By Kimberly Gatto
Portraits by Kristie Nichols Scholten
Baseball legend Joe DiMaggio once noted, “A person always doing his or her best becomes a natural leader, just by example.” Tracy Fenney embodies the essence of the “Yankee Slugger’s” quote, setting an example for all equestrians through her quiet and humble leadership. In 2020, the US Equestrian membership voted Tracy as its National Equestrian of the Year for her numerous contributions to the sport. It was a well-deserved acknowledgement for the lifelong professional horsewoman, who co-owns and manages the highly successful MTM Farm with her husband, trainer Mike McCormick.
“It was obviously a great honor for me to receive the award, and I am so grateful,” Tracy said. “Just looking at the list of the past winners—some of whom are friends of mine—and thinking of how much I respect them all … it means a lot.” She then jokes, “And it was a good year for me to win it. With the COVID restrictions in place, I didn’t have to get all dressed up and give an acceptance speech in front of everyone. That would make me too nervous!”
Tracy’s deep love for horses and strong work ethic developed from a very young age. Born in Oregon, Tracy moved with her family first to California, and ultimately to Texas, when she was a child. While out for a drive near Plano, Texas, one day, her father noticed a beautiful, sprawling piece of property not far from the family’s new home. The area was soon developed into a country club called Willow Bend, which boasted a riding stable among its amenities. When Tracy’s dad suggested that she could begin taking lessons, the 10-year-old became immediately hooked on horses.
Like most horse-crazy kids, Tracy began riding “anything and everything” she could. She excelled in her lessons under the watchful eye of trainer Margot Foley, who immediately noticed the young girl’s natural talent in the saddle. Margot soon talked Tracy’s parents into looking at horses, though the family’s budget was limited to inexpensive mounts. But Tracy’s potential as a young rider led Margot to bring her to the barn of the then-young trainer Mike McCormick. “We had gone and looked at a horse at Mike’s barn, but my parents told me we couldn’t afford it, so I thought it was not going to happen,” Tracy said. “Then my mom picked me up at school one day—which was my 13th birthday—and told me that Mike had some new horses for us to try. When I walked into the barn, I saw the horse that I had tried, with a ‘Happy Birthday, Tracy’ sign on his stall. It was a dream come true!”
The horse behind the stall door was a young off-track Thoroughbred called That’s Entertainment, better known as Ernie around the barn. Margot suggested that Tracy should keep the horse at Mike’s barn and train with him to prepare for the show ring. “We started going to shows,” Tracy recalled. “I think I was doing limit equitation, a division where you could not have yet won six blue ribbons.”
Tracy and Ernie quickly won their way out of those classes, but the fairytale-like story came crashing to a halt when Ernie suddenly became ill. “He kept getting sicker and sicker,” Tracy said. “It turned out that he had cancer. Sadly, we ended up losing him fairly quickly.”
Ernie’s death was a devastating loss for such a young girl, but Tracy soldiered on. As the family couldn’t afford a made show mount, Tracy honed her skills in the saddle by working with many different horses. “Most were off-track Thoroughbreds,” Tracy said. “It was the 1980s. In those days, the courses basically started at 3 feet. They were rolling outside courses with coops and rolltops. You really learned to ride on those courses, and usually on a bold, quirky Thoroughbred.”
As a young teen, Tracy began competing in the “big eq” classes—which consisted of the AHSA Medal and the ASPCA Maclay—while also doing the Junior Hunters, usually on the same horse. “Back then, you had one horse for equitation and hunters, and often jumpers as well,” Tracy said. “There was not a special horse for eq, and one for hunters, and another for jumpers, as it is today. You did it all on the same horse.”
In her final Junior year, Tracy was paired with a horse called Coyote, with whom she achieved success in both hunters and equitation, even qualifying for Indoors. “We competed at the National Horse Show when it was still held at Madison Square Garden,” Tracy said. “Besides the riding, I learned a lot just by caring for the horses myself. We hauled our own horses to the shows. I braided my horses, wrapped them and groomed them. The horsemanship aspect was a very important part of it all.”
Upon graduation from high school, Tracy knew that she wanted to pursue a career as an equine professional. “I really didn’t like being in school all day,” she said. “I knew that I loved horses and wanted to ride and learn by working with them.”
Tracy began working for Mike full-time—riding and training green horses and helping to manage the everyday duties of operating a premier show stable. It was hard work, but she relished every minute. “I would say I got a ‘college degree’ in working at the barn,” she said.
In the decades that followed, Tracy found her niche in both the hunter and jumper rings by developing green horses into accomplished show mounts. In 2014, she and Mike formed the aptly-named MTM Farm, which focuses on importing young prospects, training and showing them, and ultimately selling the horses to new owners. MTM Farm has produced numerous champion show hunters and jumpers who have excelled at the top levels of the sport.
Among the hunters Tracy has campaigned to great success in recent years is MTM Outbid, a talented bay Holsteiner gelding with a distinctive white star on his forehead. Tracy guided Outbid to several notable Derby wins, including the $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby at HITS Ocala in 2017. That same year, the pair won the $25,000 WCHR Professional Challenge at the Capital Challenge Horse Show; several other victories followed. MTM Outbid has since gone on to a career in the Junior Hunters with new owner Ariana Marnell, while competing in the pro classes with Jamie Taylor. Ariana’s trainer, Denise Finch, said of Outbid, “We love him, and we’re just honored that Tracy was willing to sell him to us.”
“We’re fortunate to be able to purchase many nice, green horses in Germany and bring them along,” Tracy said. “A lot of people don’t want to buy very green youngsters, so we purchase them, start them from scratch, train them, and give them mileage in the show ring. Then they’re ready to be successful with their new owners—usually Adult Amateurs or Juniors. It’s fun because we can show them a bit and really not even break their green status. Then the new owner can choose whatever they’d like to do from there. It brings us a lot of joy to bring them along and then watch them succeed with other riders.”
As with Outbid, part of the reward is ensuring that the horse is the right match for the new owner. “We always want to make sure it’s a good fit,” Tracy said. “Mike has a reputation for getting horses into the right spots. It’s so exciting to receive a call or a text from a new owner telling us how much they love their MTM horse.”
This method of business has placed MTM Farm firmly on an upward trajectory, with no signs of slowing down during the recent economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic. In fact, the MTM Farm sales business has grown exponentially during the past year. “When we went to Kentucky this year,” Tracy said, “we took 18 horses and I think we sold eight of them. The past year has been crazy for horse sales, with more people buying horses and prices going up. I think we imported 50 horses this year.”
This past year also marked the first in which MTM Farm remained in Ocala throughout the summer months. While showing out of their new Florida location near the World Equestrian Center (WEC) showgrounds, Tracy and Mike continue to operate their original farm in Flower Mound, Texas—a farm that has produced riders such as 2018 USEF Hunter Seat Medal Finals champion (and now USET rider) Brian Moggre, among others.
While the list of Tracy’s victories over the years is extensive enough to fill a book, she remains firmly grounded. She currently ranks among the top 10 riders in terms of lifetime money won in the jumpers and the top 20 in money won in the hunters. “I’ve been lucky to ride so many wonderful horses, including various hunters and jumpers that have gone on to become super famous, but, honestly, every single horse is special,” Tracy said. “All of my accomplishments mean a lot to me, and all were equally difficult. I still get nervous and am very focused when I’m riding.”
As she has in the hunters, Tracy has experienced great success in the jumper ranks, and her name is often listed among the FEI world rider rankings. She often rides more than one horse in any given Grand Prix, frequently capturing multiple ribbons in one class. This past July, Tracy won the $75,000 E-Z-Go Grand Prix in Ocala aboard the grey Dutch Warmblood mare MTM Apple, while placing second in the same class on another MTM horse, Reve Du Paradis. Together since 2018, Tracy and Apple have formed a solid partnership within the past few years. The mare has already won several Grand Prix with Tracy in the irons, beginning with their first victory, in 2019, in the $25,000 Purina Welcome Grand Prix.
Tracy is careful to bring horses like MTM Apple along slowly to develop their confidence, particularly in the jumper ring. “We like to keep building them up and not do too much too soon,” she said. “I like to keep doing classes with the jumpers as they gain confidence and help them to stay brave.” MTM Farm generally keeps some of their jumpers on a longer-term basis as compared to the hunters, enabling Tracy to show them for longer periods of time.
Tracy feels that the two types of riding—hunter and jumper—complement each other, and she thoroughly enjoys both. “I actually get more nervous doing the hunters than the jumpers,” she said. “The hunters can be more difficult because you have to be so precise and calm. But being precise for a hunter round helps you learn to navigate the tight turns that you will need for the jumper ring. In the jumpers, you can go for it, but you cannot afford to be sloppy, either. You still have to be precise in your riding or you’ll knock down a rail.”
A True Partnership
In a business that can sometimes be stressful and pressure-filled, Tracy’s partnership with her husband, Mike, provides fulfillment. “Mike still teaches me,” Tracy said. “Since he was always my teacher from the time I was young, I have a very strong degree of respect for him. When I’m riding a horse, he can talk to me as a teacher talks to any other student, even though he’s my husband. It’s funny, because since we have been together for so long, I often know what he is going to ask before he even says it.”
After forming a solid working relationship over the years, and then a strong friendship, Tracy and Mike became a couple. They were married in 2004. “It was wonderful,” Tracy said. “We were married at our farm, with the animals all around. We always worked together, and went to horse shows together, and our relationship evolved from that. I am so fortunate to have a true partner and soulmate, and be able to work with him every day. We share the same goals and values.”
Those values extend to the farm and its workers, like Dorothy “Dorrie” Douglas, who works as a professional rider for MTM Farm. “Tracy and Mike are like a second family to me. It’s such a wonderful environment to be in. I feel very fortunate to work with them,” Dorrie said.
The values and example set by MTM Farm shine brightly to those outside the barn as well. “Growing up in this industry and then becoming a professional, you notice things,” said fellow Texas-based rider Whitney LaBrie, who has known Tracy and Mike for years. “One thing I have always loved about Tracy and Mike is that they always do night check themselves. You can hear the horses nickering for the carrots that they’re handing out. Not every professional does that. That’s love for your horses!”
Though she may have a quiet and humble demeanor, Tracy inspires countless others. Lifelong equestrian Bill Rube, who has spent decades in the horse show world, said, “Tracy never ceases to amaze me. She’s a well-rounded horsewoman that can ride the pants off of any horse in both the jumper and hunter rings. She is always one to watch and learn from.”
“If you asked for the name of the rider I most emulate,” says Dorrie Douglas, “That would be Tracy. She is so versatile, whether that involves training a 5-year-old hunter or riding in a Grand Prix jump-off. She always demonstrates that there is a great balance between the sport and great horsemanship. Tracy truly loves the sport and, above it all, she loves horses.”
In fact, the horses mean so much to Tracy that they are on her mind all day, every day. “When we have any free time, Mike likes to golf or scuba dive—things like that,” she said. “For me, I’d rather go look at horses.”
When asked what advice she would give to young riders, Tracy’s words are heartfelt. “I would tell them to work hard,” she said. “If you’re passionate about the horse life, you don’t even need advice. Just let your heart guide you.”
She adds, “Sometimes people will say, ‘You should set a goal to do the World Cup, or the Olympics.’ But I am happy just doing this. Our business is amazing and we have fantastic clients. I often think about how lucky I am. What a great thing it is to be able to do my job every day surrounded by horses. I am so fortunate that I can say to myself, Which lovely horse should I ride first today? I’m so grateful to be able to do what I love.”
Whitney LaBrie, among many others, remains in awe of Tracy for her talent, work ethic, and numerous accomplishments, as well as her kindness and quiet humility—qualities that have made Tracy a prime example for others to follow. “Tracy is amazing,” Whitney summarized. “Everyone wants to be like Tracy when they grow up.”
Clothing provided by Luxe EQ
Photos by Kristie Nichols Scholten, www.kristiescholten.com