Four years ago, when Dana Trotter walked into the barn at Two Trees Stables in Bridgehampton, she saw a beautiful, dark brown horse standing on the crossties. To her surprise, Trotter’s trainer, Heidi Earl — who runs Firefly Farm out of Two Trees — asked her to give the horse a try. He’d been brought in for another client, and was a bit too small for her. But for Trotter, he was just right.
“He had me at hello,” she said. “I was in love with him before I even sat on him.”
On Sunday morning, on the final day of the Hampton Classic, Trotter and the horse, Balou’s Boy, came out on top in a field of more than 50 other horse and rider pairs to win the $5,000 Adult Jumper Classic. For Trotter, a Sagaponack resident and mother of three who works full time as a real estate agent out of the Bridgehampton office of Sotheby’s, it was “a dream come true” with the horse she lovingly refers to as “a unicorn.”
Horseback riding, and horse showing in particular, is a sport that requires a significant investment of time and money, rightly earning it a reputation as a pursuit for the privileged. But within the competitive show jumping world, there are different levels of access and wealth that often play a role in who ends up being successful; it is not uncommon for one rider to show multiple horses in the same class, giving them a greater chance of coming out on top, and in amateur divisions like the one Trotter rode in on Sunday, there are many riders who are amateurs in name only, free to compete at horse shows around the country every week and essentially make their hobby a full-time job. By contrast, Trotter said she typically competes in only four shows every year.
The best of the best come to the Hampton Classic, one of the most popular shows in the country, so even a top-10 placement can feel monumental.
“All the top competitors are here. This is one of those shows where winning a ribbon at all is huge,” Trotter said. “To win that class out of 52 is unbelievable.”
Trotter, 46, has been riding since she was 8 years old, getting her start at local barns like Stony Hill Stables in Amagansett and what is now East End Stables in East Hampton, when it was run by Harriet and Andre DeLeyer, and their father, famed horseman Harry DeLeyer. From a young age, Trotter would work at the barn to offset the cost of lessons, and as she grew into her teens, had the chance to ride with top hunter trainer Charlie Weaver, competing in the hunter divisions at the Classic on other people’s horses. She saw success at that time, but said that winning in the jumper division on her own horse feels even more special.
Trotter met Balou’s Boy shortly after turning 40, at a time in her life when she felt ready to get back into riding. She had taken time away from the sport during her 30s, when she had three children and built a reputation as one of the top real estate agents on the East End, but never lost her love for what she describes as a lifelong passion. Remaining competitive in the jumper division, negotiating fences at heights of 3 feet, 6 inches and higher, takes dedication, and balancing the commitment the sport requires with a full-time job and motherhood isn’t always easy. Trotter rides five or six days a week, either showing up at the barn at 7:30 in the morning before starting her work day, or dashing there on her lunch break.
It’s worth it though, Trotter said.
“When I turned 40, I felt like I needed something for me,” she said. “This is what I love, and that’s when I found Balou and it all came together. I feel very lucky to own such an incredible horse.”
Balou, a 14-year-old Oldenburg gelding, hails from a highly regarded breeding line, but because he ended up being slightly smaller than the average Grand Prix level jumpers, was available at a price that made owning him possible, Trotter said. What he may lack in stature, she said, Balou more than makes up for in other ways.
“He’s small but mighty,” Trotter said. “When I leased him for the summer when he was 9, and the summer was over, I said there’s no way I can give him up.”
Their partnership has only gotten better year after year, she said.
“This was a dream horse for me to buy. I’m so grateful to my trainer that she found him for me. “We’ve been together for four years now,” she continued, referring to Balou. “We’re a good team and we really trust each other now.”
Trotter added that while Balou is a competition horse, he’s also become something like a family pet, adding that her children can get on him and he’s well behaved.
“He’s a fantastic animal,” she said. “I pinch myself every day that I get to own this horse.”