Abby Gibbon interviews Rolex-bound Amy Ruth Borun, an adult amateur riding an ex-racehorse she brought along herself–a storyline that’s becoming increasingly rare in upper-level eventing.
Top photo: Amy Ruth Borun and Santa’s Playboy warm up for Fair Hill. (Photo by Samanta)
In the celebratory hours after the 2011 Fair Hill CCI***, Amy Ruth Borun—who added just 10.8 cross-country time penalties to her dressage score to take 23rd place and the highest-ranked amateur title—had a little heart-to-heart with her coach, Phillip Dutton.
“Phillip—who we all know is a man of few words—looked at me said, ‘Alright: Rolex next year,’ ” said Borun, 46. “I said, ‘Really?’ And he said, ‘Well, you’re not getting any younger.’ I said, ‘Me or the horse?’ And he said, ‘Both of you!’ ”
Borun obviously took Phillip’s advice: Alongside her 14-year-old off-the-track Thoroughbred Santa’s Playboy, her name currently appears on the Rolex entry list. The pair finished 18th in The Fork’s CIC*** over the weekend, adding just 0.4 cross-country time penalties to their dressage score in their final prep run. But for a Los Angeles girl who admits she experienced “culture shock” when she moved to Unionville, Pa., 12 years ago to train with Bruce Davidson before temporarily relocating to Israel as the CFO for several start-up companies, the road to Rolex has been long and uncertain.
“When I came east, I was going intermediate,” said Borun, a lifelong eventing enthusiast who started riding in her twenties. “I was ready to do a two-star, and I had it in my mind that I would do a three-star within a year. Well, I finally did my first three-star last year—11 years later! When I see kids today, I’m like, ‘You know, you can be stuck in two-star purgatory for a long time.’ ”
While training with Davidson, Borun purchased a piece of property in West Grove, Pa., that fortuitously turned out to neighbor Dutton’s True Prospect Farm.
“I’m always thinking to myself, ‘I don’t know how I fell into this!’ ” Borun laughed. “I switched over and started training with Phillip, and I’ve been with Phillip and Evie ever since—they’re like family. I couldn’t do it without them.”
True Prospect Family: Phillip, Amy and Boyd attend a 2011 ugly sweater holiday party. (Photo courtesy of Amy)
And though Borun temporarily gave up eventing to focus on business in Israel, the Duttons made sure she had horses to ride whenever she came home to visit.
“Phillip would stick me on an amazing horse—True Blue Girdwood or The Foreman—and he’d say, ‘Don’t you want to ride again?’ ” said Borun. “And of course, riding those horses, I said, ‘Oh my God, yeah!’ ”
When Borun became a partner in the Chicago-based consulting firm Candela Solutions and moved back home to Pennsylvania, it seemed Phillip already had a horse in mind for her.
“He had some horses in the barn and ‘Santa’ was there,” she said. “At the time, Santa was green off-the-track, and Phillip said, ‘I’m going to the World Championships, I’ll be gone for two months, just play with this horse for a while.’ So I rode him, I played with him, I fell in love. He suckered me back into riding.”
Jackson Roberts (front) and Jennie Brannigan accompany Amy and Santa for a bit of road work. “I couldn’t do it without them,” Amy says of the True Prospect team. (Photo courtesy of Amy)
No one at True Prospect knew Santa’s age—they suspected he might be a 4-year-old—so when a pre-purchase inspection of his Jockey Club tattoo revealed he was an 8-year-old who’d raced until he was 7 and won just under $130,000, Borun got a deal on his purchase price.
But for the first few years, Santa’s feet were an issue, brittle and sensitive enough that thrown shoes and foot-soreness interfered with their competitive schedule. It wasn’t until Borun brought USET farrier Steve Teichman on board that Santa turned a corner.
“He became the most amazing horse,” said Borun. “He still thinks dressage is stupid, but that’s OK—he’s the biggest trier. There are times when I think, ‘We’re never gonna get two strides in here!’ But he’s more competitive than I am. He’s very cool.”
Amy and Santa took 11th in the 2011 Jersey Fresh CIC***.
And despite the fact that Borun was adamant about Santa being her last and only horse (“He’s the best ever, and I can’t afford a big-time horse”), buddy Jennie Brannigan recently found a 4-year-old Holsteiner gelding through Kelli Temple whom Borun couldn’t resist.
“Santa is such a machine, but you forget to sit back and kick over fences,” said Borun. “[Casarino] is going training and doing really well. He’s ready for prelim. It’s fun to have him coming along too, even though I told myself I’d never get another horse.”
After a successful weekend at the Fork, Borun is back home in Pennsylvania getting her final gallops and flat schools in before the True Prospect contingent ships out for Kentucky.
“I’m excited to see how [Santa] reacts to the crowds at Rolex,” she said. “He raced around crowds, and he gets—not nervous, but he kind of plays up to it—he’s super competitive.
“For me, I’ve been focusing on exercising, trying to get strong enough to hang on,” she continued. “I just really want to enjoy every second of it. The fact that I’m an amateur, I’m close to 50, I made my own horse—an ex-racehorse—nowadays, that’s rare.”
“I have no intention of being a professional ever. I get to ride the horses I love, and that’s it,” says Amy Ruth Borun. (Photo courtesy of Amy)
Borun isn’t superstitious (“Watching Phillip has been one of the greatest things. I’ll see him try on some new piece of equipment at Rolex and think, ‘I’d never do that!’ By this point, he’s broken me of lucky socks or anything like that”), but she plans to spend some time getting in the zone in Lexington, listening to her headphones or going for a run.
“I try to really focus on what I want to accomplish,” she said. “It’s a partnership we’ve worked on so hard together, and a dream I’ve been dreaming for 30 years. Whatever happens at Rolex, just to qualify is huge. But if we can be sound and happy and have a great experience, that’ll be pretty amazing. Let’s see what happens!”
Go Amy, Go Santa, Go Four-Star Amateurs Everywhere, and last but not least, Go Eventing!