By Lauren R. Giannini
Growing up fascinated by every aspect of your mother’s teaching, training and selling business sounds like the perfect environment for a kid who’s crazy about horses. Kelly Pugh, now 26, is quick to affirm that her life has been absolutely amazing.
Kelly also admits there have been plenty of ups and downs — and not just while posting the trot. One of the most cheerful people on the planet, she can find silver linings in the darkest clouds. Her love for horses and riding, her cheerful personality and horsemanship — they’re in her genes.
“First and foremost, my mom, Dayna Lynd-Pugh, taught me to be a good horseman,” said Kelly. “She could be hard on me and I had to learn when she was Mom and when she was my trainer, but only because she wanted me to succeed and I’m grateful for that. She taught me how to be a competitor, how to use my emotions in a positive way. Growing up, whenever I was sad about a ride, she would give me a time frame and say ‘Okay, you have another half-hour to be upset, then you have to pull yourself together and learn from it!’ That’s a valuable lesson because in this sport, we all know the low points happen more often than the high points, and you need to learn how to be mentally tough. My mom taught me the most, but I have been very lucky to have great teachers.”
West Coast Eventing
The saying “Children live what they learn” is true, and Kelly is proof. She’s the assistant trainer and head rider at Flying Tails Farm, co-founded in 1980 by her mother, Dayna Lynd-Pugh, on 100 acres at picturesque Red Fox Farm in Gilroy, northern California. Back then, the West Coast lagged behind the East Coast strongholds of eventing run by Olympic riders. Even so, Dayna was determined to establish a place where all levels and all ages could get the best possible coaching to help them to achieve their goals. Dedication, enthusiasm and a DIY attitude, especially towards bringing along young horses, continue to contribute to the success of Flying Tail Farms.
Dayna, who competed through the Advanced level, offers clinics all over the U.S. She’s certified Level IV in U.S. Eventing Association’s Instructor Certification Program (ICP), a member of the ICP Teaching Workshops faculty, and an ICP advisor. Dayna’s students have distinguished themselves through the upper levels of eventing. She also has 20 years of involvement in the NAJYRC and for many years coached the Area VI team, which won a number of gold medals and, for several years more recently coached the Area VII team.
“I have great expectations for Kelly as a business partner,” said Dayna. “Right now, I ride two or three horses, then teach the rest of the day. Kelly rides five to 10 horses and teaches a few lessons. I’m in the process of getting my judge’s license in eventing dressage and would like to have more time to judge. I had Kelly do one ICP workshop and I was really impressed with the way she took command of the ring. I think a good fit for Kelly would be to get her ICP certification for Young Event Horse (YEH) trainers.”
Kelly’s other mentors include Allison Springer, who taught her about dressage, responsibility and never giving up on a horse. Phillip Dutton impressed Kelly with his mental toughness and the huge role it plays in horse sports. He also showed Kelly how to walk and evaluate the cross-country course in terms of each horse’s strengths and abilities, and shared stories about his experiences that made her realize everyone struggles to get to the top. Every year Kelly looks forward to spending a month or two training with Phillip on the East Coast. She spent last November in England riding with Mike and Emma Winter.
Another influence is Shannon Lilley, member of the U.S. gold medal eventing team at the 2011 Pan Am Games; she rode with Dayna for years and joined the team at Flying Tail Farms before opening her own training business in nearby Soquel, California. “I grew up admiring Shannon and I’m lucky to be good friends with her,” said Kelly. “We bounce ideas off each other and help one another at shows. Shannon’s still my go-to person for horsemanship.”
Importance of Flat Work
Then there’s Sandy Phillips, who represented the U.S. internationally in eventing and dressage (1982 World Games, 1984 Olympics) and continued in both disciplines until 1994 when she became a British citizen and focused on dressage. Licensed by the FEI as an “I” judge, Sandy teaches clinics at home and across the U.S.
“Sandy was the whole reason why I got on my first training list when I was 17 and I’ve been working with her on and off ever since,” said Kelly. “She’s a great mentor and gave me a leg up in eventing. She totally improved my dressage. She taught me the importance of following your gut feeling when it comes to your own horse. When you first start to ride in [US Eventing Team] training sessions, it’s hard not to feel like you have something to prove. Sandy made sure I knew that as long as I do what’s right for my horse and keep being competitive, that’s all that matters.”
Sandy, who thinks Kelly is a “talent for the future,” recalled how they met: “At the time I was the dressage coach for the U.S. Eventing Team and, as such, I taught various clinics around the U.S. I was doing a clinic in Atascadero, California, and Kelly had a very feisty gray mare with a lot of talent, but inconsistent rideability. I explained what she had to do and Kelly was able to do it, which resulted in a dramatic change in the mare’s attitude. This may sound simple, but I can tell you there aren’t many riders who can grasp things that quickly. I was very impressed and told my then husband, Mark Phillips, that Kelly needed to be included in the team training sessions. I was very impressed with her natural talent and ability to focus, which enable her to implement new ideas.”
Children Live What They Learn
“Kelly was five when she started riding every day; she had a pony named Cocoa she adored,” recalled Dayna. “One morning I looked out and saw Kelly on her pony, no saddle, no bridle, in her pajamas, riding around in the pasture.”
That pretty much sums up Kelly today — she loves riding more than anything. By learning the business side from a young age, she’s familiar with letting go of a horse when it sells or because owners want to go in a different direction. “Two years ago, Corazon came to me as a one-star horse,” said Kelly. “We learned a lot together. We won two one-stars and three two-stars, but when our results got inconsistent, we parted ways.”
Historically, Copycat Chloe was the hardest horse she’s ever sold. “I can get attached to horses and love them, but selling them is all part of the game,” said Kelly. “Chloe and I went from Novice to winning individual gold and team silver in the CCI two-star at Young Riders in 2010 and in 2011 we won the Markham Trophy in our first three-star at Fair Hill International.”
In her blog following Fair Hill, Kelly wrote: “Some of the best riders in the country were having problems on this [cross-country] course and Chloe made it seem like child’s play … show jumped a beautiful clear round … I had completed my first CCI 3-star … on a horse that I had started all on my own … All I could think was how I hope my horse knows how amazing she is.”
That was the “up” although it was a happy “down” when Allison Springer bought Chloe. “To grow as a rider, I knew I had to move on, and selling horses helps to fund future horses,” Kelly said. “It’s a hard lesson to learn as a kid, but instrumental to this business. I’m at a point where I’m surrounded by a great group of clients and owners and it really makes all the difference. I have a cool string of young horses and I’m looking to produce them to the best of my ability. Only time will tell, but hopefully I’ll come out on the other side with some nice upper-level horses.”
Photos by Jenny Bardsley, unless otherwise noted