By Britney Grover
Portraits by Shawna Simmons
Mary Eufemia grew up successfully showing hunters and equitation in Illinois before becoming a professional rider and trainer in Florida. In 1980, she and her husband, Kevin, founded Ravenwood Farm near Clearwater, Florida, to breed, train and show top hunters. Mary added judging to her resume, procuring her USEF “R” card, and now balances a busy schedule including judging, training, managing Ravenwood, riding and showing her own horse, Central Park. Mary and Central Park are competitive in the 3’3” green and performance classes as well as national derbies, and celebrated their first derby win together in the $2,500 USHJA National Hunter Derby at Fox Lea Farm earlier this year.
What are your earliest memories of horses?
We used to go to dude ranches in Arizona when we were kids; we grew up in Chicago but my dad was an airline pilot, so we traveled a lot. My sisters started taking lessons where I eventually started riding. I begged and begged and begged — we couldn’t start until we were 8 years old at that farm, and my birthday was in July but sometime in May I had bugged my mom so much she called them and they let me start.
What are your favorite memories of showing as a junior?
I was always a short child, so the equitation body was never graced upon me, but when I was 14, I was at the 1975 Milwaukee Spring Horse Show. I was showing in the Maclay and there were over 100 kids in it; they didn’t split it back then. Jimmy Lee was judging; I’ll never forget the whole thing. I got called back second to a friend of mine that rode at another barn and was tall and slim and long-legged, and I ended up winning, which was just such a thrill.
That was back in the day when there were no children’s hunters, so you got thrown right into the 3’6”. I had a couple of decent horses as a kid, nothing too fancy; we kept them at a regular barn with a trainer, but we trailered them ourselves and I braided them myself and when my dad was home to take me to the horse shows we groomed them ourselves. We were always hands-on with everything.
What special horses have influenced your life?
I’ve been doing this for 50 years, so there have been many. One of my clients bred a horse named Unbelievable; he’s retired at our farm right now, and he was Champion of the Country in 2009 in the second year green. He was just a super special horse. My client, Dr. Paula Pell, bred him; my husband, Kevin, broke him; and we started him. I rode him in the baby green as a 4-year-old and up through the ranks.
Another horse we imported years ago named Pacino was a really special horse. He’s 20 years old now and just retired, but even as an 18-year-old he was still winning in the 3’3” performance and getting good ribbons in the national derbies. He was really special, and so is the mare I have now, Central Park. I bought her not to sell, just for me, because I’m older and not really showing as a professional like I did. She was Champion of the Country last year in the 3’ greens and she’s a very special horse, too. Those are probably the top three.
How did you and Kevin meet?
I had moved to Florida in 1979 and worked for a trainer for a year or so before he decided he was getting out of the horse business. I was in the process of taking over his business and I was at a little local horse show where Kevin was judging, and I was running around like crazy; I was doing everything: training, riding, I drove the truck, the whole nine yards. I didn’t even know who he was; one of the kids’ moms said something about the judge being cute and I hadn’t even had a second to look.
A couple of days later, Kevin was doing a clinic at another farm and came to my barn to pick up another trainer’s kid, and that’s how we met. Two days later he asked me out to go see a movie and we went to go see the movie “Airplane!” because my dad was a pilot and he thought that would be funny, and the rest is history. He had a farm in Ocala at that time where he did a lot of Thoroughbreds, brood mares and yearlings and breeding, so he was back and forth between me and Ocala for a while and then 17 years later we got married.
What’s your favorite thing about judging?
I think the traveling and seeing really nice horses. I love watching good professionals ride. I judged Gulfport and got to watch Holly Shepherd and others ride, and in Texas I judged when Peter Pletcher showed. When you’re showing against them, you get to see them a little bit, but when you’re judging you get to see them come in the ring multiple times a day, and it’s just such a treat; they’re so good and so natural. I also love judging the little kids; I think they’re just the cutest.
Outside of horses, what are your hobbies or interests?
That’s tough — I keep saying I’m going to learn how to golf but I still haven’t had the time to do it yet. We don’t have too much spare time. My dad passed away a few years ago but my mom’s still around and lives very close, so I do spend a lot of time with her and we go to different things like plays and out to dinner.
What are your goals?
We’ve had a lot of great horses, so we’d like to just continue to find and bring along some really nice young horses. That’s really where Kevin and I started and still what we like to do, to find the really fancy ones. With my horse this year, I want to go to some top horse shows like Capital Challenge and Maryland Horse and Pony Show, and maybe back to Keswick. I’d like to really see how I stack up.
Photos by Shawna Simmons, www.sasequinephotography.com