Whereas most people would be down and out with a broken neck or a broken collarbone, those maladies didn't even come close to slowing the pace for the fiery pair of Brit Helen McNaught and New Zealander Duncan McFarlane. From injuries to victories, the pressures (and potential injuries) of preparing and competing grand prix horses on the west coast, as far north as Calgary, and the east coast, as far east as Saugerties, don't faze Helen, Duncan and the Outwoods Farm team.
Whether or not luck has anything to do with it, a kitten ‘walked' into their lives last fall and earned a place on the Outwoods Team. They found the little stowaway in the trailer on their way to Saugerties, NY to compete in the Pfizer Million last September (2011). Apparently after finding a new home for a litter, this little feline was left behind. So across the country the kitten went, quite a trip for any animal let alone an orphaned baby, but Lucky was up for the adventure and is now a part of the family. Plus as luck would have it, Helen and Duncan came home with some fabulous prizes from the weekend to boot.
Caballo and Lucky
The sweet little kitty seems to have a guardian angel. After his rescue and adoption, Lucky was attacked by pit bulls, but lives to tell the story. He likes to sleep in Mr. Whoopy's stall, where the usually spunky stallion happily eats around him. And true to the feisty Outwoods nature, the cat marches around like a watchdog, securing the stabling area from any unwanted visitors. Wherever Helen and Duncan go, Lucky is usually in their midst.
Caballo and Lucky
Ups and Downs
Even with all his inherent goodness, Lucky can't keep two active grand prix riders risk-free. In October of 2011, Helen suffered a potentially career ending neck injury while schooling a horse at their farm. With careful orders from the doctor, she was told to stay off horses for several months. So Duncan took up the reins and competed her grand prix mount Caballo until their winter break in December. As soon as the calendar turned to 2012 and Helen was given the thumbs up, she wasted no time getting back in the saddle. Potentially spurred on by the forced break, she returned stronger than ever. Winning the HITS Thermal $50,000 EMO Grand Prix Week I aboard Lariccello was not a bad start to the winter season. She was second in two of the five World Cup Qualifiers at HITS (Weeks II & IV) on Caballo.
In the spring the tables turned. As Helen affectionately stated, Duncan became a "busted kiwi", taking a fall and breaking his collarbone at the Del Mar Horse Park in May. It's no surprise that the following day, he was out setting jumps, helping with the horses and coaching. No matter the injuries or setbacks, these two resilient riders complement each other, always ready and willing to step up and do their part. Nothing seems to dampen their competitive, hard-working and determined spirits.
"Whoopy and Caballo are best friends," explained Helen. "Caballo is the bossier of the two, which is a touch surprising since Whoopy is the stallion."
Beginning to compete at the higher levels at the ripe age of 12, Caballo had a late start in his high performance career. Helen refused to heed the warnings from friends and family and spent all her savings on the purchase of this talented yet difficult mount. She had her doubts early on after getting dumped repeatedly when he didn't want to go somewhere or jump a particular fence. Definitely not a quitter, and believing in her own instincts as well as Caballo's, she made him face his demons and after months of daily trials, patience and consistency, they solidified their partnership.
"He's paid me back in full a million times over and I'm so thankful to have him," the proud mother gushed.
She's confident that he still has some competitive years left in him and "he'll tell me when he's ready to retire". When that time comes, Caballo will be flown to England to spend the rest of his days grazing and enjoying life on the McNaught family farm. Plus before he was gelded, they collected some semen in order to breed and raise Caballo babies in the future.
Helen's second grand prix mount came about three years ago, after a rough start elsewhere. "He can jump a house," said Helen, "but he has to want to do it, otherwise he just won't."
Once again Helen has produced a top competitor for owner Alison Heafey, and Lariccello has now come into his own. As 2011 came to a close he was the second leading money winner in Northern California. The pair continues to earn top prizes, including winning the aforementioned HITS Thermal $50,000 EMO Grand Prix., and the Sonoma Horse Park THIS $30,000 Grand Prix this past July, for the second year in a row. Plus a well-earned fourth in the $32,000 Cargill Cup 1.50m FEI class at the Canada One Tournament up at Spruce Meadows.
A stallion with a sweetheart disposition, "Whoopy" is a love back at the barn, but a fierce and spunky competitor in the show ring. Known for his big jump and playful antics, he will often hop, buck and then jump during a round. That certainly has not stopped the duo of Duncan and now 10-year-old Whoopy from a stellar career. Owner Simone Coxe purchased the stallion as a five-year-old, and Duncan has brought him along carefully over the years. Along with placing second at the prestigious Pfizer Million back in September (2011) and earning a top prize the inaugural year, Whoopy has won several other grand prix classes, including the World Cup Qualifier $53,000 HITS Grand Prix CSI2*-W. While Duncan was out with injury this spring, Whoopy didn't miss a beat with Helen aboard. Together they won the $20,000 Jennifer Marlborough Memorial Grand Prix at the Golden State Horse Show. It was a one-two victory, as she came in second on her own Caballo.
With his breeding program underway, Whoopy has one filly on the ground, appropriately named "Whoop-dee-do." We can look forward to, and hope to write about, the Caballo as well as the Whoopy-sired offspring in years to come.
HITS in winter and fall
After letting the horses rest for all of December, HITS Thermal is the sunny desert oasis that the Outwoods Team seeks out after the holidays.
Helen claimed, "It's the best for our business. A great way to start the year off with plenty of grand prix classes, indoor and out, plenty of places to ride and a great group of people we look forward to seeing every winter."
And nothing like a little time in New York to spice up a fall season - Helen and Duncan will soon be trekking cross-country to Saugerties for the third year in a row. Certainly worth the effort with the large potential payout, Helen and Duncan (and Lucky and the boys) enjoy the time on the road.
"The footing is great, the facilities are wonderful, the staff is incredible" commented the couple, "and we love how Tom (Struzzeri) is so involved with the community."
As the west coast welcomes the new Thermal Million Grand Prix League culminating at the end of the HITS Desert Circuit 2013, the Outwoods Team won't have to travel so far for the big bucks. However with a million offered on not just one but now two coasts, two times per year, it's likely this dream team will plan to pursue positions at both events.
Thank you, Helen and Duncan, for taking the time to share your lives, your horses and the importance of having a great team that can pick up the reins and keep you laughing no matter the setback. We wish you the best this season and in many seasons to come with the boys and the offspring, as well as client horses, to follow.
Helen and Duncan asked us to thank their staff at Outwoods Farm, the owners, clients, and supporters, without whom they could not be the dream team they aim to be every day.
Photos: McNaught and Mr. Whoopy winning the $20,000 Jennifer Marlborogh Memorial Grand Prix at this year's Golden State Horse Show. © Ryan Polli; Lucky and Caballo; McNaught and Mr. Whoopy winning the $20,000 Jennifer Marlborogh Memorial Grand Prix at this year's Golden State Horse Show. © Ryan Polli