December 2020 - An Unstoppable Ascent
Written by by Kim F Miller
Wednesday, 02 December 2020 03:49
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Young eventer Tommy Greengard takes the direct route to his dreams.

by Kim F Miller

Tommy Greengard is studying environmental science at UC Berkeley. It’s a field on which the future of the free world may hinge, yet it’s unlikely to draw Tommy away from horses. From a 3-year-old to the 20-year-old he is today, “I’ve been totally fixated on horses,” he says.

The morning of his sixth birthday, at precisely 8 a.m., is an indelible memory. The three years prior, “I’d sit and watch my mom take lessons at Mill Creek Equestrian,” he says, referring to the now-closed horse world hub in Malibu’s Topanga Canyon. “You couldn’t take lessons until you were 6, so that’s what I got to do on my sixth birthday and the rest is history.”

 


That history has only just begun. A junior at Berkeley and studying online, Tommy spends as much of each day as he can with horses. On a serious eventing path since moving from Mill Creek’s beginner program to its training program under Robyn Fisher’s guidance, Tommy is preparing for the upper levels on his own new horse, Joshuay MBF. They train with Andrea Pfeiffer and Amber Levine at Chocolate Horse Farm in Northern California’s Petaluma. Along with riding Josh and a few others at Chocolate Horse, he typically rides between five and nine horses a day at Ned Glynn’s hunter/jumper training barn, Sonoma Valley Stables. He also worked at Dover Saddlery when time allowed.

 

Tommy and Josh closed out 2020 on high notes: a fourth in the Galway Downs Modified Training Challenge and a second in Open Training at Twin Rivers last month, the latter with the help of an 18.4 dressage score. They are well suited for continued success. Tommy has enjoyed dressage since Robyn emphasized it early on, the Dutch Warmblood is elegant and agile and extra work with dressage coach and judge Lilo Fore is helping Tommy build up the 6-year-old’s strength. “He already has a really innate ability to do the jumping,” Tommy says. So much so that it’s difficult to keep him inside the paddock during turn-out. “He just jumps out!”  

Andrea “can’t take much credit” for Tommy’s accomplishments. “I got to step in with a young man who already had a very strong background. I am just putting the finishing touches on him.” The biggest challenge has been finding him the right horse for the next step up. His background with a wide variety of horse types and traits positions him to make the most of Josh’s raw talent.

“Robyn was really big on throwing me on top of everything,” he says. “I’ve been fortunate to ride a lot of different horses at different levels, up to Preliminary.” With Josh, he hopes to go higher.
    

Tommy with Andrea Pfieffer & Amber Levine.

Not Just a Rider

Like most parents, Liddy Morrin and Gerry Greengard thought that exposing their child to a variety of experiences would be good. At some point, they threw in that towel and chose to “get on board,” Liddy says. “Looking back, it is extraordinary how differentiated and specialized he was at a young age.”

“When you know what you want to do, it makes other things easy,” Liddy reflects of now-clear benefits of her son’s singular dedication. “He is an incredibly focused child. He never had any problem keeping his grades up, even though he was away from school a lot.”

Tommy with Robyn.

She makes a distinction between herself, who “enjoys riding,” and Tommy, who “is extremely interested in all of it: the breeding, buying, selling, nutrition, coaching...He wants to drill down deep on all of it.”

Shortly into his ownership of Josh, he had a chance to do exactly that with an unusual health issue.

The Greengards purchased Josh in May of this year, from Andrew McConnon in North Carolina. About a month into his new home, the horse developed allergy symptoms that progressed quickly from mild eye gunk to the eye being swollen completely shut. Six weeks at UC Davis Veterinary Hospital resulted in an unusual diagnosis of eosinophilic keratoconjunctivitis, aka “EK.” This is an inflammatory disease of the conjunctiva and cornea. It’s rare in horses and has no known cure or specific cause beyond a suspected hypersensitivity to parasitic or environmental allergens.

Tommy with Spartan Strength. Photo: MGO Photography

Once ointments and antihistamines helped get the condition under control, preventing a recurrence became the priority. Aware that even good quality hay brings dust and allergens into the horse’s habitat, Tommy started steaming Josh’s hay in a Haygain high-temperature steamer. “We needed to make sure that hay wasn’t contributing to the allergies, and Haygain has been instrumental to changing everything for him.” Tommy is vigilant in making sure Joshuay is not fed anything but steamed hay, at home and shows.

That level of care typifies what Andrea describes as Tommy’s most distinctive trait as a horseman: “compassion for the horse,” in and out of the saddle. “We instill that every day and Tommy has that. Horses have good days and bad days and you have to love who they are every day.”
    

Tommy and Joshuay. Photo: Kim F Miller

Athletic & Attentive to Detail

A long list of attributes follow that. “He’s an athlete,” Andrea continues. “He’s incredibly studious and attentive to detail.” That latter can trip him up on occasion. “If I had to pick on him, I’d say he can be too detailed oriented. I have to say sometimes, ‘It’s OK you missed that trot step.’  I try to get him to relax about the process a little. He is very driven, wants to do everything right and never half-way.”

Robyn saw those attributes early on. “He came to me at 7, and I’ve been able to watch him go from this young boy who dressed as Woody from Toy Story for Halloween to this intelligent, bright young adult.”

The dedication was always there. When Robyn moved from Mill Creek in Malibu to Moorpark in 2013, Tommy switched high schools to be closer to the barn. Before he could drive himself, Tommy’s parents, who both work full time, made the long, congested commute from their home in Malibu to R Farms in Moorpark, Robyn’s new base with her husband and fellow professional David Koss.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have my parents’ support,” Tommy says. Going all in on the eventing path has been full of parenting positives.  “There is so much hard work in the eventing world,” notes Liddy. “It shaped him in terms of discipline.” Gratitude is a family priority that Tommy learned to apply to the variety of horses he rode coming up the ranks. “We didn’t try to keep up with the equine Jones,” Liddy notes.

“We were concerned that it is a very privileged world. As a parent, you want your child to understand some of the issues regarding equity and access. From a young age, Tommy didn’t pay attention to the demographics of who was in the ring with him: whether they were adults or what gender they were.”

“It’s funny, I never really thought about it,” says Tommy when asked if being a boy among many girls affected him in the early days. “I feel like the girls at Robyn’s raised me in a lot of ways. I can’t wait to see them at shows now. It’s like they’re my older sisters and I was always part of the gang.”
   

Tommy, age 7, at Mill Creek Equestrian Center.

Everybody Loves Tommy

Throughout high school, the laser focus on horses was fine so long as Tommy kept his grades up. “My dad jokes that I looked at school like a box I had to check off the list in order to be able to ride.” Getting into UC Berkeley requires more than checking academic boxes. While he considered skipping college and going directly into an equestrian career, that was a non-negotiable with his parents.

Choosing Berkeley was “a great decision” he almost didn’t make.

“Robyn told me I had to go,” relays Tommy, who recalls being more interested in schools that would have allowed him to keep riding at Robyn’s. Continuing a role of mentor, coach and close friend, Robyn had another mandate when Tommy committed to Berkeley: moving to Chocolate Horse. “Robyn said, ‘You are going to Andrea and Amber and that was that,” Tommy remembers.  

David Koss had ridden with Andrea while attending Santa Clara College, a connection that enhanced Chocolate Horse’s already strong appeal as a magnet for serious horsemen of all ages, abilities and budgets.

Along with the easy horsemanship segue from Robyn to Andrea and Amber’s program, the people part has been a breeze, too. “Everybody loves Tommy,” Robyn says. “The girls he grew up riding with are like his big sisters.

They are very protective of him.”

Robyn’s group was like family, and the vibe is similar at Chocolate Horse, Tommy says.  So are the opportunities to learn and advance for all who are driven and hard working. While he may have other options after graduating Berkeley, Robyn has no doubt Tommy will pursue horses as a profession and that the profession will be lucky to have him.

Tommy at the Galway Downs International.