When California eventer Shannon Lilley first came to Flying Tail Farms 20-plus years ago she was also swimming competitively. "I told her, 'Maybe that's your sport'," laughs Dayna Lynd-Pugh of the youngster who is now her partner in the training business. "That was like waving a red flag in front of a bull. She was going to show me that wasn't true."
Preparing to represent the U.S. in October's Pan American Games as we went to press, Shannon proved Dayna wrong and the eventing luminary is more than happy to admit it. "I don't know anybody that works harder than Shannon does and it's really nice to see this all come together for her."
Shannon found herself in a delightful but unusual position, that of "coachee" rather than coach. She has followed Dayna's footsteps as Area VI's Young Riders coordinator and/or coach for several years. On top of that, she and Dayna run their successful eventing barn in Northern California's Gilroy as a team, whether their horses and riders are aiming for the Olympics or their Beginner Novice debut.
In her new role as a team rider, Shannon was loving the luxury of watching her international contemporaries in action. "I usually have three or four horses to ride or am running the barn, so to be competing with just one horse and having time to watch has been great."
Shannon has had her eye on representing the States in competition for many years. The eventing fates' alignment for the opportunity now is "surreal," she says. "I've never given up hope and I've always known that a life with horses involves a lot of ups and downs."
Mad For Mango!
She's always been confident in her training program, having ridden under Dayna's guidance since her teens. What was missing was the
right horse at the right time, and that arrived
in Ballingowan Pizazz, known around the barn
Mango didn't come to Shannon the easy way. She and Dayna found the Irish Sport Horse for a client when he was a 4-year-old. He's 9 now, and Shannon is his third owner since he came to Flying Tail Farms. Dayna, in particular, recognized his abilities early on, but he wound up not being a perfect fit for his first owner. Another Flying Tail student, Lindsay Connors, bought Mango and did well with him. Lindsay knew all along that Shannon would love to buy Mango and when she decided to attend veterinary school out of the country earlier this year, she gave her trainer plenty of notice in hopes that Shannon could get the money together to buy him.
"We've known of his talent for a long time and I've always thought he was quite amazing," Shannon says. She had schooled him over the last four years, but says that riding him as her own horse required a transition for both. "You don't ride somebody else's horse the way that you would ride your own horse," she explains. "It took a while for me to learn to go his way and for him to learn to go mine.
"It all came together pretty quickly," she continues. She considered the Pan Am Games a long shot back when she was pitching prospective partners in an ownership group to buy Mango. But a third place finish at the Rebecca Farm CCI** in Montana in late July landed the new pair on the USEF's shortlist for consideration on the Pan Am Games squad. Next, it was a quick turnaround to head to Michigan for the Richland Park Horse Trials and CIC, a mandatory outing for those on the shortlist. She and Mango set the establishment on notice by winning that Aug. 25-28 event and earning their spot on the team. The success also confirmed their faith in Mango. "I really think I could give him a course plan and he'd take off and do it," she says of his game jumping attitude.
Being a team rider may be new, but Shannon was instantly in easy company as the Games neared. Teammates Buck Davidson and Jon Holling are already good friends. As chefs d'equipe for Area VI and IV Young Riders teams for the last few years, Shannon and Jon have enjoyed a lighthearted rivalry and now have the chance to compete on the same side. Hannah Sue Burnett and Michael Pollard round out the Pan Am team.
Shannon and Mango continued their terrific Pan Am preparation with a runner-up finish in an intermediate division of the team's final mandatory outing, the Morven Park Fall Horse Trials Oct. 1-2. Fifty-degree weather descended on the Virginia venue, and California girl Shannon says early winter was a bit of a shock to the system, not to mention the muddy conditions that came with it. From Virginia, they were set to travel to Ocala, FL for more training with chef d'equipe Captain Mark Phillips, before the horses flew out on Oct. 15. In gestures that illustrate the team's camaraderie, Jon Holling had offered Mango a ride to Florida and a place to stay there, and Buck Davidson had offered living quarters for Shannon, throwing in the loan of a car. "So, I'm not feeling alone out here!" she assures.
The Games were set to take place in Guadalajara, Mexico, on Oct. 14-30 with eventing staged Oct. 21-23.
Preparation Pays Off
In her delightful blog on www.flyingtailfarms.com, Shannon talks about the great feeling of being prepared for the opportunity she and Mango earned in just four months as a pair. She says riding for Captain Phillips is very similar to riding for Dayna because they both expect and encourage continual improvement and fine tuning. "One thing I have learned while riding with Dayna is that no matter what, you can always be better," she wrote. "Your canter can be more uphill, your trot more active, more leg, less hand…You get my point. This is why the adjustment to riding with Mark was seamless."
Even before the team left for Mexico, Shannon had accomplished a mission of representing Flying Tail Farms with flying colors. She's grateful for the team effort that helped her get here. That starts with the training barn's team spirit from the early days forward and includes the fundraising auction and online drive to help her meet an estimated $15,000 towards the roughly 9,000-mile Pan Am odyssey. Due to the fast chain of events since being named to the team, there wasn't much time to promote the fundraisers. At presstime, several great auction items were available on the "auction" page of Flying Tail's website and donations in any amount were greatly appreciated.
Shannon began riding with Dayna and Flying Tail in 1988 and became Dayna's training partner in 2000. Both have been instrumental in developing the Area VI's Young Riders program and its successes, which include Two-Star golds in 2008 and 2009. Dayna's daughter Kelly Pugh is an NAYJRC graduate and an up and comer on the national eventing scene.
The Pan Am Games results will be known by the time this issue arrives, but whatever Shannon and Mango's performance, she will no doubt have accomplished her mission of representing Flying Tail Farms and, in the process, the West Coast eventing scene, very well.