Chomping at the Bit
Area equestrians gallop into the big time
(page 1 of 6)
Hidden in the tranquil countryside of North Florida is a community of elite athletes who are quietly gaining national and international attention.
Bounded by our famous canopy roads, the area’s hilly terrain and green pastures are the training ground for some of the country’s top ranked equestrians and their horses.
Todd Douglas Photography
Beth Godwin is a breeder of Dutch Warmbloods in Freeport. She saddled up the 2016 third level Horse of the Year, Caymus.
From foxhunting and polo to western, show jumping, eventing and dressage, there are local equestrians ranked among the country’s very best and a slew of young riders to watch in the future.
Among those equestrians are two teams, in different disciplines that combine beauty and athleticism with incredible results.
Team Wallace comprises a father/daughter pair, Rick and Elisa Wallace. Both were considered for the Olympic Eventing Team at different times. Elisa almost rode in last summer’s Olympic Games and was the highest finishing American at a prestigious event in England. The Wallace’s protegee, Briggs Surratt, is a young man with a passion for horses and his own dreams of competing internationally.
Team Pink, contrary to its name, is not a bunch of girly girls playing with pretty ponies. These equestrians, through grit, determination and perseverance, have risen through the ranks and racked up victories on this year’s dressage show circuit.
Team Pink, led by Destin trainer Jodie Kelly, had two horses take Horse of the Year honors and win championships in their levels in 2016.
Kelly says of the local horse community, “The people are here. There is such a huge group of horse lovers in this area that I really think it is very understated. We are all here and have a lot going on. I have some young riders who are the top young riders in the country. I have jumper kids who went on to top competitions in the country.
“We’re not just riding around in our backyards. We’re really doing it,” she says.
Team Wallace members Elisa and Rick Wallace and Briggs Surratt are garnering national and international recognition in the tough and grueling sport of eventing.
Eventing is not for the faint of heart. During a traditional three-day event, the partnership between horse and rider is tested. They push the limits of their trust for each other, their strength, their endurance and their ability.
On the first day of competition, horse and rider are tested in the dressage arena. The team is put through a series of maneuvers that test their communication and abilities “on the flat,” meaning with no jumps.
The next day, drama and daring rule as riders compete on the cross-county course. Brightly clad riders thunder over natural terrain on their horses, jumping a variety of fixed obstacles along the way.
On the third day, during the stadium jumping phase, the horse-and-rider teams attack a pattern of brightly painted jumps. Hoping for a clear round, their success determines their final placement for the three-day event.