By Sarah E Coleman
As with most girls, Erin Pullen, owner of Go Big Eventing in Shelby County, Ky., was drawn to horses as a young girl. Erin fell in love with the sport of eventing because of influential force Jennifer Crossen of Windy Knoll Farm in Winchester, Ky. Jennifer taught Erin on some very kind lesson horses that instilled in her the confidence to run cross county. “I owe Jennifer so much,” says Erin. “Without her guidance I doubt I’d be the rider I am today.”
Erin began Go Big Eventing in 2012, catering to a vast array of horses and riders, though her specialty is off-the-track Thoroughbreds. Having worked on the track for 13 years, in positons ranging from galloping, assistant training and eventually having 30 racehorses under her care, Erin loves and truly understands the Thoroughbreds. “They have their own language, one I very patiently learned to understand,” she explains.
Erin’s clientele also includes adult riders who started riding a little later in life, and Saddlebreds that have recently flocked toward her. One of Erin’s favorite parts of Go Big Eventing is seeing horses and riders learn and excel at new disciplines. As with the Thoroughbreds, Erin is extremely patient in helping her students reach their goals, whether that is the American Eventing Championships or a one-star event.
In addition to training and teaching, Erin has lofty goals for her two personal upper-level horses, Big and Tag, as well: She would love to compete at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event and abroad.
Erin’s OTTB Big is currently competing at the Intermediate level. Erin and Big have an extensive history together: Erin owned and trained him during his racing career, then retired him as a 4-year-old after he suffered a minor injury. “He and I have the greatest partnership, he’s a beast and a blast on cross country, and has so much grace and elegance in the dressage ring. He has helped me with every other horse I bring along,” Erin says of Big Photo by Liz Crawley
Tag, Erin’s second horse, is also an OTTB. In 2014, the duo was 11th at the AEC’s at Novice, and at Team Challenge that same year they were second at Training. In 2015, the pair moved to Prelim, where they completed the CCI* at the Hagyard Midsouth Team Challenge and then finished seventh in their first Intermediate at River Glen in November.
Photo by Liz Crawley
The Fitness Formula
So what does it take to keep her upper-level horses fit and ready to compete? Diligence. As Erin doesn’t go South to train in the winter it’s absolutely imperative that she be based at a facility where she can continue to ride year-round. Erin is based out of Allday Farm, owned by Dr. Steve and Kim Allday, who were Erin’s first sponsors. Erin has 16 stalls on the property, which includes 82 acres with some cross country jumps, a generous covered arena and an outdoor arena.Photo by Walter Lehner
After the conclusion of her show season in November, Erin allows both her horses to have the month of December off, then begins to leg them back up in January. Her goal is to compete her horses, on average, once a month. As she is now riding at the upper levels, more travel is necessary to get to events like Poplar Place and Chattahoochee Hills.
Erin begins to bring her horses back into shape with lots of flat work, riding them six days a week. She works on the basics, including transitions, balance, straightness and lateral work. She incorporates in ground poles, raised poles and cavaletti before starting any sort of conditioning work. Once the flatwork becomes easier, with fewer breaks needed before being pushed, Erin begins to get her horses out of the ring for conditioning work, which she can do on the farm. She can then ask them for hill work, with lots of walking up and down hills first, then trotting.
“I let the horses tell me when they’re ready to start galloping,” Erin explains. “I have to be careful galloping Big and Tag, they tend to keep themselves pretty fit. They both have knack for having silly antics in the dressage arena if they’re a little too fit!”
Depending on the level of horse, they’re in work at least a month before going back to competing, Erin explains. “With Big, I always drop him down a level when he starts out in the year. As he’s getting older, I don’t ever want to push him past what he’s ready for.”
“He’s a funny one—he’ll let on that he is tougher than he is, but I have to be able to recognize that and protect him from himself,” she comments. Here again, knowing Thoroughbreds and her horses is imperative to getting Big properly conditioned for his show season.
Photo by Liz Crawley
Maintaining Human Fitness
Erin doesn’t have to do any specific training to get herself ready to perform at the upper levels, as her job tends to keep her quite fit. “The farm has a lot of space in between paddocks, so I do a lot of walking. I ride at least six or seven horses a day, and I do stalls,” she explains. “When I teach, you’ll never see me sitting; quite often I will be constantly walking or sometimes running next to one of my beginner riders.”
However, Erin does pay close attention to her diet. “I don’t eat junk food or drink soda,” she says. “I always have a bottle of water nearby and healthy snacks that are easily grabbed” so she can fill up on the good stuff instead of quick, tide-me-over-for-now junk food.
Photo Credit Xpress Foto
She keeps grapes, cheese cubes, smoothies and protein bars on hand, and constantly drinking water keeps her from getting the “oh my gosh, I have to eat right now!” feeling.
A conscientious approach to horses, which Erin honed on the track, has served her well with Go Big Eventing. Taking care of herself, as well, can only help her on the path to success.