, illness and worry, he has turned a corner.
“It’s been literally blood, sweat and tears to get us to this place,” she says. “He is not an easy horse. But, I had to stay the course, and believe in my horse and our partnership. After all we’ve been through, I feel lucky to have him. And I’ve never been more excited to go to the barn and ride.”