Daryl Kinney is a rider on fire competing throughout the Northeast and Canadian Eventing circuits this summer. Her horses – crowd favorite Union Station, a 13 year old gray Thoroughbred competing at the Intermediate level – recently took second place at an Intermediate event in Canada. Kinney is fine tuning their partnership for a bid at Advanced level next year. Rosieʼs Girl, a 7 year old Thoroughbred who just placed fourth at her first Training level event, won the Thoroughbred Incentive Program at Larkin Hill in June and the 3ʼ3 Jumper Derby at GMHA. Cabin Society is a 6 year old Irish Sport Horse Kinney had the good fortune to start as a three year old. The hard work is paying off with his recent win in the Beginning Novice division at Huntington Farm. And Kinneyʼs newest ride, Simply Cool, a 7 year old Selle Luxembourgeois, just won the Beginning Novice division at a schooling event.
On the morning I meet her at Tamarack Hill farm in Vermont, a blanket of fog has covered the mountain top and rain falls steadily – perfect weather for a morning of jumping. Somehow, I imagine nothing delights the Eventers more than a bit of weather, and as I pull in the drive, I find Kinney completely in her element as she takes the morningsʼ horses and sets them through their jumping routines. The rain, running in heavy rivulets off of the horses and Kinney, does nothing to slow her down, as she jumps Jumbie in heavy fog and driving rain. Jumbie shows her adjustability under Kinneyʼs efficient, flawless hand. You can see the joy in Kinney as the two work together, crossing the ring. Later in the afternoon, as Kinney mucks out stalls, she moves so quickly I barely notice she is gone before sheʼs back in the aisle way, ready to tack the next horse.
Kinney is a positive, powerful young rider who is helping shape the modern Eventing landscape, taking everything in stride as she moves the horses up through the eventing levels. Kinneyʼs story – one of hard work, persistence, and the willingness to take risks – has resulted in a life rich with adventure and experience. Kinney is currently the longtime barn manager for World Champion and Eventing legend Denny Emerson. Post workout, she reflects upon what some of her most influential teachers have taught her, the power and importance of good horse partnerships and why she loves the color orange so darn much.
The Working Student Path
Growing up in Michigan, Kinney happily began riding a motley crew of horses and ponies at age eight. But it wasnʼt until she had the good fortune to meet Michigan based Eventer Julie Blackburn that she had her first opportunity to become a working student. “I started as a typical barn rat. I just loved the horses and always loved going to the barn,” said Kinney. “One thing Julie showed me was that if you work hard and are willing to put in a lot of hours, people will help you find horses to ride.” The relationship with Blackburn would prove to be pivotal, as it was Blackburn who suggested Kinney attend Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island. While she was a student there, she had the opportunity to meet Tom and Joan Davis, eventually working and riding for them at their farm, Flatlands Equestrian Center in Massachusetts. “Tom and Joan were great because they really showed me the ropes with eventing. I loved how quietly and calmly they dealt with the horses. Eventually, I started teaching and riding horses in training for them. They helped me gain the confidence I needed teaching and riding a variety of horses and they helped me take my riding up several notches.” While working for Tom and Joan, she was introduced to Eventing legend Denny Emerson. She didnʼt know it at the time, but the introduction would set her life on a course that she didnʼt expect.
But before she would go on to work for Emerson and during a time she was working three jobs to make ends meet while attending university, she came across an ad for help in Belgium and applied. Fears about her ability to succeed during the experience made her question everything. “The last few days before I left for Belgium, I was suddenly very worried about how this new experience would go. I didnʼt really research it enough and started stressing that things would be terrible. On the way to the airport, I pushed those feelings aside, because there was no going back now. I thought I might as well just go with it! Thankfully, I did, because it turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life.” The experience, with Olympic Eventer Karin Donckers of Belgium, gave her insight into a program for conditioning upper level horses. “She taught me so much about different ways to condition and prepare upper level horses for competition. We were getting four qualified horses ready for the World Equestrian Games in Aachen and there was so much opportunity to learn. I learned how meticulous you need to be in the care of the horses. I loved Karin because she didnʼt have unrealistic expectations for her horses and wouldnʼt push them if something was wrong with them. She jogged them frequently and kept a close eye on their soundness. My experience in Belgium let me know this was something I wanted to do.”
There are times, for many young riders, when being mentored means learning hard lessons. “Denny and I would go out on long hacks and he would lecture me about how to run a good business. At the time, I was really young and didnʼt fully appreciate the importance of those things. Now, when I think of all the things he has told me and how true they are, I really appreciate that he took the time to tell me all of it. Riding wise, Denny has completely changed everything. Heʼs made my jumping position solid and taught me how to see a distance. These two things alone will have me forever grateful. Iʼm a much more confident rider now.” Kinney laughs heartily when she recounts some of the many lessons Emerson has taught her. On the morning we meet, I note the quiet serenity in her riding – the efficiency with which she makes the most infinitesimal adjustments to her horseʼs stride, placing her in the precise spot for takeoff, allowing her mare to jump easily. It is in this way Kinney reflects the wisdom of all her teachers, paying tribute to the horses and humans who have helped her reach this point. Her riding style demonstrates the absorption of the lessons. She gets it and she’s solid.
The Power of Partnership: The Horses
As Kinney currently competes the horses at various levels, each one gives her different things to work on and refine. Several of the horses have given her experience exemplifying lessons she has learned over the years. She shares a story about her first eventing pony, Patty. The relationship with Patty was not love at first sight. “I honestly hated her, but Julie (Blackburn) thought there was something there. I was riding mostly dressage at that time and she turned out to be pretty good! When it came to eventing, she was a bold and confident horse – the perfect first eventing horse for me”. While Kinney has had a few equine partnerships that didnʼt work out, she believes it is important for a horse and rider to be thoughtfully paired. She relates a story about Rosie. “She has taught me how taking your time and keeping things simple can really pay off. When Denny got her she was a hot little Thoroughbred who was not confident in jumping. If we had just thrown big fences at her, she would have become a real quitter. We took things very slowly and if she got too intense, we would back off. Rosie is now a steady, consistent, confident horse.”
Union, a horse who can be aggressive on his cross country courses, taught her something else entirely. “Union has been such a wonderful horse for me. It is fun to see how our partnership has developed. At our first intermediate, we were both green at that level and we had never done anything like it. I had a few problems cross country, but we finished. I felt such a great sense of accomplishment just finishing my first intermediate. Several months and several events later, at the Napierville Event in Canada, we jumped clean in Intermediate cross country. We had come close to doing this before, but there was a marked difference in our partnership; I was a more confident rider and he was a more confident horse. He was seeking the jumps and even if I wasnʼt perfect he was willing to try. What a cool feeling! I feel so lucky to be riding Union. Weʼve just reached a new turning point together.”
A Closet Baker and the Love of All Things Orange
Baking, what all sane people do when they are not jumping over massive obstacles and ditches, is one of Kinneyʼs favorite pastimes. We share a few recipes suggestions and then Kinney runs upstairs to grab a plate of (we donʼt miss the irony) no bake cookies. I am laughing before I take the first bite: Daryl Kinney is gem. She is humble and reflective, yet poised and full of gratitude for the experiences sheʼs had so far. I find it no surprise then that Kinneyʼs signature eventing color is orange; she wears the color every chance she gets. “Iʼd honestly paint my car orange if I could!” she shares. There are late night runs to Target for orange knee high boot socks, a smartphone cover so bright it surely cannot be lost, and too many shirts in the color to count. As I make my way back down the mountain, I canʼt help but smiling about her love of orange and how appropriate the color is for Kinney. Out of curiosity, I research the meaning of the color orange when I return home. As it turns out, orange reflects a love of adventure, the willingness to take risks and the ability to be spontaneous and optimistic. For the inimitable Daryl Kinney, no other color need apply.