Editor's note: Following publication of this story, Randy Ward and Scarva came second in their division of Advanced at Fair Hill (Maryland) International Horse Trials.
I've been an eventing fan since my dad started taking me to competitions at Ledyard, near our family's horse business in Massachusetts, as a little boy. I've competed since about age twelve, and gone Intermediate for nine years. But last fall at Radnor's National Three-Day Intermediate Championship I began feeling like a real rider. More than the fourth-place ribbon my horse, Scarva, won, it was the way all three phases came together as a complete experience. The process began that helped me achieve that feeling began when I started learning from Bruce Davidson and his son, Buck. And the same process keeps me aware of how much more I have to learn.
I was working for my family's Revere-Saugus Riding Academy (a public stable just north of Boston) the first time I dropped in at Bruce's farm Chesterland during a spring 1997 horse-hauling trip to southeastern Pennsylvania. I wanted to say hello-I'd become friends with Buck from meeting him at competitions over the years-but I also wanted to ask if I could ride with the Davidsons. I was impressed by the way Bruce excelled not only in the US but everywhere in the world, whether it was France, England, or Australia. And I wondered about his secret for getting his horses to upper levels at a young age (like Heyday going Advanced at six years old) while keeping them happy and sound. In other words, if I wanted to be a successful international rider-and I do-I figured there was a lot to be learned from him.
Bruce agreed to let me come ride at Chesterland for a few weeks at a time. I went back in May and had some lessons with him before he left for England, then Buck took over my program. By then I was already immersed in a riding experience different than any I'd had before: one that deepens every time I go back to Chesterland, as I do two or three times a year. (Although I help make this financially possible by teaching lots of lessons when I'm home in Massachusetts, and by selling horses from our business when I can, this endeavor wouldn't be possible for me without the support of my family, the sponsorship I obtained last year from Corta-Flx, and the generosity of Luke Allen, who bought Scarva for me to ride.)
Before connecting with Bruce, I was used to riding a couple of horses a day and getting lessons when I could, like most riders. At Chesterland, I rode five or six: anything from barely broke two-year-olds to upper-level eventers. And I got a lesson almost daily from Bruce or Buck. The lesson might be about how to ride a baby that was still getting broken in, how to help a horse understand a flatwork exercise, or how to solve a jumping problem in an older horse. That breadth of learning polished my riding in a hurry.
Soon I also understood the "secret" of how Bruce's horses come along so quickly: He breeds and makes everything he competes. He starts riding them out cross-country as three-year-olds, introducing little banks and ditches in a low-key way, almost like playing--so as they get older and the jumps get bigger, it just seems natural to them. He's a true horseman with a strong work ethic; he can ride nine or ten a day and understand just what each one needs. That's what I want most of all to learn from him in the future.
Riding with Bruce and Buck has taught me competitive strategy, such as to keep going instead of worrying about certain things on cross country, as I once did. For instance, Buck will come back after riding one horse around the course and say, "Don't worry if you're ten seconds behind at this jump because you can make it up here." As well as making my aids more effective for dressage, they've helped me present my test better--for instance, by dramatizing my following hand a little during the canter lengthening to show it off.
During the summer I began riding Scarva, an Irish Thoroughbred that Buck found in Ireland. I had some good flat schools with Buck before the Intermediate horse trials at Middletown, and Scarva and I had an excellent go there. When we finished fourth at Radnor two weeks later, I felt really ready to go on. This year, if we do well at Advanced horse trials in the spring, we'll compete at Foxhall three-day; if that goes well, we'll do more horse trials during the summer and maybe even finish the season at Fair Hill. The possibility of finally getting to Advanced holds special excitement for me because I'm one of a very few African-Americans striving for the top of our sport. If I do make it at the three-star level (or even beyond!), I hope my success will do for eventing what Tiger Woods's success has done for golf or the Williams sisters' has done for tennis: make young athletes of all races aware of possibilities out there that they might not have considered before.