By Lauren R. Giannini
Meagan Nusz believes in balance, whether she’s on a horse or dealing with daily ups and downs, and that success depends on work, determination and staying power. She grew up in Texas, riding barrel-racers in Western saddles, hitting the trails at the tender age of 4. She switched to English and was 8 when she began competing in Children’s Jumpers on a little pony. She already knew how she wanted to be judged.
“I told my parents that I didn’t want to win or lose based on someone’s opinion,” said Meagan. “I liked going fast and I wanted to win based on jumping faults and the clock.”
Meagan taught a small barrel-racing pony to jump. When she acquired a flag pony from the rodeo, she taught that one to jump as well. “My very first jumper, Dancing With The Stars — Dancer for short — took me over a 4-foot jump. It wasn’t a course, but it was a huge deal for me to jump 4 feet while I was in Children’s Jumpers,” she said.
In 2010, when Meagan first approached Kent Farrington to train her, she brought her “to-do” list, which included winning the National Amateur Owner Jumper Championship. In 2012, under Kent’s tutelage, she was honored twice as Show Jumping Hall of Fame Rider of the Month (March and November) en route to earning the USEF National Amateur Owner Jumper Championship by a huge margin with Vesuvius, owned by Amalaya Investments LLC.
“I’ve been training with Kent for five and a half years now. He’s only 35 and one of the most knowledgeable horseman and a magnificent trainer,” said Meagan. “He knows how to ride every different kind of horse. To watch him ride, he’s in a different league. He’s an incredible coach. Nothing’s ever too complicated. He doesn’t get angry. He’s easy-going and has a calm personality. Kent makes you feel invincible. By the time you go into the ring, he has you totally confident and prepared to get the job done.”
Dynamo and the Red Team Jacket
Meagan has five top horses, owned by Amalaya Investments LLC, but Dynamo, a 12-year-old Belgian Warmblood, aka Nemo, occupies a particularly special place in her heart. Acquired five years ago, Nemo didn’t flat well, his canter was difficult and he kicked out rails, especially toward the end of a course. Sometimes they didn’t get around at all if he spooked at something.
“It was so frustrating and at times, I really wanted to give up on him,” said Meagan. “But Kent believed in him, and my dad, who picked him from a video, said, ‘This is going to be something special.’ I, of course, rolled my eyes, but I stuck with it and worked with him every day. I got him flatting properly and improved the canter. It took a solid year of blood, sweat and tears, then one day something clicked. We started jumping clean round after clean round. We won an FEI class right off the bat at Spruce Meadows. All the pieces of the puzzle really fit and we launched into a level of success I never in a million years thought was possible.”
Meagan continued, “Dynamo put my career on the map and helped me to achieve one of my lifelong goals to ride for the U.S.A. in international competition. I jumped my first Nations Cup in Bratislava in August 2013. I was 26. My team consisted of Catherine Passmore, Quentin Judge and Kirstin Coe. Kent was our Chef d’Equipe. Dynamo jumped a fantastic double clean and clinched the win for the U.S.A. It was so exciting to get my red coat and jump a team event, but to win made it an absolutely unbelievable experience. Dynamo’s such a special horse. He’s sensitive and quirky, but for me he’ll do anything — truly a partnership that will stick with me for the rest of my life. He’s the most unbelievable teammate, partner and friend and I thank my lucky stars every day that I have him.”
Nurturing Horses to Harvest Success
Meagan recorded her biggest career win at Tryon International Equestrian Center in August when she piloted SRI Aladdin to first place in the $127,000 Grand Prix CSI***, a class of 27 with a three-horse jump-off. Meagan did it relatively solo with coaching via phone from Kent, who was in Ireland where he won the Dublin Horse Show Grand Prix. Perhaps the most gratifying part of this mega-win is that Aladdin had to rebuild his foundation training to transition to Grand Prix, and his results more than justified the time invested.
“Aladdin was just coming up to the 1.50 meter level when I got him. He was very strong and a bit unrideable, so Kent and I worked with him for a whole year and kept him at the lower levels,” said Meagan. “We brought him out at WEF this year and jumped a few classes with him. I felt he had a big win in him. He jumped his first 1.60m at Spruce Meadows this summer and he was unbelievable. Then I brought him to Tryon and he answered all of the questions for me. He’s a tremendous partner. I’m really happy to have him.”
Kent and Meagan follow a program that takes into consideration every aspect of temperament and physiology for each of her jumpers. Meagan thinks a new interest has contributed to her success.
Western Reining & More Influences
Meagan took up reining recently aboard a chestnut mare named Wishbone. She trains a few days each week with Mike Flarida, a respected trainer and competitor based in Georgetown, Kentucky.
“Reining has become an absolute passion,” said Meagan. “It teaches you to let go of control and really become one with the horse. I have so much fun and Mike’s the best. Mentally, it’s one of the best things to do. Show jumping is extremely demanding. It’s nice to have an outlet with little stress and expectation while still doing what I love, which is ride and be around horses. My results with the show jumpers are the best they’ve ever been since I started reining. I’m hoping to go to my first show this fall. It’s definitely something I’ll continue to do for the rest of my riding days.”
Meagan’s owner, Amalaya Investments LLC, is her parents, Tommy and Terri Nusz, whose support of international show jumping includes owning horses for Kent.
“I never had a huge budget for buying horses and when I was a kid, I never sat on anything fancy — I’ve always done my best with whatever I had,” said Meagan. “The way my parents raised my brother and me molded us. They did well for us. We always had nice things, but we learned to work hard for what we wanted, because that’s what our Dad did to make his fortune. When he founded Amalaya and started investing in show jumping, I was riding with Kent. My Dad looks for diamonds in the rough, and we rely on our riding skills to turn them into good jumpers. We work hard and we love what we do. It’s something I’m grateful for every day.”
In addition to her parents and Kent, Meagan credits Barney Ward and Kevin Cleveland, both deceased, for their contributions to her riding. “Barney was tough on me, but he believed in me,” she said. “It changes the way you look at things. I rode with Kevin Cleveland when I was at Texas Christian University. He was like a second father, and I used to stay with him, his wife and daughter. Kevin always told me to canter around the turns and make it as flowing as possible.”
Meagan continued, “Kent has taken me from what I learned with them to a whole new level. This summer at Spruce Meadows wasn’t one of my best shows. My horse spooked at a dry ditch and crashed through an oxer. I’d just come from a great week at Hampton Classic and the Grand Prix win at Tryon.”
It turned into a good lesson about balance. “Kent said I had to learn to pick myself up and go on when things go badly,” said Meagan. “He reminded me that I went to Spruce Meadows with one horse and one chance. He told me to be angry and let it go, to move on and get back to work. His words of wisdom will stick with me forever. I’m still learning. It’s exciting.”