Coree Reuter-McNamara grew up in Washington state, where she competed extensively on the 4-H circuit. She attended Centenary University (N.J.) and was a two sport athlete, playing soccer for the Cyclones as well as competing on the Intercollegiate Dressage team. After graduation, she moved to Virginia to work for The Chronicle of the Horse for several years. Passionate about youth sports, she changed careers in 2014 after earning a Master’s Degree in Athletic Training from Shenandoah University. She now works as a Certified Athletic Trainer, and runs Centreville High School’s Sports Medicine Program, caring for 1100 student athletes across 20 different sports. In addition to her work, she is a board member for CDCTA, actively competes in dressage and eventing, and is passionate about travel, writing, and all things horse and sports medicine related. Coree lives in Front Royal, VA with her husband, Steve, daughter Ryann, and their two Australian Shepherds, Jersey and Tino. In this new series called “Amateur’s Corner,” Coree kicks us off with the story of her and her horse, Solo.
Five years ago, New Years Eve 2015.
I was laying in bed, waiting for the ball to drop in Times Square, thinking about the previous year, and listening to my husband snore. A few months before, I had lost my heart horse to ring bone. He’d had to permanently retire before he was even ten, and went back to his breeders to be a pasture puff for the rest of his life. I was devastated to see him go — he had been with me through some really low points of my life — mainly my quarter life crisis where I quit my job, back packed Africa for six weeks and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, got engaged, blew out my knee five days after coming home, lost the job I was promised upon leaving, and decided to go back to school, all in the span of about eight months. I somehow managed to keep him in my life despite a lack of finances, and he was in my wedding pictures. I had dreamed big with Liam, but unfortunately he was the one that got away.
I was so thankful that he had a soft landing, but I was absolutely crushed that I couldn’t provide him that myself. And so the months leading up to New Years Eve I was horseless and depressed, and wondering if I was crazy to think about buying a horse. I had just finished graduate school, we had mountains of bills, but I was unhappy, and I knew it.
And then I read this blog, and it was as if Kristen Carpenter was writing just to me. “It’s right, now, to do the things you want to do in this life,” she wrote, “I just want to quit living under the illusion that I have more time. I want to stop waiting for everything to be right before I execute a dream. It’s right, now.”
With tears streaming down my face, and fireworks blasting on the TV, I nudged my husband awake.
“I’m buying a horse,” I said.
“Okay,” he responded. “Happy New Year.” And then fell back asleep.
I told my trainer, Karen Conk, I was ready. She knew about two Thoroughbred geldings near Charles Town in West Virginia. So off we went one freezing cold morning to check them out. We liked both of them, and initially I picked the big bay gelding as mine. We brought both geldings to Karen’s, and had them vetted.
Of course, the big bay didn’t pass the vet, which resulted in Karen handing me the lead rope to the smaller black gelding — a star on his forehead was the only white he boasted — Black Beauty in the flesh. A six year old, he’d raced three times, won once, and had been hanging in a field since he was three. He also trotted across the frozen mud perfectly sound with no shoes on, and was a cuddler from the moment we met him.
Another Concerto (Concerto-Her Gift) became mine on February 9, 2016. He will always be the best $100 I’ve ever spent, and I will be forever grateful to the Figgins family for giving me such a gift. Ironically, the other gelding ended up being a fabulous dressage horse for one of Karen’s other students, and never was very keen on jumping. Solo, on the other hand, has become a cross country machine. So it worked out for all of us!
Solo fresh off the track.
I find it hard to believe that Solo and I have been partners for five years now. We have come a long way and been through a lot of life changes in the last few years. He proved to be a quick learner, and we did our first horse shows in the fall of 2016, moving up to beginner novice. We had plans to move up to novice in 2017, but Solo ended up fracturing his splint bone, which ended our season prematurely. That same fall, I had a miscarriage, and we healed from those things together.
In the spring of 2018, I became pregnant again, so we decided to hold off on the novice move up. Instead, we evented until I was about five months pregnant, and then Solo went on lease with a family friend’s Pony Club student. After I had my daughter, Ryann, I was eager to get back in the saddle.
Of course, riding after a pregnancy had its own set of challenges, and I hit the dirt multiple times as I struggled with my balance and strength. However, I was determined to be back eventing by the spring of 2019, and we did just that! We spent the first few months at beginner novice, and finally made our novice debut at Hunt Club in July of 2019. We finished multiple novice events that season, but something wasn’t right. I wasn’t confident, and I wanted to be better.
Solo at his first show with me.
“Will you hate me if I quit eventing?” I had sent the text amidst a flurry of tears in February after a somewhat disastrous show. I say somewhat because looking back on it now, it really wasn’t that bad — I didn’t fall off, but it felt horrible, and it was a far cry from where I wanted to be.
“No, but tell me why you feel that way,” Karen replied.
After I was able to take a breath and focus my thoughts, I told her how I felt and how I wanted to be better. That I didn’t want to be scared anymore and I wanted to feel more confident in myself in my horse. She told me a plan that no competitive person wants to hear: Take a break. Wait, what? Take a break from showing. Focus on lessons and training and doing better at home. Take the stress off of yourself and focus on doing things the right way.
So, in February, I buckled down and committed to the plan. I scratched all shows off my calendar. I scheduled weekly lessons and I dedicated myself to having quality rides every time I went to the barn. And then Corona hit, and everything came to a screeching halt anyway. I feel lucky that my barn never shut down, and I was able to ride almost every day during the quarantine. I could feel my partnership with Solo grow stronger every ride. I could feel him become more confident in his canter, lighter in the bridle, and more uphill and balanced. I could feel my position change, my seat become more secure, my hands quieter. I could feel our confidence in the jumping growing bit by bit with each fence.
And then there came a moment where everything clicked. We came around a corner to a jump while cross country schooling — I squeezed my legs, Solo locked on, and he attacked it. We ended up jumping several training level combinations, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t stop smiling that entire day. It was FUN, and I realized that was what I had been missing at the end of the season last year. My own fears kept me from enjoying the sport I loved the most.
John Wayne famously said, “Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.” I’m not sure I had the kind of courage he was referring to in 2019, but I certainly had to dig deep in 2020 to fight through the slog of emotions and uncertainties of COVID-19, to throw my plans out the window and trust the process, and to kick harder when every instinct told me to pull back and quit.