For many riders, horses offer a chance to escape from everyday bustling lives. Time spent at the barn is an opportunity for quiet appreciation of the connection we have with our animals. Just by walking into a cozy barn, listening to the serene munching of contented horses eating and inhaling the sweet scent of hay as you touch a velvety muzzle, the worries of the day fizzle away. With the coronavirus pandemic causing extra stress and worry these days, any occasion to get away and spend some quality time at the barn isn’t taken for granted by those fortunate enough to have the chance to visit their horses.
This sentiment is something that amateur rider and small-animal veterinarian Kris Covert always keeps in the forefront of her mind. Her rescued Thoroughbred, Elliott, helps her find balance in her life working at the Pikesville Animal Hospital in Maryland. “This horse keeps me sane. He’s my escape from the crazy reality that is my job,” she says of the gelding whom she’s owned for the last decade.
It had taken Kris years to get back into the sport she’d enjoyed as a junior. At eight years old, she began riding at a hunter/jumper barn in Maryland, taking lessons and eventually competing in local shows. Kris had been a self-proclaimed barn rat, spending all her free time at the facility, hanging out with friends and catch-riding whatever horses she could. She continued riding and showing through high school, taking a brief hiatus as a senior before joining her college’s equitation team her freshman year. With a busy veterinary career ahead of her, horses were put on hold.
That is, until she met Elliott, a plain bay gelding who would change her life forever.
Love at First Sight
Ten years ago, the idea of adopting a horse in the midst of Kris’s busy vet life seemed like a crazy idea. Then one day, Kris’s vet tech invited her to come see the new horse her parents had just bought for her. “I hadn’t ridden in so long and my passion had faded. But then I met her horse … I was immediately hooked again,” she recalled.
Kris decided she needed horses in her life again, and she began researching options online. “I knew I couldn’t afford anything fancy or already trained, and I figured with my background, I could probably just find a project. I had no goals, no expectations. I just wanted a horse to call my own.”
She logged onto Petfinder.com, a national pet adoption website, and the first horse to pop up on the list was Elliott, a two-year-old Thoroughbred gelding based nearby at Days End Farm Horse Rescue in Lisbon, Maryland. Founded in 1989, DEFHR is a renowned rehabilitation and rescue organization dedicated to ensuring quality care and treatment of horses through intervention, education, and outreach. After learning more about the nonprofit and its mission to help horses, Kris decided it was worth a visit.
Kris contacted DEFHR and scheduled a tour to meet the gelding and chat with the facility’s on-site trainer, Sara Strauss. “I felt like a little kid all over again,” remembers Kris. When she finally got to see Elliott, “It was love at first sight.”
During her visit, Kris learned about Elliott’s background. The gelding had arrived at the facility nine months earlier as part of a local abandonment case. He was thin, covered in rain rot, and his teeth and hooves had been neglected. DEFHR works directly with area law enforcement agencies on neglect and abuse cases, and Elliott is just one of the thousands of local horses they’ve helped.
Soon, Elliott settled into his new life at the farm and after he was fully recovered, he was ready to be adopted. His friendly personality began to blossom and his antics hinted at a possible future career as a sport horse. “He was known for taking naps flat-out in the field, which scared onlookers on many occasions!” recalls Sara. “He was also infamous for jumping out of one of the fields into another field, so when Kris came to look at him as a sport horse prospect, I mentioned to her that he does seem to enjoy jumping.”
With a 31-year history of successfully rehoming over 2,600 rescued horses, Days End Farm is well-known for working to find the best matches for their adoptable horses. For DEFHR, having an open and honest dialogue with adopters about each horse’s background is vital to giving each new partnership the chance for success.
“The adoption process was intense, but for good reason,” says Kris. “Sara said she knew from the minute I put the halter on him and led him out of his field that this adoption was happening. I would subsequently drive her nuts with emails and calls until he came home to me.”
After three trips to DEFHR and a farm inspection at a boarding barn that Kris had chosen, Elliott officially became her first horse in September 2010.
Finding Their Niche
Since Elliott was just a youngster, with no formal training other than the basic handling he’d received at DEFHR, he was a clean slate for Kris. She spent five months working with him on the ground, waiting until he turned three to get on his back.
“At that point, we’d built a relationship already,” Kris explains. “The first day I hopped on was completely uneventful. I just swung my leg over and never looked back. He was always very willing to learn and make me happy.” Soon enough, the pair were hacking out on trail rides and building their foundation together.
As Elliott progressed in his training through his early years, Kris realized that he enjoyed jumping and trail rides the most, so she began to explore the sport of eventing. Coming from a hunter/jumper background, she’d never evented before. “I figured we could learn together,” she says. Kris began working with local trainers, Carla Tussey Peno and Daniel Clasing, and thanks to Elliott’s love of jumping, within a few years they were competing at the Novice level.
The dressage phase was a bit of a struggle, so Kris took extra flatwork lessons to work through their issues. “Elliott gets opinionated when he is doing something he doesn’t like, which creates tension,” says Kris. “That word that, ‘tension,’ has probably shown up on every single one of our dressage tests! But, boy, he could be fancy when he wanted to be.”
Elliott loved showcasing his aptitude for jumping, and Kris took every opportunity to continue their education. “We went to eventing camp three years in a row at Loch Moy Farm in Adamstown, Maryland, and rode with top trainers like Stephanie Rhodes-Bosch, Leslie Grant Law, Tim Bourke and many other professionals.”
The pair were showing consistently at Novice for several seasons, hoping to compete in a long-format three-day event, held locally each fall at Waredaca in nearby Laytonsville, Maryland. They qualified three years in a row, but sadly, they never got the chance to attend – something got in the way of their plans.
In 2017, when he was 9, Elliott began having back pain and hock issues, but with some maintenance was able to continue competing. That August, Kris took a bad fall during a cross-country school, severely injuring her knee. She had surgery and was out of the saddle for nearly eight months.
When Kris was finally able to get back to riding again after her ordeal in the spring of 2018, she felt rattled. “Coming back from that was tough for me, mentally, and I think for him as well,” Kris admits. The pair worked to regain their confidence together, stepping down a level to Beginner Novice. They performed well, pinning in every competition they attended last year.
“I was thrilled to be able to mentally return to competing again,” says Kris. “That being said, I don’t think Elliott felt the same way. He just didn’t seem to really enjoy it as he had before.”
With Elliott’s best interests at heart, Kris decided to retire him from eventing. “Knowing how versatile this guy is and knowing how many other things there are out there for us to do together, our story is starting a new chapter.”
Over the past ten years, the pair have enjoyed many adventures together. They’ve foxhunted with Goshen Hounds and Howard County-Iron Bridge Hounds, both clubs that are based out of Maryland, as well as Snickersville Hounds in northern Virginia. “Once he hears those hounds, it’s game on!” Kris says. “Now that we aren't competing so much, I think more foxhunting is in our future.” Elliott also never grew out of his love of trail rides, and he and Kris have even gone on overnight camping trips a few times and galloped on local beaches.
“I absolutely love that this horse is game for anything,” says Kris. “He’s only 12, so we have lots left to do together. I look forward to all the new adventures we will share outside of competition world. But, much to his disappointment, we will still be doing some dressage work. That’s what keeps him fit.”
Not only has Elliott been staying in shape, but he’s also inspired Kris to focus on her own fitness as well. “I lost 45 pounds last year,” she says. “While I did it for Elliott, needless to say, I am in a much better, healthier place.”
Though he’s an inspiration to Kris herself, the precious gelding also has quite a fan club, especially with children. “There’s just something about little people that intrigues him—it’s quite cute,” says Kris. “He is the best pony-ride horse. He even did leadline classes with a tiny 8-year-old at one point.”
Kris is now the owner of a little six-acre farm, and though she recently added another Thoroughbred to her family, Elliott is always No.1 in her heart. “Every morning, without fail, that boy whinnies when he sees me coming. I realize it’s the food, but it is the best way to start every day,” laughs Kris. “I often pause to reflect and think that if not for that vet tech telling me about her horse, if not for DEFHR, if not for Elliott … would I even be sitting here on my own farm?”
Over the years, Kris has kept up with the nonprofit organization, realizing how much they shaped her life by introducing her to Elliott. “He’s made me so proud to carry the DEFHR logo on our saddle pad,” she says. “Don’t ever count out a rescue!”
About Days End Farm Horse Rescue
For more than three decades, Days End Farm Horse Rescue has been renowned for working to not only prevent equine abuse and neglect, but also to educate the public about equine welfare and help their staff and volunteers become better horsemen and women. Learn more about DEFHR‘s adoptable horses as well as their numerous education and volunteer opportunities. Visit www.defhr.org or follow them on Facebook.