By Marie Brock for Chronicle of the Horse
When Jenni Martin-McAllister started 2014, the Longines 2014 FEI World Cup Final wasn’t in her crosshairs. But on April 10, she boarded a plane to Lyon, France, for her first World Cup Final appearance.
Martin-McAllister hopes that she and Granville Equine’s Casseur de Prix will make the United States, the West Coast and the many players in her riding history proud.
Competing in a World Cup Final is a lifelong dream for Martin-McAllister. She dabbled in the early season qualifiers for the World Cup, and when she looked at the ranking list before heading to the HITS Desert Circuit (Calif.) this winter, she realized there was a real possibility that her World Cup dream might just come true. At HITS, placings in the top 12 in the two CSI-Ws kept her in the World Cup points hunt.
Martin-McAllister found her place in the saddle when most children are focused on learning to crawl. Her older sister, Cecily, had her on a horse at 6 months old and in a lesson program by age 3. “The rest is history,” said Martin-McAllister.
With a foundation in dressage, a background in eventing, and a few experiences with barrel racing, off-the-track Thoroughbreds and western pleasure horses, Martin-McAllister is a rider pieced together by influences from every discipline.
“I had horses in my backyard, and it didn’t really matter what it was, as long as it was on a horse, I would do it,” she said. “I was fortunate that my sister had a dressage influence and made it a priority for me to do clinics with people like Franz Rohvansky. Cecily instilled in me that well-rounded flatwork was going to be an important part of my training.”
After successfully eventing to the preliminary level for several years, Martin-McAllister began to watch the likes of Joe Fargis and Conrad Homfeld in the jumper ring and was bitten by the show jumping bug. Her first jumper was a half-blind mare named Apple Annie who came very cheap.
“I got her as a 2-year-old and fell in love immediately,” said Martin-McAllister. “She may have been blind in one eye, but she was a fabulous jumper. I did [the North American Young Riders Championships] on her and then my first grand prix.”
As a junior, Martin-McAllister was a member of the silver medal Zone 10 NAYRC team. More recently, Martin-McAllister competed the chestnut mare V de Pomme in Europe from 2006 to 2008 and today is consistently at the top grand prix level. She and her husband, Steve, run the Martin-McAllister Training Program out of the Flintridge Riding Club in La Canada Flintridge, Calif.
On Aug. 31, Jenni was celebrating her 44th birthday at the barn when Casseur de Prix arrived. While familiar with the 14-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Caretino—Feder) after watching fellow West Coast rider Lane Clarke compete him, Jenni didn’t immediately see World Cup glory on their shared horizon. They did, however, win their first grand prix together, the $30,000 L.A. International (Calif.) in September.
They followed that up with third in the World Cup class at Del Mar International (Calif.) in October and ninth in the $50,000 Las Vegas CSI-W (Nev.) in November. “We were always close to being a contender but not quite close enough,” she said. “But after seeing the rankings in the fall, we figured we would give it our best shot in Thermal and see what happened.”
Jenni and Casseur de Prix were in the money in both CSI-W classes in the desert and had already made plans to head east for the Great American $1 Million Grand Prix in Ocala, Fla. Then, at that last minute, she added the CSI-W at the Live Oak International in Ocala on March 22 to Casseur de Prix’s schedule. It was the points they earned with a sixth-placed finish there that eventually made their World Cup debut a reality.
At Live Oak months of cat and mouse over World Cup points between Jenni and fellow World Cup contender Ashlee Bond Clarke came to its peak. “It was some fun competition between us over the winter—we were both just a few points from making it and traded positions in the rankings several times during Thermal,” said Jenni.
Clarke finished fourth in the West Coast league standings and Martin-McAllister finished sixth—good enough for a berth.
After Casseur de Prix proved he can be competitive indoors last fall, Jenni is confident that the leggy bay gelding will show up ready to jump come the start of the Longines FEI World Cup Final on April 17. “He’s a horse that really wants to trust his rider, and I am so lucky he has accepted me as one of his partners,” she said. “Every time he goes in the ring he wants to try his hardest, and if I’m there for him, I know that he will always be there for me.”
Jenni admits that no matter the outcome in Lyon, she’s basking in the victory of making it to the World Cup Final and is proud to be among the strong contingent of West Coast riders who have both preceded her and will follow her path.
“It’s difficult to top the Rolex Rankings and qualify for the Olympic Games from the West Coast without uprooting your whole operation to jump on the East Coast,” she said. “With such a strong indoor circuit out here, this is a real, attainable goal. Rich Fellers’ [Rolex FEI World Cup Final] win two years ago proved that we work hard to maintain quality horses and riders at West Coast shows.”
The word Jenni used to categorize her reaction to qualifying was “proud.”
“I have jumped Casseur de Prix big and prepared him well. He has the scope and the talent—now we will let the chips fall where they may,” she said. “He belongs there just as much as anybody else, and if we both have a good day, it will all come together.”