September 2016 - Horse People: Mackenna Shea
Written by Mikaela Kantorowski
Wednesday, 31 August 2016 19:09

Young eventer makes her mark with terrific Rolex and Rebecca Farms finishes.

by Mikaela Kantorowski

Mackenna Shea is not like most 23 year olds. A normal day for Mackenna is spent at the barn riding and caring for a number of extremely talented horses under the watchful eye of Tamie Smith.

Mackenna is one of the nation’s brightest young eventers with wins at the Advanced and Three Star levels, as well as a successful trip around the Rolex Kentucky Four Star course.

Mackenna and her mother. Photo: Courtney Bailey Photography

After show jumping at the Rolex Kentucky Four Star this year. With Heather Morris and Shannon McCormick.

She credits those around her with helping her develop into the rider and horsewomen she is today and is the first to admit that all the trials and tribulations have contributed to her success. Each setback instilled a desire to keep going and keep learning and has stoked her passion for the sport.

Mackenna grew up in Tacoma, WA and began riding with Michele Pestl at age 11. Michele made a huge impact in Mackenna’s career and sourced her now Three Star partner, Landioso, in Germany when Mackenna was just 14. Landioso was 5 at the time and the pair has developed and progressed through the levels together. Michelle coached them through the CIC Three Star level, during which Mackenna was named to the Developing Rider list at just 15.

The USET’s Developing Rider Lists serve as a pipeline for talent and allow riders to gain valuable experience training under the watchful eye of the USA team coaches and staff. It’s a huge honor at any age and highly unusual at 15. It was during those training sessions with previous USA coach, Captain Mark Phillips, that Mackenna met Tamie Smith, one of the nation’s top talents and owner of Next Level Eventing in Temecula.

Tamie recalls, “It was almost unheard of to have a rider named to the Developing Riders list at such a young age and on a horse she hadn’t done a Two Star on. When I first met her I thought, she’s such a sweet girl but maybe too naive and not tough enough to be in the sport. However I quickly recanted. She is the sweetest person I have met and extremely stubborn and extremely tough.”

Mackenna got her first taste of the pressures and expectations that come with being on the list during the 2010 training sessions. She knew Landioso was a special horse and thought “I am just a kid riding him.” She experienced her first milestone in 2011 with the completion of her first Advanced at the Event at Rebecca Farms in Montana. It was fitting that she did it there because the competition is one of her favorites. “I always had to choose between going to the North American Junior Young Rider Championships or Rebecca Farms (both in July) and I always ended up going back to Rebecca. There is just something so special about that event,” says the rider.

With Avery and Mackenna’s boyfriend Robert.

Partnership With Pros & Cons

Mackenna admits her partnership with “Landi” does have some baggage. “It’s a good and bad thing that we have been together for so long because I used to be just a kid riding him and he was young and we would have to learn the ropes together,” she explains. The pair tackled the Three Star at Rebecca Farms in the summer of 2012 and experienced their first real setback. Mackenna fell from Landioso at a ditch and she went back to Washington a bit defeated. At that same event, Tamie Smith broke her leg badly and that unfortunate circumstance for Tamie turned into a fantastic opportunity for Mackenna. Tamie called her to see if she would like to come down to California and help her ride while she recovered.

It was an offer Mackenna couldn’t refuse.

“I was riding around the Three Star level by the seat of my pants. It’s funny, you know you are going to learn but you don’t know how much you have coming your way,” she adds. “I look back now at the way I was riding then and it’s crazy to think what happens when you start to ride correctly.  I’m at the same level but riding so much better now.”

Neither Tamie nor Mackenna realized how close they would become. “Tamie has really shaped me the most,” Mackenna says. “I’m not sure if I will ever be as strong as she is but she brought me out of my shell and isn’t just my coach but also a close friend. I can go to her with anything and she has helped make me the person I am today.”

Tamie echoes her sentiments. “I’m so grateful and honored Mackenna is part of our team. She’s such a hard worker and has the natural ability to produce great things. I don’t know many young people who would have the drive or dedication that she does, it’s been a bumpy road for her but she keeps accepting the challenges and trying again.”

Even when she moved to California, little issues continued to pop up in her training. “He’s strong and uber talented; I second guess myself a lot,” explains Mackenna. Things truly turned around when they competed at the Bromont Horse Trials in Canada in late spring of 2014. It was her forth attempt at a CCI Three Star after various unfortunate circumstances prevented her from completing one in the past. She had traveled east for Jersey Fresh Three Star and when that didn’t go to plan she decided to stick around and base herself with Boyd Martin. It was this decision that helped her get over the hump and be so successful at Bromont.

“Boyd really went out of his way to make sure I felt comfortable and got in all the practice I needed,” says Mackenna. “He was always setting things up at his farm to focus on my cross-country riding and it gave me more and more confidence in myself.”

Fast-forward to the next year, 2015, Mackenna and Landioso traveled to the Bluegrass state to tackle the Rolex Kentucky CCI Four Star event for the first time. Things didn’t quite go to plan and they suffered a fall on cross-county, however it motivated her to come back the next year better and stronger.

Solid Comeback

The year that followed was filled with a colic surgery and a comeback that can only be described as inspiring. The two bonded even more during that time and came out swinging in 2016. Mackenna focused her spring on a return to Kentucky and her hard work paid off in completing the Rolex Kentucky Four Star, including a clear cross-country trip. She credits her coaches, vets, farriers and everyone involved in Landioso’s care in helping her get there. When talking about Kentucky, Mackenna explains, “It gave me confidence in myself because after the previous year I maybe thought I couldn’t do it. I took the pressure off myself and him and it really helped.” It was a major milestone for her career.

With longtime friend Avery Klunick and Tamie Smith in Kentucky.

With members of the Next Level Eventing family.

This summer following Rolex Kentucky, Mackenna got one of the biggest wins of her career. It was her 10-year anniversary of going to Rebecca Farms to compete and it was her first run back since Rolex. She was entered in the CIC Three Star and had been working hard with her coaches back home. She describes the lead up at the event as “very good” and he had been going well on the flat that week.

By Friday she described Landioso as “a bit over it,” however her test was good. While it could always be better, she was able to bring the things she had been working on with dressage coach, Niki Clarke, into the ring and performed well.

The cross-county was described as being “very hard” and it kept going right from the beginning. The course was twisty and different than what she was used to riding in California. She had no idea how it would ride but once she got on course it all was, in Mackenna’s words, very fun. “I was able to test him because he knows his job and hunts for the fences now. I usually go slower but I was really able to practice going more forward,” she explains. In her first run since Rolex Kentucky, she produced a great clear round that secured her place near the top of the leaderboard.

On the final day it came down to her show jumping round. Mackenna and Landioso were clicking on all cylinders. Even though she had one bobble down the final line, the pair came away with just one rail down. It is easy to tell how well they know each other when Mackenna talks about that round. “He’s a good jumper and a good boy. I know him so well and he knows me so when I make a mistake he always tries his heart out to bail me out of the situation. It was incredible to come to this venue and have such a great showing on the 10-year anniversary of our first time here and it was awesome to have Tamie (Smith) and Heather (Morris) there as well because we tend to put the pressure on each other and it makes it so fun. We joked we were going to go 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 the whole weekend.”

As for the future, Mackenna has big plans for this fall. They begin with a trip east for the American Eventing Championships held this month at the Tryon Equestrian Center in North Carolina. She plans to take Landioso and compete in the Advanced Gold Cup Championships, as well as two exciting young horses in the Preliminary division.     From there she plans to stay east in Pennsylvania and train with Olympians Phillip Dutton (Rio individual bronze medalist) and Boyd Martin. Phillip spent time out West this spring helping her and Tamie Smith with their horses and cross-country riding, which Mackenna says “completely changed the way she rode,” and she has prior experience working for Boyd Martin thus making Pennsylvania the perfect fit.

She plans to do the Plantation CIC Three Star and go on to Fair Hill CCI Three Star. Mackenna has had an unsuccessful trip around the course before but this time she plans to “be competitive, ride him to the best of my ability, and show him off in the best way I can.” One thing is for certain, you can expect to see Mackenna’s name on future training lists, national teams and on the top of the leader board.

Watch out world, here she comes.


Author Mikaela Kantorowski is a staff member at Athletux, Inc. an equestrian oriented sports marketing firm.