March 2015 - Horse People: Lisa Levine
Written by Allison Enriquez
Monday, 02 March 2015 01:15

Sebastopol amateur soars to Preliminary success with her “wonderpony.”

Photo by: Allison Enriquez

by Allison Enriquez

Nestled in Sebastopol, Lisa Levine and her pony Made Ya Look—also known as Milo—have proved to be strong competition when it comes to Training and Preliminary Events in Area VI.

Lisa and Milo’s story began 10 years ago, when Lisa lived in Ohio. Her trainer at the time, Kari Briggs, suggested that Lisa ride their extra family horse, a 9-year-old Morgan/Arabian gelding, Milo. He was versatile enough that the family had used him in some light eventing, trail riding and foxhunting, but Milo hadn’t really shown his full potential until Lisa came along.  She remembers her impression on meeting the spunky Morab for the first time. “He was a total punk to catch in the pasture, but he was the most honest and sweetest horse to ride—even though he could tell that I didn’t know some things.”

Soon, the pair had forged a bond and were competing Beginner Novice.

After a year, Lisa was positive that this eager pony was the horse for her. So when she was faced with moving to California, she begged the Briggs family to let her purchase Milo. Lucky for her, they said yes.

Once they were out on the West Coast, Lisa teamed up with riding instructor Laura McEvoy and flew right into the region’s eventing scene. After Novice things moved quickly—the pair won their first Training and soon after completed Area VI’s Training championships. Then, in early 2007, they won their first Preliminary event. Before Lisa knew it, she and Milo were established competitors at the Preliminary level, making a name for themselves around Area VI.

Milo the Wonderpony

There certainly is something about Milo. Standing at 14.2 hands, his stature is shorter than most competing in his division: Preliminary cross-country fence heights are 3’7”, with brushes up to 4’3”, and stadium is also 3’7”. But the pony-sized horse is undaunted. When he gets out into a cross-country course he exudes a feeling of boldness and confidence as he tackles each fence, and catches quite a bit of air while doing so. True to his hot-blooded roots, while Milo is all business over fences he can have a bit of playfulness when working on the ground or at home.

Witnessing Milo fly through a Preliminary course is quite astonishing for most, but for Lisa, it feels completely normal. “Some people think they need a big horse to get over those fences, but Milo is just the right size for me since I’m 5’ 2”. He’s uphill and he doesn’t require manhandling to come back to me. Some corners and jumps I have a healthy amount of concern about, like jump #3 at Woodside. When I walk the course it looks huge. Only after the second or third walk do I start thinking, ‘Okay, this may be possible.’ But on Milo it’s completely different, he just takes it like it’s another stride.”

Lisa maintains that it was this special pony that really helped her rise up to Preliminary so fast. “I’m not actually the boldest rider, but with Milo it’s all a matter of trust. It’s because I know if I ride him right he will do it for me. He’s not an easy ride at that level but he’s more than willing if I present the question well.”

Challenges

Between working in software sales and riding, things can get quite busy. Competing in an Open division mostly against professionals, every point counts. “I need to make sure I’m on my game,” Lisa explains, “because the caliber of riding is just amazing.” She typically goes to her full-time job early, so she can ride in the evenings. Fortunately, her boyfriend is a supportive and many of her friends are riders, too, so horse time doubles as social time. “I wouldn’t consider what I do a hobby, it’s more of a passion,” Lisa explains. “Sometimes I don’t think my work understands. When people hear that after I work I go ride every night they say, ‘Really?’ You can tell they are in disbelief.”

In order to stay on her game, Lisa trains with eventing instructor Yves Sauvignon and dressage instructor Emily Giammona. Both have become a supportive backbone to her and Milo’s partnership.

The pair competed in Prelim from 2007 until last August. In that time they have placed high in both the Rider and Open divisions: in 2008 they won Open Preliminary, and in 2009 the pair hit a high point, placing third in Area VI’s Preliminary Championships and Preliminary Challenge.

It’s not only Milo’s athleticism, but his adorable pony good looks that were noticed, too, as Milo became the Preliminary Challenge’s poster boy. “I remember walking around and seeing people handing out posters, and once I got one I look at it and there was Milo right on the front!” Lisa recalls, laughing.

Lisa and Milo’s journey is not without its challenges. Besides needing to balance her work with competing and training youngsters in her free time, Milo has dealt with two suspensory injuries: one in 2010 and another in 2013.

Although it was hard to deal with the injury, the rehab time only strengthened Lisa and Milo’s bond. Even when they were only able to do walk or trot sets, both horse and rider were simply happy to be working together. The steady rehabilitation allowed them to go back to working on fundamentals, so when Milo made a full recovery they were ready to make a spectacular comeback at Woodside last May, when, at 19 years old, Milo and Lisa won Training.

Having worked a lot on rhythm and balance during his rehabilitation, Lisa was thrilled that they were performing solidly at every phase, especially stadium, “Milo is usually a ‘one-rail horse’ in stadium. This time, our course was great. It was one of our best stadium rounds we have ever had.”

Getting back to basics seems to have worked for these two as they have come out strong and plan to continue showing.

The rest of their future is up to them. “Milo gets to tell me when he is done eventing,” Lisa adds. For her, it’s not all about the competitions. “It wasn’t about going Prelim, it was just the next step in our progression.”

For now, Milo and Lisa seem more than content to keep competing at events and having lots of fun while doing so.


Author Allison Enriquez is a lifelong rider and owner of the Mustang Washoe Rebellion, aka Rebel. The pair were active event and dressage competitors in the Bay Area, but more recently Allison is concentrating on riding for fun, including some OTTBs, and finishing her Masters in English Literature at Mills College in Oakland, where she lives.