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This has been a year of extreme highs and lows for Millbrook, N.Y. rider and trainer Booli Selmayr, 29, who runs Fox Valley Sport Horses. She has a promising group of horses and students and is a popular member of the Millbrook horse community. In September she and Tom Duggan’s 5-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare, Kildare’s MHS Tampa (Quintender x Lady Ligustra), won the Novice Horse Championship at the USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) presented by Land Rover and Nutrena in Tryon, N.C., and this week they will head to the USEA Young Event Horse (YEH) East Coast Championships at Fair Hill International in Elkton, Md.
The AEC win was a comeback from a devastating loss at the Bromont CCI in Quebec, Canada in June, where the mare Jaeda, owned by Kelly Morgan, collapsed and died while Selmayr was galloping her around the CCI3* cross country course. A post-mortem exam performed at the Faculté de Médecine Vétérinaire St-Hyacinthe revealed that Jaeda suffered an acute diaphragmatic hernia, an injury that could not have been foreseen and is uncommon in event horses.
“That was a horrendous time,” said Selmayr. “After Jaeda it was really rough and every once in a while I’ll just be bawling in a car, I don’t know what triggers it. Thank God it happened early in the year, because I had the distraction of a busy barn. I still don’t have words for what happened – I have such a great support system, I took one day off from the barn and then was teaching again. I needed to dive into work and teaching. I told my students if my face is all wet just ignore it. It was one of those things, after the last fence at the AEC I really had to keep it together because it’s been such an emotional year, from the worst to the highs.”
Booli Selmayr competing Jaeda at the 2017 Carolina International Horse Trials.
She credits the Millbrook community for its support and inspiration. “I love Area I, it feels like we’re all in this together. Area I is really a small community and we’re all hard-working professionals and do it because we love eventing. It’s really neat because you see people at different stages of their career, the kids just so excited about it, there are people my age plugging away hoping to get to the international level and then the riders you can look up to for emotional support who have totally been there, like Darrah Alexander and Mikki Kuchta – I’ve known her since I was 12 years old. Now I’m seeing the kids who are 12 and will be in my place in a few years.”
This is Selmayr’s first year really campaigning a horse in the YEH program. She said that she dabbled in it in 2016 but didn’t really understand the program. Now she’s studied how it works and gotten more involved.
“Tom got the mare in Aiken and actually she was a little wild,” said Selmayr, who has been riding the mare since spring. “She’d come over from Ireland and had an easy winter in Millbook so she’s definitely hot to trot. Tom is so great, he has a great facility where the horses can be really relaxed. My big goal is to do something every day, keeping it really not stressful and different – that finally made her go, ‘Okay these people aren’t going to torture me!’ It took her to her first event in June and she was a little bug-eyed, but she had fun and we won. After that she was like, ‘I AM AN EVENT HORSE!’ Even if it’s crappy weather I ride her outside – she’s a typical mare and you just have to keep her happy.”
She said that Tom has been in Millbrook for many years and has a very successful business bringing on kids and amateurs. He also imports a number of fox hunters, and he brought over Welcome Shadow – the fox hunter turned four-star eventer owned by Gloria Callen and competing under Boyd Martin.
“He’s great to have in the area. He mainly brings horses from Ireland and is very knowledgeable about the bloodlines. He’s brought over a really nice crop of horses over the past couple years including some really nice mares. We’ve been working together for the past couple years; we’d known each other in passing and I started teaching his kids a couple years ago. Anna is 18 and just went to college and Josephine is 13.”
Booli in the victory gallop at the 2017 AEC. Amber Heintzberger Photo.
"Last year I competed in the three-star at Fair Hill, but I watched the Young Event Horses and it was so nice to see the quality group of horses. I’d like to get more horses competing in the 4- and 5- year-old classes; you see horses now doing the three and four-stars who did the Young Event Horse competitions before, and I definitely want to get more involved with it,” said Selmayr.
Selmayr has her own business with a few sales and competition horses and mainly adult amateur clients, but she travels to the Duggans’ farm each day to ride and teach as well.
She continued, “I think over the years Tom’s horses will do great things. They are mostly Irish Sport Horses, often of mixed breeding: Kildare’s Happy is Irish Draught and Holsteiner and Tampa is classically Irish Draught on the mare side, but French on the top side. All of them are at least a quarter Irish Draught or half Irish Sport Horse. The thing I love about the Irish Sport Horses is that they’ll get dirty, but then be nifty with their legs, and they also have this calm about them. The classic horses with the really old bloodlines just go to work and don’t get tired because they’re not fighting and fussing with you. Tampa really just digs in – at the AEC it had rained and I wasn’t sure about the footing, but it was all good. We’re having so much fun – like I said, the beginning of the year was horrendous but you’ve just got to keep looking forward.”