By Britney Grover
Portraits by Kristie Scholten
In some ways, Bailey Robinson owes her riding to her parents. Her mother, Wendy Hartman Robinson, grew up showing ponies and hunters on the East Coast. Bailey’s father, Mikal Robinson, also came from a horsey family and has trained horses all over North America.
In other ways, however, riding has been all Bailey’s own idea. “When Bailey started getting old enough to ride, we didn’t let her—we wouldn’t push it on her and actually made the decision to wait until she could do something about it,” Mikal shared. “I’ll never forget—I was riding a really nice horse in our arena, and Bailey showed up on a pony riding bareback with just a halter around its neck. I went up there and saw she’d climbed onto the pony off of the trailer, and that was how she started riding—she didn’t wait for us to do anything about it. She made up her mind.”
“She was 4, maybe; she was little, and we could not figure out how she got up there, really,” Wendy added. “Thank goodness she picked the right pony out of the barn!”
Now 16, Bailey is not only still riding but involved in the family business. Mikal starts horses and ponies that Bailey and Wendy take over to develop them jumping and showing, traveling to shows all over the country while Mikal takes care of nearly 50 horses in training at home in Bowie, Texas. Bailey has a long list of accomplishments such as placing top 10 at Pony Finals her first year there, taking home the $8,000 Cunningham Pony Speed Derby at Fort Worth, and winning the $5,000 1.10m Child Jumper Classic at International Omaha and the USHJA Zone Jumper Team Championship the same year.
But whether she’s competing a pony or going hunting with Mikal between show seasons, Bailey still has a mind of her own—in all the best ways. “I would say one of my goals is to compete successfully at the Grand Prix internationally,” she said, “but my overall goal might be a bit different than most. Some want to win the Maclay Finals—I’d like to develop horses that win the Maclay Finals. My overall goal is to develop young horses with a solid foundation. Most of all of the ponies and horses that I’ve shown are young and green, and I feel a great sense of accomplishment when they’re successful.”
Ponies were how Wendy and Mikal met. “I’ve been riding pretty much all of my life; I started pretty young,” Wendy said. “I showed on the East Coast and did the hunters, and lots of ponies, and then I stepped away for a little while. But you know, it kind of drags you back in—you just keep coming back to it. When I got a little older, I started raising some ponies and needed somebody to help get them started. That’s how Mikal and I got together, and it’s been horses and ponies ever since.”
“Our family has always been horsey also, and I just really liked the starting part,” Mikal said. “We lived in a small town and somebody called and said, ‘I need help with a pony.’ I thought, Why not? It’s fun! We showed quite a bit—I’d fix lead changes and stuff like that on them, and they’d go on and show. Some of them have been real successful, ponies we started together.”
After Bailey’s determined first foray onto a pony, she began riding and showing. One of her earliest memories of horses is her first walk-trot class, where they gave out placed ribbons instead of all blues. “I got a blue ribbon, but I got very upset because I wanted the pink ribbon, instead,” Bailey recalled.
The pony was specifically chosen for her because it was a walk-trot pony. “You had to use a spur and stick every step to get it to walk or trot,” she said. “Well, I had bigger ideas and wanted to canter, so I rode her all the way down the driveway to the mailbox, then turned her around and off we went catering down the driveway, all the way into the barn! I was laughing all the way, but I thought my mom was going to have a heart attack.”
Having survived Bailey’s adventurous childhood years, Wendy sees how much good horses have been for Bailey growing up. “She’s really independent, and I’m going to credit that to the horses,” Wendy said. “She’s very responsible, and her self-esteem is really strong because she can be independent and do things for herself. She can see her accomplishments and take care of herself, and those are all great assets that she’s gotten from being around the horses.”
“One of the things I like most is that since Bailey’s always been around horses, mistakes don’t bog her down,” Mikal added. “If a horse makes a mistake or she makes a mistake, it doesn’t get to her. We expect it here—it’s a daily occurrence. So that’s my favorite thing about watching her ride, that something can go wrong and she’s over it the minute it happened. She’s just moving on.”
“Being around all of these really young horses, sometimes they just have a lot of weird moments, and you just have to accept it,” Bailey said. “So I think I’ve become a very patient person because of it—sometimes I have to say, ‘Let’s just give them another year, they’ll get there as a 4- or 5-year-old.’ So I think I’ve gotten to be really patient because of the waiting game with these babies.”
Reining & Hunting
Mikal “never really picked” between English and Western—he starts horses and fixes issues in all disciplines. “Bailey has an interesting perspective, because she’s seen all the disciplines and I think that helps her in the hunter ring, because she’s sat on quite a few of these horses,” Wendy said. “It gives her a broader understanding of horses in general, and how they all operate. She realizes that they all start at the same place.”
“I really, really love the reiners and the eventers, the eventers because I’m a little bit of an adrenaline junkie,” Bailey admitted. “I think they have a very fun job. And I love the reiners because it’s so technical, and I love it. Sometimes I realize, ‘Oh no, I haven’t been doing my homework,’ when I get on my dad’s reiner that I’ve claimed as my own, because she’s pretty advanced.”
But perhaps the best part of horses is that the Robinsons are able to do it together. On the road for hunter-jumper shows, Bailey and Wendy show as Paramount Farms; the operation at home is called Robinson Training Stables. “Bailey and I horse show and Mikal stays with the horses here, so Bailey and I get to spend a lot of time on the road and that’s just been priceless,” Wendy said.
“We do love to do a lot of the in-hand stuff together, and that’s always been fun. But training is most of our family time,” Bailey said. “We’ve had a lot of ponies that have made it to the ring that we didn’t really know if they would, and so to see them up on the board at Pony Finals and such—I think that’s always been a huge accomplishment. And all of us get really excited.”
As part of training the horses at home, the Robinsons sometimes take a few out to the LBJ National Grasslands for 18- and 25-mile trail rides. “It’s a really big adventure for us,” Wendy said. “As a family we’ll take the young horses, and that will be their very first time off the farm—there’s a lot of excitement sometimes, but it’s fun.”
When they’re home from the shows, Bailey cherishes quality time with her dad on hunting trips. “Once October starts, we kind of go into hunting mode,” she said. “If mom tries to schedule a horse show during that time, I’m like, ‘As long as it’s scheduled around our trips. We are going hunting!’”
In addition to going on week-long hunting trips to Oklahoma for whitetails and annual exotic hunts, Bailey and Mikal also hunt pigs year-round—helping to alleviate a massive problem in the area. “They’re very, very destructive,” Mikal said. “They can ruin a pasture overnight. Last year we came across a herd of about 70 and it looked like somebody plowed 50 acres with a tractor.”
At Home With Horses
Bailey and Mikal aren’t the only hunters at home—the Robinsons currently have three adult Jack Russell Terriers and three Jack Russell puppies, plus five “miscellaneous mutts” that have accumulated at the farm after being dropped off at the end of the paved road. Since Bailey loves all animals, she wanted another indoor pet that wouldn’t trigger the Jack Russells’ hunting instinct—so she started getting bearded dragons.
“I currently have one named Mr. Bean—he’s a very judgmental lizard,” she said. “The two I had before would just sit around and do nothing. But if you open up Mr. Bean’s cage, he will come after you quite actively. Quite an interesting bearded dragon, though there are times I think I should have thought that one through a little bit better!”
Bailey will be a senior in high school this fall, and has been attending school online since third grade—which helps accommodate her show schedule. This year she’s riding the horses Courante, owned by Barbara Bryan, in the Children’s Hunters with plans to start equitation, and Contiga VA, owned by October Hill Farms, in equitation and derbies. She’s also excited to show Kickapoo Ponies’ Legend Has It in the Large Greens at Pony Finals.
“Legend Has It has such a rhythmic canter it just makes finding a jump super easy. He’s got such great form over jumps, and steps over the 2’9”,” Bailey said. “I do love the pony personality. They are very, very chaotic creatures, but they’re just very fun to be around because they have personality. I’ve obviously grown up around them and we have our own little breeding program, so I think we all love them because they’re just so cute.”
With so many critters at home, Bailey isn’t sure whether she wants to attend a college campus with a riding program or stay at home and do college online—although higher education is non-negotiable. In the meantime, Bailey is continuing to do what she loves, with the support of many people around her. “I’ve been so lucky to be around so many amazing riders from so many different disciplines,” she said. From the trainers and farms that have helped Bailey with her riding to the individuals who support her showing, Bailey knows she couldn’t do what she does without them and is grateful to each and every one—including the ones who started it all. “I would never have been exposed to all the diverse styles of horsemanship if it wasn’t for my parents,” she said, “nor would I ever get to show at such a level without them.”
For more information, follow the Robinson family on Facebook at paramountfarms1
Photos by Kristie Scholten, www.moonfyrephotography.com