by Lauren Giannini
Blythe Marano was born to parents who were young adults when they caught the horse bug. She loved growing up on the family farm in northern New Jersey. Her father, Dr. Matthew Marano, competed in three-day at the Preliminary level; her mother Janice showed adult hunters.
Now 23, Blythe applies her strong work ethic, years of learning by doing and countless hours under the tutelage of professionals to her position as resident rider/trainer with Riverview Farm LLC (TN), owned by Lee Ann and Orrin Ingram.
Blythe started riding with Sandy Mudge. She has a strong foundation in dressage from taking lessons on her father’s three-day horses. When Matt began riding with Lorraine Laframboise, Canadian National and Olympic Eventing Team coach (1991-93), Blythe took lessons, too. Lorraine introduced Blythe to Tad Coffin, eventing gold medalist. This led the young rider, then 13, to Missy Clark with whom she stayed for the rest of her junior career, competing on weekends in Florida during the winter circuit and summering in Vermont at Missy’s training facility. Over the years Blythe rode lots of horses, all schoolmasters who contributed mightily to her horsemanship.
“My equitation horse was my favorite by far. Missy found him and he was six years old at the time, a Belgian Warmblood, and way too much for me, but Missy said, ‘trust me – in a year it will be great,’ ” recalls Blythe. “Sure enough, Robbie got better, I got better and I rode him all through my junior career. I got my jumper through Missy and McLain Ward, a Holsteiner mare out of Riverman named River.”
Blythe received the Christy Conard Trophy in 2005 for winning the most junior equitation classes in Florida. She ribboned in numerous equitation finals, including 5th in both the Medal and USET where she won the flat phase two consecutive years.
Blythe and River earned team show jumping gold with Brianne Goutal, Sarah Segal and Addison Phillips for Zone 2 at the 2005 CN North American Young Riders Championship at the Virginia Horse Center under the tutelage of chef d’Equipe Ralph Caristo. The team also won both Prix de States at Harrisburg (Pennsylvania National Horse Show). “Ralph really makes you feel like a team, and he makes it extremely fun while you work really hard,” recalls Blythe. “I had to work very hard, especially from 13-15, because I didn’t feel that I had the natural ability that the juniors at the time had. I worked very hard. It still bothers me that I never won an equitation final. I just started working. But I do feel that each day you set a goal and you deal with it that way: You keep doing the best you can do.”
Her junior experiences come in handy with Virginia Ingram, 14, who competes in equitation and jumpers. “Virginia did her first Medal Maclay Finals last year – I did it so much, it’s really comfortable for me to coach her,” says Blythe. “I keep reminding her to be patient, that she’s only 13, that it takes a long time, because she gets really frustrated. It’s not easy competing against kids who are older than you are.”
Blythe also trains Lee Ann Ingram, who shows jumpers and hunters. Her husband Orrin Ingram used to compete, but switched his focus to foxhunting and polo.
“The Ingrams are a very supportive family and love to watch young horses grow and progress,” says Blythe. “They bought Urban as my jumper when he was five through Marcus Fuchs. Now, five years later, we compete at the FEI Grand Prix level. Urban has numerous ribbons under his belt from the WEF and grand prix classes in Florida.” Urban has picked up some respectable rosettes this season. Blythe was understandably pleased when they finished second in a 1.50 classic, 7th in a $75,000 grand prix, and 5th and 10th in the last two spring grand prix classes.
“During Florida I was lucky to have Marcus coach me for the bigger classes. When he isn’t available, Margie Engle helps me at shows,” says Blythe. “It’s so helpful to have a person on the ground, and both Markus and Margie are very supportive and immensely experienced.”
All told, Blythe oversees 13 horses at Riverview. The Ingrams own two other jumper prospects, and Blythe has been working with one for two years (now 8) while the mare (7) is a recent arrival. She shows primarily jumpers, but one adult jumper bought for Lee Ann didn’t work out. Bella, another Belgian Warmblood, was green, so Blythe started showing her in the hunters. “I did my first Hunter Derby on Bella – and I’ve never been so nervous in my entire life,” admits Blythe, laughing at the memory. “I was so out of my comfort zone. We won a ribbon in Kentucky, but I had no idea what I was doing. I had to go over the rules, and buy a shadbelly. The course had bending 13s, bending 14s where you have to count. It made me more nervous than any grand prix.” That’s what Blythe loves – jumping the big painted fences. When pressed for her long term goals, she talks first about her ambitions for Virginia, to be a ribbon winner and to be very successful as a junior. She goes into a fair amount of detail about this first protégée. She has to be reminded to talk about herself.
“For sure I would love a grand prix win on Urban – he’s a fantastic boy and has been all along. I’ve known him since he was five. When I rode him into my first grand prix, I knew him better than any horse I’ve ever had because I’ve been riding him every day for five years. That’s another reason why I like bringing along the younger ones – when you get to a big class you know them; you know what you’re getting into.” Finally she admits: “Well, I would love to start doing some of the team stuff and go to Europe – try to go as far as I can.”
Her father has no doubts about Blythe’s future. He’s been there almost stride for stride, watching her ride his horses, watching her groom for him, taking lessons with the same trainers. He’s more than a proud horse show daddy. He’s a rider who recognizes and respects another rider’s expertise, dedication and drive to keep getting better, to do one’s very best.
“I’m a physician, my father was a physician, and Blythe was taking AP courses when she was 14 – she could have been valedictorian of her class,” says Matt. “When she said, ‘Dad, I don’t want to be a doctor – I’ll be 32 when I complete my residency and I will never know how good a rider I could be.’ It broke my heart for about 15 minutes.”
Blythe started grooming for her father at his events when she was seven or eight. She learned how to poultice and wrap their legs. She was exposed to eventing’s drug-free rules. She had no fears and would ride anything.
“When Blythe was 13, I took her to Ireland to look at upper level event horses. She tried them all – she jumped some scary stuff,” recalls Matt. “Last year at Kentucky Horse Park, she had a horse that was very fractious and she took him out on the cross-country course and jumped a lot of those big jumps. The horse did great. He’s been quiet ever since.” Here’s a glimpse into the mind of this rising young talent: Blythe moves the jumps every day – every day. She creates new courses, rings up the changes. That has to help horse and rider stay fresh mentally and physically. With that sort of attention to detail she would have been a good doctor. The medical world’s loss is the horse world’s gain: Blythe Marano is on course.