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Suzy Stafford

Combined Driving is an extreme sport. While all riding disciplines have their challenges, the carriage driving world has taken athleticism to a whole new level. This event has three phases: dressage, cross-country marathon, and cone driving. One of these is hard enough, conquering all three? That’s quite an accomplishment!

Suzy Stafford has been dominating this sport for years. Over that time, not only has she taken home National and World titles, but has become the first American to win the World Championship. Her and her Morgan mare, PVF Peace of Mind, or “Hunny”, are out to take it all. So far, they’ve stacked up quite the collection of wins and titles. Hunny was named the number one combined driving horse in the country in 2016, declared International Horse of the Year in 2015 and has been inducted into the U.S. Equestrian Federation Hall of Fame.

We had the chance to talk to Suzy about her life as an equestrian. From grooming the neighbor’s horse as a child, to the injury that put her on the path to a career in Combined Driving and the World Championship, she told us about the journey so far, and where she’s headed next.

Your interest in horses began at a young age, what inspired you to start riding?

Suzy: I don’t come from a horse family, my neighbor had a horse and I’d go over everyday to groom. When I was 11 or 12, my parents bought me riding lessons, and I never left the barn after that.

You had just completed the American Riders Instruction Program for Dressage and Combined Training, when a leg injury ended your riding career. Can you tell us about how you channeled that energy and need for an equestrian sport into a driving career?

Suzy: I’m an extremely competitive person, and very goal oriented. After I broke my leg, I tried to ride and compete again, but my body just wasn’t cooperating as I needed it to, meaning, I couldn’t compete at the level I wanted to or had been previously and it wasn’t good enough for me.

I knew about combined driving from Lisa Singer, I helped her at a handful of shows. I didn’t know anything about driving. When I decided to hang up my hat for riding, I thought, well, let’s give this driving thing a try. To be honest, it was much more challenging than I expected. I looked at the sport and thought, this is for older people!

But I’m biting my tongue now, it was really interesting and challenging enough to fill that void that I had from showing horses. Luckily, I was somewhat good at it in the beginning which  helped launch my career. Also, working with Lisa Singer, who was one of the best at the time, really helped accelerate the success of my career.

What was it like working with Lisa Singer? What were some of the lessons you took from that experience?

Suzy: We were very similar in our work ethic, so we got along really well from the beginning. Typically when you’re a groom and work for a barn, it limits your ability to compete. Lisa saw my drive and how competitive I was, and she was very open about letting me go out and show. She knew it would allow me to learn a little quicker.

One of the biggest things I learned from her was my attitude towards competition. She was very calm about it; never got worked up.  It was always about an end goal; preparing for the larger picture. I learned it was about making sure that I kept my goals long term, not short term.

You’ve worked with quite a multitude of breeds for driving, is one in particular hold a soft spot in your heart?

Suzy: Personally, the Morgan has done me well. They suit my temperament better than most of the breeds, but I have a lot of friesians, and I like them as well. Morgans started my career, so I have to give them their credit.

COAT DEFENSE has been used by riders under tack, but you’ve had good luck using it under your harness and driving equipment. What made you start using the product and reach out to owners Vince and Sandy?

Suzy: I got a call from a fellow driver, and she recommended I look into the product. I have two horses with chronic skin issues, one with scratches on the lower limbs and the other tends to get harness rubs when freshly clipped.

I used the paste on the scratches, and it worked wonderfully to heal those. Then I tried the powder under the breast collar and work boots, there were no rubs at all after that. I realized what a good product it was, and that it worked so well, so I reached out to Vince and Sandy. We worked out a sponsorship so that I could promote their product, since it was so useful for fellow equestrians.

What are you looking forward to for the 2018 season?

Suzy: I’m in the selection trials for the Single Horse World Championships, that’s in the Netherlands in September.

That’s very exciting!

Suzy: We’ve had our first selection trial in February, where I won!  We’ll do two more selection trials here in the states, then possibly one more in Europe before the Championships.

COAT DEFENSE wants to thank Suzy for taking the time to answer our questions, and to wish her the best of luck in the 2019 Single Horse World Championships!

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Heather Morris

This week in Coat Defense’s continuing series, Our Riders, we spoke to Heather Morris from Next Level Eventing. Heather grew up in California and represented the Area VI Young Rider Team in 1998 and 1999, bringing home Team Gold in 1999. She has gone on to become a successful and accomplished rider, she has been on USEA, USEF Eventing High Performance Lists and Developing Riders consistently the past several years and won the Amanda Warrington Grant twice. Heather took the time to answer a few questions for us about her involvement with the equestrian world in her youth, some of the amazing horses she has worked with and where she’s heading in 2018.

You grew up in California and represented the Area VI Young Rider Team in 1998 and 1999, how did you get involved with Young Riders?

Heather: I got involved with young riders as soon as I could. It was such a fun time. The horse I got to the Young Rider Level was Rebel Express, and we were on the Two Star Young Rider Team 98-00. In 00, he got sick on the way and could not compete. Our Team won Gold in 99 and I was 5th Individually. Young Riders was such a fun time. You learn about being on a Team.  I have great friends to this day because of Young Riders.

You worked for Mike Huber at his Gold Chip Stables in Bartonville TX, what was that like? What was one of the greatest lessons you learned there?

Heather: I was young, and didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I was in College at Fresno State.  I had Rebel at the Advanced level, along with another horse at the Prelim level, and was traveling back and forth across the country to compete at Big Shows. I then started working for Mike in 2002. He taught me a lot about horses and about business too. He helped me get owners. And horses to ride.  He really did so much for me in the 14 years I was there.

You returned to California and joined Next Level Eventing, how has your riding journey continued there and moving into 2018?

Heather: Next Level has been such a blessing to me. I get to hang out with my best friend, Tamie,  everyday and ride horses. I have some good goals for 2018, but as horses are horses, I don’t like to voice too many plans as things always change. So let’s just keep it at, I’m hoping for a really good year.

You’ve worked with quite a few stellar horses, was there one in particular that stands out in your memory as a real star?

Heather: Rebel Express was a horse that I bought as a 4 yr old when I was only 14 and took all the way to Kentucky so that will always be a very special horse to me. But the other one who was a real star is Slate River. I got him when he was 9 and going Prelim. He was a real athlete. He also did Kentucky twice. He dealt with unfortunate lameness issues causing him to be retired from Eventing. but he  is still doing Dressage to this day.

What made you reach out to Coat Defense? How have the products changed your riding routine?

Heather: I think I got hooked up with Coat Defense through Athletux. And I’m so glad I did. It is a miracle paste. I use it on anything, rub, fungus, splints, cuts. I am also currently trying it on a dog. The powder is used inside of boots or under blankets. It has been one of the best products out there to keep the horses happy.

Thank you so much to Heather Morris for taking the time to talk to us, we appreciate your support and are looking forward to  seeing  where you and Next Level Eventing go in 2018!

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Tori Bokum

This week in Coat Defense’s continuing series, Our Riders, we spoke to 25 year old aspiring rider, Tori Bokum. Tori grew up in Buffalo, New York where she completed in area 1 and trained with USEA President, Carol Kozlowski. She is now based out of Purcellville, Virginia at Windchase with trainer Phyllis Dawson. We were able to catch up with her about some of her past work, and see where she is headed for 2018.

How did you get involved with you local horse community and show circuit?

Tori: When I moved to Virginia in October 2013 I became a working student for Phyllis Dawson. Phyllis is extremely involved with the USEA, which got all of her working students involved. I am working on becoming more involved at the local level and am currently working on setting up some clinics with the Tri-state riding club!

Who are some of your mentors and influencers that inspire you to keep learning and riding?

Tori: Phyllis Dawson has to be my number one mentor and influence. She has shown me how much hard work and perseverance pays off. Ever since I met Phyllis in 2013 she has been my #1 supporter and has given me every opportunity to learn, grow, challenge, dream, and attack the horse world at the best of my ability. She always there to help, whether I’m trot setting or taking a lesson she’s always pushing me to be a better rider and horsewomen.

Terry Williams has to be another incredible mentor and influence. Unfortunately he passed away from cancer when I was younger, but even at a young age he believed in me and gave me amazing opportunities to ride incredible horses (Abercrombie and Charlie Brown). His horse, Abdullah, went to the Olympics for Show Jumping and Terry was the first person to show me how you act once you are involved with a champion.

Terry and Phyllis both have taught me that you stand with your head high and your heart higher. You push others to be the best they can be by showing them what success looks like. You be kind and understanding, yet tough and expect the highest standards and teach people how to reach those standards.

Which of your horses has been one of your biggest teachers?

Tori: Definitely Like Magic. Magic is an 8 year old off the track thoroughbred who has shown me what it’s like to have a truly unique partnership with an animal. I bought him with the help of Phyllis Dawson from Katie Willis. He had just done one beginner novice unrecognized event when I bought him. Over the last two and a half years he has taken me places I’ve been dreaming of and working toward for a long time.

We went to FL for our 2017 winter season and had a successful move up to Preliminary with the help of Sara Kozemplik Murphy and her husband Brian Murphy. We then took 3rd at the United States Evening Championship at Preliminary and continued on to try our hand at a CIC1* at Plantation Field where I had an unfortunate fall. We finished our season placing top 3 in all our Preliminary events! He sees me and he is happiest horse in the world. He’s my best friend and the best teammate I could ever ask for. His heart is so much bigger than he is (he’s only 15.2hh!). We get the comment a lot about how small he is, but I swear he just puffs up bigger and wants to show how small but mighty he is!

Coat Defense is a small up and coming company, what made you reach out and try these products?

Tori: I met Sandy and Vince for the first time at MDHT in Virginia, then met Vince again at Rocking Horse in FL. He was set up outside of Top Rail Tack where I jokingly said that he should convince them to sponsor me. With that he gave me a sample and told me to email them with how I liked it. Magic was new to FL and had a terrible allergic reaction to what we believe was the bacteria in the sand. Within a week of putting the powder under his blankets his hair was growing back!

I couldn’t email Vince and Sandy fast enough about how much the product had helped my boy. That’s when they decided to sponsor Magic and I. I’m so beyond proud to represent Coat Defense. It’s a product that works and a company that genuinely cares about helping horses.

As we move into 2018, what are looking to pursue next?

Tori: Magic and I want to be a successful and competitive FEI team. We plan to compete at some Preliminary events to get ourselves in the most prepared state we can be and then take on the CIC1* international horse trails at Morven Park and Loch Moy. We also are planning to run our first CCI1* at the Virginia Horse Trials in November!

We want to send our thanks to Tori for taking the time to talk to us and continuing to recommend Coat Defense to fellow riders. We wish her the best of luck in 2018 and will continue to support her and her riding career endeavors!

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Noelle Roberts

Delacreme Equestrian

Delacreme Equestrian owner and head trainer Noelle Roberts has over 15 years experience in the Hunter-Jumper world, but she didn’t get her start there. We recently spoke to Noelle for Coat Defense’s continuing series, Our Riders, to ask her how she got her start, the lessons her journey taught her and where she’s headed now.

Noelle, were you born into the horse world or did you find it? What made you go for the Hunter-Jumper ring?

Noelle: I was born into it in the sense that my mom rode western pleasure at her boyfriend’s ranch.  She taught me to  walk, trot, canter and some team penning at a young age. She decided to switch to English lessons for me. She bought a horse for us to share when I was 12 and it went from there.

It’s great that you’ve had the opportunity to try both disciplines.

Noelle: I like that I’ve done a bit of both. It gives you respect for other disciplines and ties it all together. You find yourself duplicating pieces of both as you work with the horses. It really helped me later on.

You grew up showing and competing in the San Diego and Orange County, what’s one of your favorite memories from that time in your life?

Noelle: There was one AA show mom finally let me go to, and I had a little Quarter Horse, that was given to me, that I taught how to jump. We didn’t win, but we were in the good ribbons. That was a big deal to me, to take my cheap, green little Quarter Horse and go to a higher venue and be able to be in the running.

You also competed on the Fresno States Equestrian Team; what were some of the major lessons you learned during that time period?

Noelle: I played soccer my whole life and was supposed to play soccer in college, but I realized that I couldn’t do both. I could imagine life without soccer, but I couldn’t imagine life without horses. I began to really miss the team feeling, and at the same time an opportunity came up to bring my horse to school. A lot of it was seeking out that camaraderie, and learning how to take an individual sport like ours and make it feel like a team sport.

I tell my girls today, even if you’re competing with other girls from the barn, they’re still your teammates. And that’s what it’s like on those teams, because you want the teams to do well. It made me really understand that side of it, to keep a competitive edge but still support your fellow riders.

When you moved back to Riverside County, you began training programs and you now work to connect high school equestrians to collegiate equestrian programs. What is one of the most challenging parts of that work?

Noelle: Educating people when the kids are young enough. We tend to get kids senior year and they’re behind the game. You have to have an idea of where you need to go, and you need to develop your riding abilities so you’re an asset to those coaches. The hardest thing is really getting the word out, so I encourage young riders to get serious early on.

My time in soccer really brought me this aspect. A plan, route and networking begin earlier and that you need to understand the in’s and out’s before it’s too late. It’s a small pool to get into, so you have to work really hard to get into these programs. What we do is all at our local level, we begin in high school pushing that early education and helping the kids narrow down where they want to go, and give them a really solid foundation to start.

As we move into 2018, what are looking to pursue next?

Noelle: This year is going to be fun, I have Sport Horse Nationals on the Arabian circuit, we will be returning with a three time Grand Champion and our Reserve Champion from last year. I have the horse I’ve been doing Grand Prix on, so we want to continue training and bettering ourselves.

I’m big on goals, but in my own personal business and riding, I always want to get better. I always want to be pushing the envelope. If I build brick by brick and keep pushing my education, to be a better rider and teacher, have a better business, next thing I’ll end up where I want to go. I never wanted to let my growth be stunted by only driving to that one goal in life. You just try to get better, you take the opportunities that are given to you and what shows up, shows up.

If you had told me January 1st of last year that I would be riding a Grand Prix horse, I would have told you you were joking. You just have to take those opportunities and build.

And how did you hook up with Coat Defense?

Noelle: I work with Athletux, as does Coat Defense. So when my friend Niki Clarke, introduced me to it and recommended it for boot rubs, I started using it and fell in love. So we reached out with Athletux to Coat Defense and we were honored to have them sponsor us.

It really takes a village to show horses, and it’s great having them support us and provide a product that’s so easy to use, and doesn’t require multiple steps or explanation. You throw it on and go, it solves our problems. I had a horse that had a wither rub, I don’t even know what it was from, but I put the paste on and it was gone within  a day. Just to have a product that’s so easy to use and a company that’s so supportive and easy to interact with is really appreciated.

We want to thank Noelle for taking the time to talk to us and continue to recommend Coat Defense to friends, students and other trainers. We look forward to seeing her at Sport Horse Nationals this year, and wish them the best of luck in all of their 2018 endeavors!

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Bobby & Danica Meyerhoff

Our Riders

As 2018 begins and we find ourselves getting back out to the barn on a regular basis, here at Coat Defense we have been busy gearing up for a new year with our riders. We want to shine a light on these special equestrians and share their challenges, adventures and work with fellow riders  and horse enthusiasts.

With that goal in mind, we present a new series for our blog, titled appropriately, Our Riders. First up in our series is a couple who not only rides together, but trains, shows and cares for Eventing and Show Jumpers, Bobby and Danica Meyerhoff.

Meyerhoff Show Horses

Bobby and Danica Meyerhoff run Meyerhoff Show Horses based out of Eight Bells Farm in Statesville, North Carolina, where they train and care for Eventing horses and Show Jumpers. Meyerhoff Show Horses works hard to provide world-class equestrian services to their clients and their horses, and Coat Defense couldn’t be more proud to sponsor a team who has such passion for their horses and barn!

We recently caught up with Bobby and Danica to ask them a few questions about how they got to where they are, and how they work to keep such a high standard barn running.

Bobby and Danica, can you each tell me about your own first riding memory?

Bobby: I was only 3 or 4, at my grandparents ranch in California, being led on a lead line in the tiny arena on a pony. And just walking, my grandmother raised POAs and that’s how we got introduced to them.

Danica: Mine was similar, we had a couple horses at my grandparents, so my sister and I took turns leading each other around on one of her little quarter horses.

So you were bitten by the horse bug at a young age?

Both chuckle and agree, that’s how it all started.

And how did you two meet?

Bobby: We were both working students in Middleburg VA, me for Stuart Black, her for Rebecca Howard. We were in the same town, doing the same thing, meeting the same people and hanging out as a group. That’s how we met, it ended up evolving from there.

So, Bobby you worked with 2 time Olympian Stuart Black during that time, and then the O’Connors. What were some of the most valuable lessons you took from those opportunities?

Bobby: I’d say, with Stuart, being the first Olympian I worked with, what stands out most in my mind was learning the way that the barn and horses were taken care of and how it was run. And how you manage when you look after 4 star event horses.

With the O’Conners, it was the difference in how to handle the horses, they do natural horsemanship so it broadened my education on how to train, how to  perceive the horses and how they learn.

Danica, you took a riding position with Grand Prix rider Aaron Vale. What was one of the valuable lessons you learned from this experience?

Danica: For me, it was how to ride a lot of different horses in a lot of different ways. He had  horses that required a different way of riding and I learned not every horse fits one glove, you have to adapt with different riding.

When I took the position I had only ridden event horses, most had gone in a similar way and fit in one box, when I started working there there were  more levels and it required a broader spectrum of riding.

Bobby, what made you want to start Meyerhoff Show Horses?

Bobby: After learning the different ways of caring for and training horses in other barns, I wanted to run my own show and just be able to do things differently and  better.

I was always thinking how can I do more, take better care of horses and progress in every way. So I wanted to have control and make decisions, and really make things better for the horses.

Danica, what made you want to join Meyerhoff Show Horses?

Danica: We were already together and joined up because our combined forces were stronger than separate.
Bobby: So we joined forces, we can cover much more ground together.

You have both teamed up with Coat Defense, what made you try the products and reach out to owners, Vince and Sandy Polentes?

Bobby: At first, we liked a powder product anyway, because with all the fungus, rubbing, chafing and everything horses get with boots and blankets, we used regular baby powder before. But when we saw they came out with a powder that was natural and could treat and medicate, we were really interested in that. Then we learned more about the paste and had success using both.

Danica: Like most barns, we would always have fungus problems and we had experimented with the main products but they can’t be used leading up to FEI, so this was really interesting because it could and it REALLY worked!

We want to thank Bobby and Danica for taking the time to talk with us and wish them the best of luck this upcoming season! Stay tuned for more interviews with riders from all over the United States and all  disciplines including  show jumping, dressage, reining, barrel racing,  cutting and driving!