Taking on the Big-Sister Role

Two riders realize final Junior-year dreams with a little help from a friend.

Abby Friedman and Cantuccini © Anne Gittins Photography

At an age often known for self-absorption, 27-year-old Abby Friedman has assumed the role of generous and helpful big sister at Jim Hagman’s hunter/jumper training program in Southern California. Her most grateful “little sisters” are Michelle Mallet and Samantha Gastelum, who would not have been able to realize final Junior-year dreams without a major act of kindness from Abby.

On hearing that the stable mates did not have suitable mounts after qualifying for their first and last chance at an Indoors medal final last year, Abby quickly offered to loan her own star, Cantuccini, (aka Pasta).

She had told Michelle, a working student, “If you qualify, you won’t have to ship your horse across the country” for the ASPCA Maclay National Championship in Kentucky. Given the cost of cross-country horse travel, that would not have been realistic for Michelle’s family.

Abby was equally happy to loan Pasta to Samantha. “Sam” had qualified for the Pessoa USEF National Hunter Seat Medal Final at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show in Harrisburg on her hunter and didn’t have an equitation horse to make a Final’s trip worthwhile.

Both made the most of the opportunity. Sam had a terrific round except for the very last fence in the USEF’s notoriously tricky course. And Michelle finished in the Maclay’s top 25. For both, it was their first time riding Pasta, a 9-year-old, 18-hand Oldenburg Abby describes as both “laid back” and “light on his feet.”

A San Francisco native, Abby understood the significance of fulfilling a long-standing goal of qualifying for and competing in a major medal final. She’s on her own quest to ride in the Ariat National Adult Medal Final, a feat that eluded her by just one rung on the top-30 standings last year. At the end of March, Abby led the national standings.

After pursuing an equine studies major at Savannah College of Art & Design in Georgia with plans to go pro upon graduation, Abby’s plans changed about four years ago when she decided to leave school and design her own horsemanship education and moved back West. At previous trainer Cindy Brook’s recommendation, Abby settled in with Elvenstar and Jim, whom she considers the best mentor ever. “Jim is such a great teacher,” she says. “His teaching methods are so fabulous that it makes what other people would call mundane things, like flatwork, something I can apply to my riding, and that’s made me a better rider.”

Abby is grateful to her father, a successful San Francisco businessman, for supporting her dreams. He’s also intent on Abby learning business skills in the process, so they agreed that the horses acquired for her own advancement must also have potential to be successfully leased after they’ve served that purpose.

Abby is her family’s “equine assets manager.” The family includes siblings who ride on the East Coast, Jane and Savannah Barry, and they own additional horses that are available for lease. Managing those leases is Abby’s responsibility, and Jim is impressed with the decisions she’s made so far.

Throughout that process, she’s soaking up horsemanship and business savvy from Jim. “By being with Jim I am learning how to do the horse business properly,” Abby says. “I see how fairly he does it and how picky he is about who can lease a horse. He’s all about making sure that it’s the right horse-and-rider match.”

Showing her budding business acumen, Abby knew that sharing Pasta with Sam and Michelle on the Indoors circuit last fall was a monetary win–win for all. She had planned to take him back East for The Capital Challenge anyway, and splitting the cost of his travel among three families made it more manageable for everybody.

But the experience was about much more than saving money.

“She gave me the biggest hug afterward,” relays Abby of Sam’s expression of thanks on returning home. “She said that she had learned she didn’t have to hold back, she could proceed forward. Not just in riding, but in life. To me, it was all about helping these girls have these experiences and great memories. They worked so hard to get to where they are, and I just felt like it was the right thing to do.”

Elvenstar is often described as a team, but Abby prefers another analogy: “We’re all family.” 

This article was originally published in the June 2017 issue of Practical Horseman. 

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