It was a bittersweet weekend at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event for Canadian eventer Lisa Marie Fergusson. Riding Honor Me, the pair were the top Canadian entry in the CCI5*-L, finishing 19th. But it had been a difficult road to this event, a testament to this rider’s grit and determination.

The Langley, BC native who now calls her North Star Eventing in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania home, said, “This year’s been kind of a hard year for me. In December, my mom, Bonnie, had a heart attack and was in the hospital for a month. I was there for the whole month and I ended up having to move her to assisted living.”

Lisa called on some members of the eventing community for support. “I had been flying home to spend more time with her, but I couldn’t keep Tali [Honor Me] going while I was in Vancouver. So I thought about a rider that would get along with him. The list is very small!”

“My jog outfit was blue, her favourite colour. I’m running this weekend for her.” (MacMillan Photography)

She bounced an idea off a fellow eventer. “I called Jen Holling and said ‘you’re really good friends with the Laws. I can’t think of anybody who would do a better job with Tali than Leslie’. I called the Laws and they said they’d take him and keep him going for me. So I was able to spend more time with my mom, and I’m so glad I did.” Sadly, Bonnie died on April 15th. “I thought she’d have a lot more time, but she didn’t. She was supposed to come to this event with her best friend Irene. This was her favourite event.”

Thoughts of competing at Kentucky were certainly not a priority at this difficult time, but, “When she died on Good Friday, I stayed for the weekend, and then I was like, ‘Screw it. I’m gonna go run cross-country in her honour.'”

Her mother has always been her biggest fan and was right beside her providing moral support when Lisa decided to make the move to live and train in the US. “When I had Uni (the late Uni Griffon), he was a really good advanced horse and we were trying to qualify for the Olympics. David O’Connor was our [team] coach and came out and said, ‘You’re a big fish in a small pond on this coast. You gotta come and play with the big boys.'”

“So my mom and I packed up the trailer. My boyfriend Mike bought us tickets to go watch cross-country here [Kentucky] in 2007. I drove out here with my mom, we watched Kentucky, and then I continued on to the O’Connor’s and stayed there for the summer.”

Prior to Kentucky, Lisa and Tali ran at The Fork at Tryon on April 7-10, placing 18th in the CCI4* – S with a clear cross-country round and just a handful of time faults. “I rode him at The Fork and then I flew in and rode him four or five times before we got here,” said Lisa, adding “I mean, how many horses can you fly in after riding probably less than 10 times in a month and run around a five star? The Laws did a fabulous job; their girls, Anna and Leah and Lydia took such amazing care of him.” The girls would send pictures and videos of Tali, much to the delight of Lisa’s mom.

Walking the LRK3DE course with Leslie had the added benefit of hearing his insights about Tali, as he had been riding him. Said Lisa of her horse’s favourite phase, “I know Tali so well that now you just kind of line up the flags and he does it on his own; you don’t have to do anything. He’s a joy in that phase. He lives for it.”

As most horse people know, riding and just spending time with their horses can be a powerful solace when things are tough. “It’s an amazing distraction, especially with a horse like Tali.”

Bonnie and Lisa in Vancouver. (photo courtesy LM Fergusson)

Lisa bought Honor Me at the end of his four-year-old year; he’s now 16. In fact, Kentucky marked the chestnut Welsh Sport Horse gelding’s birthday and there was no shortage of carrots (50 lbs!) and Stud Muffins. “He’s a treat hound. But his favourite is Aunt Angi’s special unicorn cookies – they’re adorable and he loves them.”

Back to the earlier reference to the list of compatible riders for Tali being “small,” Lisa explained, “He’s very strongly opinionated, but he’s so sweet. He’s a character in the barn but he’s one of those personalities where if you approach him with a ‘hey buddy, lets try and get along’, he’s fabulous. But if you think you’re going to tell him what to do – not so fabulous.”

“He has a couple of cheeky habits: when you take him for a hack, if you turn around to go home, you cannot touch the reins. Because if you touch the reins, he will bounce around like a crazy animal. If you don’t touch the reins, he’ll just power walk wherever you’re going.”

“And when you hand walk him, you have to walk at his speed, or he has to walk a few steps, stop and wait for you.”

Last year, after a few uncharacteristic runouts on course, Tali was diagnosed with a bit of arthritis in his neck, but an adjustment has seen him become a cross-country machine again. The addition of a magnetic blanket courtesy of groom Chelsea Kolman also helped keep Honor Me loose and happy in Kentucky. “I need to buy one,” said Lisa, laughing.

As to what the immediate future holds? “He’s going to go and sit in the field for a bit,” said Lisa. “Then I’ll pull him out and do the Devon Arena Eventing because he loves that. He loves the crowds ‒ not in dressage! ‒ but in the jumping.

“I’m hoping he’ll go to Maryland or Burghley this fall. Maryland, where I can actually ride to get ready!”

And of course let’s not forget (fingers crossed) the World Championships in Pratoni this September…..