What's In a Name?: St. Oliver Plunkett Embodies Namesake's Qualities
Despite sharing a name with a martyred archbishop who was hung, drawn and quartered, St. Oliver Plunkett has led a remarkably uneventful life since landing in Southern Pines almost four years ago.
That’s about to change, now that the pint-sized Connemara/Irish gelding has a few recognized events under his girth. At last weekend’s Starter Horse Trials at the Carolina Horse Park, St. Oliver Plunkett and his owner, Kristi Meyer, of Southern Pines, won a division of beginner novice with a score of 34.8 and took home their first blue ribbon as a team. A nurse at Moore Regional Hospital, Meyer hopes to move up to novice with Oliver this coming spring.
Meyer, 40, first spotted Oliver in an online ad. Meika Decher, an upper level event rider and former Southern Pines resident, called Meyer from Aiken one Sunday and urged her to drive down and try the little gelding.
“I got on him, and it was like we were meant to be,” Meyer said. “We jumped some jumps on the cross-country course, and Meika said, ‘You guys are such a perfect match.’”
Meyer calls 13-year-old Oliver “the perfect packer,” and credits him with helping her overcome fear issues that had developed after years of riding stoppers and bad actors.
“For years, I’d ridden horses that were stoppers, and some off-the-track ones that were run-offs,” said Meyer, who lives in Yadkin Run with her husband, Matthew. “Oliver is such an honest guy. He would like nothing more than to have me let go of his face so he could just take me around.”
Meyer began taking formal lessons with Chris Padgett not long after moving to the area 16 years ago. She went through a number of horses that weren’t a good match, most often because of soundness issues. “One, I donated to a therapeutic riding program,” Meyer said. “Another, I gave to a little girl.”
Finally, Meyer found a thoroughbred she liked, and began training with David O’Brien. But the gelding turned out to be “completely freaked out by the whole show atmosphere.” Meyer, too, brought her own baggage to the horse search: She had neck surgery after a car accident when she was 19, and learned years later that she also had a herniated disk. This resulted in pain and confidence issues in the saddle.
Before Meyer tried him in Aiken, Oliver’s only prior experience under saddle had been as a hunt horse in New Jersey. Though she clicked with the 15.2 gelding instantly, Meyer didn’t want to get her hopes up until he passed a vet check. “There’d been so many disappointments with horses I’d loved that wouldn’t vet out,” Meyer said. “Dr. Daniel (of Southern Pines Equine) really wanted to make sure I could get one I could ride. He must have vetted six horses for me before that.”
Oliver didn’t know much —he’d had no stadium training and didn’t know how to change leads — but Meyer was impressed with his willingness to work.
“He’s such an honest guy,” Meyer said. “He never protested about anything we tried with him. And he’s a total packer now.”
The one-day Starter Horse Trials are designed to introduce young and/or inexperienced horses and riders to eventing without the customary constraints of a typical sanctioned event. Alex Martone, a member of the Area II Young Rider team in 2008-09, brought her 5-year-old thoroughbred gelding Benjamin Button out for his second starter trial at the horse park. The pair finished second in a division of beginner novice with a score of 33.3.
“We got eliminated at the one in July,” Martone said, laughing. “He was so scared of the jump judges, we had to go up and sniff every one of them.”
Martone, a student at Sandhills Community College, got Ben — who raced in California and July under the name “Truckee Whisp” — in July.
“I absolutely love him,” said Martone, who will be competing at beginner novice with Ben at Pine Top this weekend. “He’s still always looking for something to spook at but he’s really getting better.”
Olympic veteran Bobby Costello had a successful move up to the preliminary level with his 5-year-old thoroughbred gelding Dynamite King. Costello and “Axel” won the prelim combined test with a score of 34.5 over Michelle Frazier and Quid Pro Quo (38.6).
Full results can be found at www.carolinahorsepark.com
Thanksgiving Classic Today
Today’s Thanksgiving Classic at the Carolina Horse Park features a $5,000 Open Jumper Classic and a $1,000 Hi-Low Hunter Classic. But the highlight will undoubtedly be the Celebrity Bareback Puissance, where local riders jump their horses bareback over a wall that is raised in increments until every horse but one is eliminated. The puissance will take place during the lunch break.
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