By Stacy Bromley Cheetham
You don’t need to spend long with Cassidy Sitton to realize why she has such a dedicated group of riders in her barn — her smile and sense of humor are contagious, and her commitment and passion for the sport of eventing are truly special. That sense of humor and passion are also evident when she talks about the partnerships she has with her horses, and how she got her start in the industry.
Cassidy is a third-generation equestrian. Her grandmother rehabbed Thoroughbreds who came off the track with either physical or mental trauma. She focused on dressage, but the horses she rehabilitated were placed in homes where they were best suited. Cassidy grew up on the back of a horse on her parents’ Ghost Horse Farm. “My mom is one of the best people I’ve ever met when it comes to groundwork,” she said. She recalled several Thoroughbreds getting second chances at the farm and becoming productive performance horses through her mother’s hard work and dedication.
As a young teenager, Cassidy was quickly bored in the hunter-jumper world and fell in love with the thrill of eventing. She joined her local United States Pony Club chapter and quickly progressed through the levels, achieving her H-A rating at 16. Cassidy also quickly progressed through the levels of eventing with her home-bred Thoroughbred/Morgan cross, GH Sir Rocko.
Cassidy attended Ball State University on an academic scholarship and in 2006 graduated Summa Cum Laude with an honors degree in advertising. The day after graduation, she headed to Middleburg, Virginia, to start as a working student for U.S. rider Sinead Halpin and Canadian rider Rebecca Howard of Dunlavin Eventing. In 2007, she moved to North Carolina. Today, she runs C-Horse Equestrian out of a facility in Knightdale, North Carolina.
With her family’s fondness for the Thoroughbred, it should come as no surprise that Cassidy’s first off-the-track Thoroughbred (OTTB) was a horse she bought in college with spare scholarship money. Showing up at the track to meet with a trainer she knew through a mutual contact, she had $1,000 to spend and was quickly shown six horses. She decided on a little bay named Running Footman, who was still in wraps from his last race. Cassidy quickly changed that name to Subway Prophet. Why did she choose him over the others? “Honestly, I just liked the look Prophet had and I pretty much rely on my first impressions. I was so in love with him at first sight that I didn’t want an excuse to not buy him.”
Over the first six months, she fought to keep Prophet healthy. After not vetting him at the track, some major diagnostic work at home revealed that he had nerve damage from having tie-back surgery for roaring. Prophet was immediately taken off all hay and grass and placed on a complete pelleted feed to prevent the aspiration that had been causing him respiratory infections. His high-maintenance eating habits have gotten a bit easier in the last 12 years, but it’s taken a lot of experimenting and careful management.
Cassidy credits Prophet with making her into the rider and horsewoman she is today. She’s proud of Prophet’s success and that he turned out to be such a great all-around horse and example of the versatility of the Thoroughbred. He’s shown that versatility by competing through intermediate in eventing, second level in dressage, high-performance hunters and international hunter derbies, and even some western pleasure classes. He’s now retired as a lower-level eventer, and she teaches lessons on him — from first-time riders to intermediate riders needing a refresher. When asked about Prophet’s career, she said, “I consider the greatest success to be how well-rounded he ended up. Sometimes it makes me a bit teary-eyed to think about how wide his talents spread.”
Cassidy’s love for the breed is evident in her training philosophy and her teaching skills. “OTTBs always try hard,” she said. “They’ll make 100 mistakes, but it’ll be 100 different mistakes, and that’s okay with me. They dig deep when conditions are rough and they want to show off and be proud of themselves. I feel like the breed gets a reputation of being hot, but I’ve found quite the opposite — each of mine has been quiet enough to teach lessons on. They are sensitive though, so they feed off their surroundings.”
Another Second Chance
Thanks to Cassidy, another OTTB is getting a second chance: a grey mare named Mimi. Mimi’s connections were networking her on Facebook, and when Cassidy saw her photo, it was love at first sight. She drove all through the night to go take a look at the mare, and within 45 minutes of arriving at the barn, Mimi was on the trailer and on the way back to her new home in North Carolina. Cassidy’s excitement about Mimi is evident. “She’s easily the nicest-moving Thoroughbred I’ve ever had the chance to sit on, and I cannot wait to really start competing her,” she said.
In 2017, Cassidy hopes to compete Mimi in the hunter world and do some hunter derbies with her. She also has plans to compete her some in eventing, and hopes to continue working on her scores towards earning her USDF silver medal.
Cassidy proudly carries on the family tradition of producing quality performance horses out of Thoroughbreds needing second careers. She surrounds herself with people and horses she loves, and her loyal dog Peter is never far from her side. “Find the people, discover the places and hold on to the things that make you smile when no one is around,” she said. “And then make time for them, for they are your happiness.”