The Triumphant Return of Suzy Stafford and PVF Peace of Mind
Thursday, March 19, 2020
Posted by Jennifer Keeler
OCALA, FL. - The last time World Champion driver Suzy Stafford brought her longtime partner PVF Peace of Mind to Live Oak International, it was early spring 2018 and the show did not go as planned. The rigors of five years of top-level international competition had taken their toll on the feisty Morgan mare known affectionately as "Hunny", and feeling that something wasn't quite right, Stafford made the decision to withdraw her partner after the first day's dressage phase.
Thus began a two-year break from the competition spotlight to let Hunny's body heal from what turned out to be some underlying physical issues. In the meantime, she was bred multiple times to a top Morgan stallion to hopefully produce another future champion for Stafford. But Hunny refused to get in foal, and as time went by, made it very clear she was not content being a pasture pet either.
"She would just pace the fence when I worked with other horses and was a bit unbearable to live with," Stafford laughed. "She still wanted to be in the middle of everything. And despite the efforts of top vets, she apparently didn't want to be a mother either. I guess it just wasn't meant to be right now. And over time I noticed that her soundness kept improving, so this fall I started her back in light work and went ahead and brought her to Florida so I could use her for lessons."
But Hunny wasn't quite ready to be a schoolmaster either, and Stafford couldn't help but wonder what if. "I realize it might sound kind of crazy, but she felt so good mentally and physically I decided to prep her for Live Oak," Stafford explained. "Of course I had a moment of doubt as she had not shown in two years and here we would be tackling the largest, most competitive combined driving event in the country. But I took a breath and asked myself, 'Has Hunny ever let you down?' and the answer was no."
As the week of the 30th anniversary of Live Oak International began on March 5, 2020, Stafford's faith in her partner and in her careful preparation paid off. Right off the bat, the pair trotted down centerline to perform a breathtaking dressage test, earning the top score of 45.84 in the FEI 2* Single Horse division. "People who know me will be shocked to hear this, but I almost cried at the final halt," Stafford admitted. "To realize all that Hunny and I had been through and find ourselves back at Live Oak to produce such an incredible performance - it was a moment I'll never forget."
But the ultimate test of physical fitness was still to come as Saturday's marathon course loomed large with seven impressive and technical obstacles and a full field of top competitors on her heels. With navigator Larry Hart on the back step, once again Stafford's experience and partnership with her horse prevailed as the pair finished second on the marathon in order to hold on to their overall lead.
"She was so super on marathon - she knows when it's game time, and I was fully committed and trusted her," Stafford noted. "And I couldn't have done it without Larry. When I decided to bring Hunny back into the competition arena, I called 'The Man' and said this won't happen without the whole Dream Team. Despite the short notice, he said he wouldn't miss it. Even though it had been two years since we all took on a marathon together, it was like we hadn't missed a day."
With only one ball in hand going into the final day's cones competition, Stafford and Hunny needed to bring their A game back to the Live Oak International arena one more time. In true fairytale-ending fashion, the pair cemented their victory with a double-clear round to claim their fourth Live Oak International title and earn the best FEI overall score across all divisions (139.15). "In cones she felt like butter, enjoying her job and felt so good in her body even after a tough marathon," said Stafford. "Great competition across three days of willingness, excitement, concentration and love for this horse and the entire team who supports her - that's what winning means to me.
"I've said it before but I'll say it again - this horse is my soulmate," Stafford concluded. "Our journey together has been filled with triumph and tragedy, and it's a journey that has taught me so much about myself through the eyes of a mare that is strong, opinionated and committed. In addition, there is an army of people that believes in us and I appreciate everyone that has shown us love and support over the years. Morgan strong all day long!"