By Britney Grover
Portraits by Melissa Fuller
Keeping up with herself is a tall order for Caroline Martin — and not just because she’s an inch shy of 6’. By the time she turned 18, Caroline had seared her name into the future of U.S. eventing by winning gold at the 2013 North American Youth Championships and being named to the USEA High Performance Training List as the youngest rider. By 2018, she’d been named USEA’s Young Rider of the Year multiple times and overall Leading Lady Rider, and competed around the world.
Up until then, Caroline’s career had relied entirely upon her family’s support. She was focused on being the best professional rider she could be — and nothing else. When that option was taken away, Caroline had to choose how to start providing for herself — with horses or without them.
“Horses and business are similar in that a lot of things can go wrong quickly,” Caroline said, “but if you just take a step back, take a deep breath and don’t panic, you can usually sort it out. There’s always an answer.”
Caroline’s answer was whatever it took to continue pursuing eventing at the highest level. She not only chose horses, but the humility and hard work to prove her success hasn’t come from money alone. Though it wasn’t in her plans three years ago, she’s since built a successful business that will continue to support her as a top player in U.S. eventing.
“There’s always an answer,” Caroline continued. “You can say that about any high-performance task in this industry, like going cross-country: If you don’t see your distance, you can take a little half-halt and you will probably figure it out.”
Deciding on Horses
Horses weren’t a focus in Caroline’s life growing up, though she rode at summer camps and had a horse from the time she was 6. She was just as interested in other sports, such as field hockey, soccer, swimming and snowboarding. But horses were always there, thanks to her parents, Randy and Sherrie.
Sherrie had always loved horses and wanted to ride, but for many years it wasn’t financially feasible. “When my dad made his first little bit of money, instead of doing something for himself, he went out and bought my mom a horse,” Caroline said. As the youngest of three siblings, Caroline was 5 when her mom got an off-the-track Thoroughbred and started taking lessons. “I was naturally taken to the barn every day, and that’s how it started.”
As Randy’s career continued to thrive, so did Sherrie’s and Caroline’s interest in horses. “My dad was a little annoyed that my mom and I were spending more time at the barn than with the family, so when he made the next little bit of money, he went and literally bought my mom her dream farm,” Caroline said. “We still have that farm to this day.”
Little did the family know, when they moved to Buckwampum Farm in 2002, that the Riegelsville, Pennsylvania, farm would one day be the home base of an elite eventing rider — let alone that it would be Caroline. In fact, Caroline was thousands of miles away from Pennsylvania when she realized she wanted to pursue riding more seriously.
Her dad was working in Central America, so Caroline moved with her parents and attended her first year of high school in Nicaragua. She played some polo and did other sports, but used the time to see what it would like to be “normal” — horseless. At first, the idea appealed to Caroline, who thought she might not have what she knew it took to be a professional in the equestrian world. But her time away from the barn made her realize where she really stood.
“I really missed eventing terribly,” she concluded. “Honestly, when I lived in Central America, that kind of gave me a good taste of what it might be like to eliminate horses from my life. It gave me that perspective, and I knew then, when I was 15, I couldn’t step away from horses. I knew I had to be involved with horses in everyday life.”
Caroline made a deal with her parents to allow her to go back to America and start riding more seriously. First she went to a boarding school where she could bring a horse, then she transitioned to online school to focus on horses. Caroline had access to the best horses, the best trainers and the best facility — right at home, with her parents behind her.
“They’ve been just crazy supportive,” Caroline said. “My dad came from nothing and he’s been able to build everything. I’m very lucky that he’s believed in me and believed in my career, so he’s always supported it.”
The Martins invited Buck Davidson, Jr., to use Buckwampum Farm as a base for his business, and Buck became Caroline’s coach. It was with Buck’s help that Caroline rose to win the 2013 North American Young Rider Championships and be named to the USEF 2014 High Performance Training List as the youngest rider on the team — all with a horse Caroline still calls the most special of her career, Quantum Solace, aka Nacho.
“We won Young Riders together, and then he took me to Europe for the first time,” Caroline shared. “He ultimately had a heart issue, that’s why he couldn’t keep competing at the upper levels. But now he’s leased out to one of Emil Spadone’s managers, and he’s still jumping around a 1.30m, and he’s 18 this year. It’s pretty special to me that my first horse is doing that, and he’s really one of the main reasons I was introduced to Emil.”
Leasing Nacho to Emil provided Caroline with her first bit of money to start a business — a business as a professional rider, backed by her parents, with a string of top horses and the top training available. By 2018, Caroline had been the USEA Young Rider of the Year multiple times, was the Top Under 25 Rider in the country and overall USEA Leading Lady Rider. Then, everything changed.
Change of Plans
Three years ago, Randy’s business slowed. At the time, Caroline had eight Advanced horses in her barn. “My parents gave me an opportunity; they told me I could keep one or two horses and go to college, or I could make this horse thing work. That’s how I got involved working for Emil Spadone and Paul Hendrix.”
Despite her life’s plan to be strictly a rider, Caroline was soon making calls looking for work — it was a no-brainer. She knew she wanted to continue pursuing the top levels of the sport, whatever it took. Emil’s bases were five minutes away from where Caroline wintered in Ocala and 30 minutes away in Pennsylvania. She’d met him when she leased Quantum Solace into his barn, and called him up when she suddenly needed to make her own way in the sport.
“I have a group of Advanced horses and young horses, I was Leading Lady Rider for U.S. eventing, and I’m looking for a job,” Caroline told Emil when she called him. “I can clean stalls, I can ride, I can do whatever you want.” Emil invited her over, watched her ride a few horses and asked her if she could sell a few horses. “I had never sold a horse in my life, but I told him I’d give it a shot. I had both horses sold in a couple of weeks.”
Right away, Caroline found her successful “side gig.” “I don’t know how I got so lucky,” she said. “Paul and Emil are the best bosses to work for. They treat me as a partner, but they really took me under their wing and taught me how to become a good dealer. Horse dealers in general have a shady reputation, and I have to say, Paul and Emil are the most upstanding people. They like to sell a client for a lifetime, not just one horse. We always try to make everyone a lifetime client, and I would say 90% of my customers are repeat customers.”
Caroline operates her own business under Paul and Emil as both mentors and partners: horses they import from Europe belong to the three of them and they’re in it together, whether they make money or lose money. In addition to Paul and Emil’s connections in Europe for sourcing horses, Caroline’s developed a close relationship with fellow upper-level event rider Kelly Hutchinson. Kelly, who is Caroline’s age, is a fifth generation horse dealer from Ireland and has helped Caroline grow her sales business.
It’s the people around her that Caroline credits with helping her overcome the challenges of being a young professional. “Three years ago, I figured I would be riding professionally full time and not have to have a side gig,” she said. “But having a side gig as a dealer is probably the best outcome I could have. I get to practice riding all day every day, and to ride extremely nice horses. I have a group of top riders working for me, and meet the best breeders and the best sources of horses possible. I think it’s really working toward my advantage as a professional upper-level event rider.”
A New Path
After pouring countless hours into her new business, Caroline was able to hire two riders this year that have helped spread the workload and allowed Caroline to focus on her own riding career. “I’m still learning how to balance my business and my own riding, but I will say, with all of this you get zero personal time!” Caroline laughed. “I think that’s true for any top event rider, or any top athlete or businessperson. My whole career has turned into a lifestyle; it’s all day, every day, on the phone, advertising, texting Kelly in Ireland at 4 a.m. — but it’s fun. I love it.”
Caroline’s current string of horses is large but young. In November 2020, she won all three East Coast Young Horse titles, including the 5-year-old championship with King’s Especiale, a 5* prospect that Emil and Paul bought for Caroline. Most of her Advanced horses have been replaced with young horses, many of which didn’t pass vetting or had one bad x-ray — horses that need someone to look deeper and bring out their true potential, as Caroline’s proven she can do.
When Caroline got Islandwood Captain Jack as a 5-year-old, people said he was so ugly he looked like he should have been pulling a cart instead of eventing. Caroline also required the assistance of two people just to get on him. Now, he’s her top horse, endlessly affectionate, and she hopes to take him to Kentucky this year with goals of Burghley and the Olympics.
To that end, Caroline trains with Olympic show jumper Anne Kursinski, dressage great Betsy Steiner and, outside of his judging schedule, Olympic eventer Peter Gray. When Caroline was in Wellington training with Anne last year, Anne suggested Caroline try a Grand Prix. “I was like, are you crazy? But I did it and it was a blast!” Caroline said. “Eventing horses are so versatile, people don’t really understand. They can do so many disciplines well, and the special ones, they can do the top level of each discipline. Our horses are just freaks of nature.”
Betsy is local to Caroline in Pennsylvania. “She’ll come over and ride my horses, or I’ll go to her place and she’ll put me on one of her Grand Prix horses so I can figure out how to ride better,” Caroline said. “She’s the nicest lady, always so positive and so kind to the horses. Betsy, Peter and Anne, the three of them are so amazing. I know I can call them any time and they’ll pick up; if I’m having a mental breakdown, they’ll talk me off the ledge. They’re great people, and they’re all superstar athletes. It’s cool that such wonderful people have my back.”
Caroline’s trainers aren’t the only people who have her back. She’s still close with her family, and is still based out of their Buckwampum Farm. Her brother and sister are “the farthest thing from horsey as possible,” completely opposite from Caroline and her mother, who now lives in Miami, but they’re all still close. It was thanks to her siblings that Caroline met her fiancé.
Deniz Pamukcu was best friends with Caroline’s brother from elementary through high school. Deniz moved away to get his master’s degree in engineering, and returned just before a party held at Buckwampum by Caroline’s sister. “I had a horse show the next morning, and had to leave at 1 a.m.,” Caroline recalled. “I wasn’t very happy — I was like, why are you throwing a party? I’m tired and need to go to bed!”
Nevertheless, Caroline’s sister convinced her to come out for a single burger. Deniz struck up a conversation to ask for help finding people to socialize with — and they couldn’t stop talking. A month later, Caroline got injured and needed help in everything from putting a shirt on to getting to the doctor while recovering. Enter, Deniz.
“He came to all my hospital appointments and all my surgeries, so we got to know each other really well, really quickly. He’s been a trouper,” Caroline said. “He’s an engineer and a new business manager for an aerospace company; he’s totally not horsey, and the poor guy really got thrown in the deep end.”
Deniz had never ridden before, but now Caroline says she puts him on older horses all the time. He wants to be a hitching post: to get on a horse, ride to wherever Caroline needs him to and then just stand with the horse. Deniz is fully enjoying the horse lifestyle, which is evident when he posts hilarious stories on his Instagram channel @denizpa.
In addition to humans and horses, Caroline has a veritable pack of canines that lend their support. Six dogs currently call Buckwampum Farm home, including two belonging to Caroline’s business partner and closest friend, Casey McKissock.
Every morning, Deniz and Caroline are up at 5 and go to the gym from 6 to 7 a.m. Though work and horses occupy most of their time, they love cooking and video games. “Anything to do with eating and lying down!” Caroline joked. “If you walk in my closet, I have a whole bunch of riding clothes, a whole bunch of gym clothes, and a whole bunch of PJS — and lots of matching PJs with Deniz! If you asked me to put on a pair of jeans, I couldn’t even find them right now.”
Many would call that a dream come true — filling her life with the things that she’s most passionate about. And as she’s forged her own way, she’s gained a deeper perspective about the equestrian world. “I didn’t realize that it’s such a cool industry in that whatever you want to do, if you work hard and think outside the box, you can figure it out,” she said. “No one came up to me and said, ‘Hey Caroline, just do sale horses and you can make money and fulfill your goals of being an upper-level rider.’
“I just think it’s cool that if you have a good work ethic, you can make it in this industry — but there might be different avenues,” she continued. “Don’t keep your mind closed and think, Oh, I only want to be a rider. Well, I only wanted to be a rider. That didn’t really work out, so now I’m a dealer and a rider. I love the sport. The relationship we share with the horses is pretty special, and the people are fantastic. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
For more information, visit www.caroline-martin-eventing.com
Photos by Melissa Fuller, msfullerphotography.com, unless noted otherwise