“As soon as I could talk, I begged my parents to let me ride horses,” Mary-Haskins Gurganus recounts. “No one knew where this was coming from. I was not pushed into it. It had not been talked about. I was just born with a passion to ride and I’ve been serious about it since day one.”
Mary-Haskins was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, and began riding at age three when her parents, Page and Dick Gray, hosted her birthday party at Henson Farms. “I was hooked,” she recalls. “I spent every day of my childhood at Henson Farms. What a way to grow up!”
Mary-Haskins trained with Cami Bell, joined the Pony Club, and by age five was proficient at combined training and eventing. As a six-year-old, she fell in love with dressage and Tami Batts became her first dressage instructor. Mary-Haskins competed in her first dressage show at age seven. “It baffles me now to have children of my own and think of a six-year-old finding interest in dressage, then sticking with it day in and day out, year after year!” Mary-Haskins marvels. “It is just inside of me. I love to dance, and who better to dance with than a horse?”
During high school, Mary-Haskins trained with Tami Batts through her junior year and then Sidley Payne during her senior year. In 1999, through Sidley and Lauren Sammis, Mary-Haskins found Fregat (Fakir x Rampa), a seven-year old, bay Russian Budenny gelding, who became her partner for the next eight years. “He did not have much training when I got him, but he was very talented and gifted so the training was easy,” Mary-Haskins relates. “He was small – barely 16 hands, but he was a powerhouse. He moved like an 18.3-hand horse in a little package. I called him ‘Gaza’.” While attending North Carolina State University in Raleigh, Mary-Haskins and Fregat trained with Dennis Callin and David Taylor. Monica Theodorescu and the late George Theodorescu came almost monthly to train her, Dennis, and David. “Denny and David turned me into an international rider! I must credit them for that!” she emphasizes.
Mary-Haskins and Fregat rose to the top of the Young Rider ranks. The duo garnered back-to-back victories at the National Young Rider Championship at the Dressage Festival of Champions at Gladstone, New Jersey, claiming wins in two out of three classes in 2002 and making a clean sweep of the division in 2003. At the 2003 North American Young Rider Championships in Quebec, Canada, Mary-Haskins and Fregat represented Region 1. They won the Freestyle with a remarkable 74% and ultimately took home the Individual Gold Medal and the Team Silver Medal.
The USA Equestrian/USET Dressage Credentials Committee selected Mary-Haskins to receive the Torchbearer Grant to train in Europe and represent the United States at the 2003 Waldfried Euro Cup Final in Frankfurt, Germany. While in Germany, she trained for a month at Gestut Lindenhof, the Theodorescus’ farm. At the Euro Cup, Mary-Haskins and Fregat placed an impressive third.
“Since I was five years old I’ve been plugging away very seriously, but I got the ‘fever’ when I had my first international success in 2003,” Mary-Haskins recounts. “That feeling is now what it is all about. I want my horses and myself to be at the top of our game. I have set a standard for myself and now I have to fill my own shoes. Now comes good training and patience!”