There were a lot of years when Jodie Stevens Kelly wondered if Manhattan, her FEI prospect, could stop bucking long enough to get through a dressage test. She’s not wondering anymore. Stevens Kelly and Manhattan took the win in the FEI Open Intermediaire II in the Wellington Classic Dressage Challenge II with a score of 66.90 percent. It was the very first Intermediaire II for Stevens Kelly and for Manhattan.
“I’ve had him since he was two and a half and he used to buck me off every single day,” Stevens Kelly said. “He was wild as a young horse. He never bucked me off mean. He was just happy and exuberant and full of life.”
Stevens Kelly was 13 when she bought the young Dutch gelding (by Uniform) from her trainer, Toine Hoefs. And despite all the difficulties of those early years, it’s clear she’s loved every minute of her partnership with the 13-year-old gelding. “We have had just so much fun growing up together. We’ve had a lot of rough times and he’s been very frustrating at moments, but he’s just got the best personality ever. He’s so much fun and I wouldn’t trade a minute of all the blood, sweat and tears.”
Stevens Kelly, 23, said it never took much to set off Manhattan. “Something would catch his eye and off he’d go.” But she never gave up on her new friend and when asked how she solved the bucking problem, her answer was as simple as could be – “We just worked and trained through it.”
In fact, Stevens Kelly gives a lot of credit to Manhattan for making her the rider that she is today. “I’ve gotten a lot stronger as a rider and he’s really made me the rider that I am.” Stevens Kelly and Manhattan may now be on the FEI road heading toward Grand Prix, but she said that Manhattan still likes to surprise her. “He has the tendency to be many different horses. One day he’s wild and crazy and the next day he’s nice and quiet and the next day he’s a little bit different. He’s getting more and more consistent now that he’s older, but when he was young it was like having 10 horses.”
Stevens Kelly certainly deserves credit for sticking with her young bucking bronc, but she herself gives much of the credit to her parents and to Hoefs. Her parents, she said, have made it possible for her to spend her life riding and Hoefs has made her an educated rider. Stevens Kelly is based in Loxahatchee, Florida during the winter show season and at her family’s farm in the Florida panhandle the rest of the year. She spends part of the summers in Holland training with Hoefs, with whom she’s been riding since she was 10.
“This is Toine’s first season here in Florida. So this is the first time in all the years I’ve been riding with him that he’s been on the Florida circuit with me. The year I bought Manhattan I stayed in Holland with him and trained, but usually when I’m in Holland I’m riding Toine’s horses. This is the first year that I’ve had several months of solid training with Toine with my horses and he’s just made such a huge difference,” Stevens Kelly said.
In addition to her busy life showing and training, Stevens Kelly is taking college classes with the aim of eventually earning a degree in journalism. But she expects that it’ll take her a bit longer than the average college student because horses do get in the way. “Being a professional rider is what I really want to do and it’s looking more and more possible. I have a lot of clients. I’m really lucky in that I think I’m going to be able to make it professionally.”