After starting at the bottom, this pair placed third at the US Eventing Championships | Hoof beating


Prior to entering show jumping at this year’s US Eventing Championships, Heidi Grimm Powell was unsure of where she stood in the modified 36-horse division.

It was the first time she had qualified to compete at this level with her thoroughbred gelding Finn, and she had traveled to Kentucky Horse Park alongside Lei Ryan and Audrey Wiggins, two of her best horse friends from Southern Pines competing in other divisions.

Staying focused on your horse regardless of your score, or how other competitors lined up throughout the three phases, wasn’t exactly second nature to the former professional triathlete.

“I understand performance at a high level and I can really dive into it. But it’s different when you’re with a horse. As a top triathlete, it’s just you. The bicycle has no opinion, ”she said.

“I just wanted to enjoy the moment, try not to take it too seriously and have fun while we were there.”

Heidi Grimm Powell and Finn at their home in Vass. Ted Fitzgerald / The Pilot

Thankfully, she had plenty of moments to enjoy throughout the competition, moments that seemed unattainable when she started working with Finn four years ago.

“She was just a rockstar. He answered all the questions, he was nimble and maneuverable, ears pricked all the way through, ”said Powell.

“Just knowing where he’s coming from and being able to get over the fear he had when I first had him, get into the Rolex ring and get him out of the park, galloping around. of Kentucky Horse Park as a top-level horse.

Finn, who goes by the name Finntastic !, had no idea of ​​the score either. He was also unaware that it had already been advertised for sale as “not for an adult hobbyist”. It was in 2016, before he caught the attention of Heidi Grimm Powell.

At the time, Powell was about to retire his training level horse Nate due to his age and health issues. Nate was sort of Powell’s first horse, the one who brought her back into the horse world after a long hiatus from serious riding during her career as an officer in the United States Army. She became a professional triathlete as part of the Army’s World Class Athlete Program.

She rode when she could, depending on where the military stationed her, but before she got it, Nate hadn’t competed in equestrian events since college. At the end of his competitive career, Powell’s friend and dressage instructor Anne DeKeyser told him about a young horse that had just entered the stable of natural riding trainer Ben Stennett.

By this point, Finn had gone through several trainers as a sales horse – and he had built up an emotional baggage along the way. He needed a fresh start with someone willing to let him go.

“You could see in his eyes that he was so touching. They kept saying, “He just needs someone to love and learn to trust,” Powell said.

“They” was everyone. As tense and nervous as he was, he had amassed a fan club: Stennett, DeKeyser, Powell’s vets and other coaches who had seen him change hands.


Heidi Grimm Powell and Finntastic! jump a clear double at Kentucky Horse Park.

Luckily, Powell is “a girl on a horse,” so the more involved the project, the better. Before committing to buying Finn, she began working with him under Stennett’s direction.

Back then, it was enough to gallop on a sleeper to send Finn into a terrified lock. The road from there to the Modified level was slow and arduous. Even getting to Beginner Novice was not easy.

After an event at Carolina Horse Park, Powell returned home and had nothing but doubts to share with her husband. She had moved, but only after Finn took off after the first show jumping and almost jumped out of the arena.

For a moment, she galloped through the cross country finish flags, half expecting to be approached by a technical delegate informing her that she had been penalized for running the course too quickly.

“Anyway, I could never have stopped. We trotted a lot. Or, you know, I would ask myself: is this the day he’s going to jump in the dressage ring? she reminded herself.


Heidi Grimm Powell and her Finntastic thoroughbred gelding! finished third in a modified 36-horse division at the 2021 U.S. Eventing Championships.

“There have been real ups and downs. But then you have these glimmers, where there’s a moment of shine and “we’re making progress.”

With the persistence of an endurance athlete, Powell continued. She planned each ride to prepare her horse for success, building a repository of positive experiences to slowly replace Finn’s bad memories.

“It was the right thing to do with this horse: to reinforce the positive, put it in a happy space and develop his self-confidence,” she said. “He seems to have really thrived on it.”

Powell and Finn switched to Modified at Carolina Horse Park in the last War Horse Eventing Series competition of 2020. Less than a year later, on Labor Day weekend, they were galloping third pair in the victory at the US Eventing Championships.

Powell knew she hadn’t added anything to her dressage score after a clear double in cross country, but what her friends weren’t telling her was that she had dropped from seventh place after dressage. in sixth place. At that point, her husband Doug hinted that she was in the top 10.

After the show jumping, Powell knew Finn had hit a rail but hadn’t dared to look back to see if he had moved it. At the end of their round, she turned to her husband, who cheered her that they had escaped.

Not only did she finish on her dressage score, but three of the following riders racked up enough show jumping faults to slip under her in the standings. This moved Powell and Finn to third place overall. As puzzled as she was to find herself in the press box as one of the top three, then she learned that she was the highest ranked amateur rider in the entire peloton.

It’s a feeling she still clings to.

“It was so surreal,” she said. “I know there are a lot of people who are way more amazing than me, but at that time, that day, for this show, it was me and Finntastic!”

They moved up to prelims earlier in the year and have added two more solid points to their record since. Powell plans to continue one competition at a time, whether they spend years in the preliminaries or continue to advance in levels.

“We’ll see what next year has in store for us. I never want to face him, I never want to scare him, ”she said.

Part of Powell’s sense of responsibility to Finn comes from the advice she received over the years from the community that supported them. Even though he needed Powell to restore his confidence, she feels that he is sort of “the horse of the people” of Southern Pines.

“There are so many wonderful people who are helpful, smart, patient and ready to educate. I’m certainly not a sophisticated trainer, ”she said. “I’ve been away from it for so long, and I’m so lucky to have guys like Ben and Anne DeKeyser, and so many other wonderful coaches who were willing to take their time and help me.”


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