West Grove Rider Finds a 5 Star Diamond in the Rough | Main Edition

WEST GROVE, Pa. — Long before she rose to the highest level of eventing and wowed crowds by soaring over fences, Emily Hamel took a leap of faith with a horse named Barry.

There was something about him. She noticed it right away.

“I liked him from when I first met him,” Hamel said. “He was fluffy and a little bit overweight. He always had this cute attitude. His jumping style was amazing. It still is today. Then when I started riding him I pretty much fell in love.”

This is how it often works for Hamel. Horses find her rather than the other way around. Five years ago, she wasn’t looking to buy the one that could help her compete in 5 Stars. Barry belonged to one of the students of Phillip Dutton, then Hamel’s boss. This pairing was good luck. Happenstance. Barry was a revelation that required a discerning eye.

Discovering him was easier than buying him. Hamel needed to convince her parents to help with the $15,000 price tag.

The sales pitch started with videos Hamel made and sent to her mom. The key word was potential. Forget the wildness that was evident today. Imagine what Barry might become.

“The way he jumps now is nothing compared to the way he jumped then,” said Deana Hamel, Emily’s mom. “With exuberance. Straight up in the air. If you saw those first videos you’d wonder, ‘Why?’ Why is this a good plan?’”

The family went along with it. They weren’t betting on Barry as much as they believed in Emily. That her vision was correct. That her training could transform.

Deana Hamel has watched Emily ride since she was 8. Mom has seen her daughter connect with other horses and find ways to get the most out of them. Barry was just on a grander scale with higher stakes.

“That was the leap of faith,” Deana Hamel said. “That this horse and Emily would be like others that we had seen her do wonderful things with. But we never could have realized how good it was going to go. To see his performance now as a 5 Star horse, I didn’t see that coming. But Emily did.”

This was the only way Hamel could chase her dream. A ready-made 5 Star horse costs more than she could afford. Instead of buying one, she had to create one. Find a diamond in the rough.

Emily Hamel and Barry clear one of the fences during the cross country portion of the Maryland 5 Star.

One reason Barry was so relatively cheap is people struggled to ride him. He was stubborn. He was sassy. His leaping ability was both astonishing and challenging. Riders were sometimes jumped right out of their tack. Hamel had to harness all of those traits.

“I would say he’s not the most submissive horse,” Hamel said. “He doesn’t do well with people who try to make him do a certain thing. I just let him do his own thing and went along with it. Obviously there were boundaries. But I didn’t try to override him or try to change how he went. I just encouraged the way he wanted to be.”

Hamel, who earns most of her income through training and lessons, made her 5 Star debut at Kentucky in April and competed in Maryland’s inaugural event at Fair Hill in October. It was the culmination of her slow, steady climb.

Barry goes by Corvett during shows. The name works in that setting. It evokes a flashy image. When he’s on the showjumping course, Barry grabs your attention. He’s a Holsteiner out of the C line so his name has to start with a C. Corvett is perfect.

No one at the stable at True Prospect Farm, the roughly 70-acre property where Barry lives, calls him Corvett. To use that name feels too formal. He’s always Barry. That’s what’s written in magic marker on the scotch tape attached to his stall door.

“I don’t actually know how he got that name,” Hamel said. “As far as I know it’s always been his barn name. It definitely fits him. It’s kind of a goofy name. Corvett is more fitting for the show atmosphere. But Barry, he responds to it. To me, he seems like a Barry.”

Hamel realized her show horse loved the job not long after they started training. Barry likes the attention of the small fan club he has developed.

The two of them sail over fences by a good 12 inches and draw rave reviews from the polite but usually not boisterous crowds. No one at Maryland received a louder ovation than Emily and Barry.

“I definitely heard it as I was going along,” Hamel said. “The oohs and aahs. I tried not to focus on that too much. But it was really cool when we crossed the finish line and everybody went crazy. With him that’s how it goes.”

This has been a breakthrough year for Hamel. It has validated her judgment and training skills. She has arrived on the 5 Star stage. Hamel and Corvett placed 14th at Maryland. They were one of the few pairs to leave all the poles untouched.

This is where Barry has always belonged. Only one person could see it.

“I feel like this is his level,” Hamel said “He shines at the 5 Star level. Just the way he attacks the course. He goes out there, he’s looking for the fences. He wants to do the job. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a horse that just loves it.”

The next goal is to climb the ranks. To become a 5 Star challenger more than a participant. Barry loves the cross country and showjumping portions of the events. He needs to work on his dressage. If he can improve in that category, there are no limits to what he can achieve.

Emily Hamel

Emily Hamel and Barry drop over the giant crab jump at the Maryland 5 Star.

Hamel hopes to travel to England to compete at 5 Stars in Badminton and Burghley next year. She’s applying for grants to help with funding. Barry is 14 and has a few more years in his eventing prime. Hamel wants to see what he can accomplish.

“It’d be really cool to do that while I have this kind of horse,” she said. “You don’t know how long you’re going to have a 5 Star horse. I want to take as many opportunities as I can while I have him. Badminton and Burghley are pretty intense. You want a horse that wants to do the job. I feel like he would really eat up those tracks.”

These days Barry is resting in his stall before training begins in earnest early next year. He expects visitors to bring him carrots from the fridge at the other end of the barn. He always sniffs people’s clothes to see if they have more.

The ownership group, which includes Hamel’s parents and stepparents, is called Black Flag Options. Emily insisted on the name. Those flags represent a winding, less direct route through a showjumping course.

Barry was a black flag option. He was a way to reach the pinnacle of eventing without going straight forward.

“You always buy a horse like that knowing it might not work out,” Deana Hamel said. “You don’t know if it’s going to be a next level horse until you’re competing at the level below. Some horses might peak there. Barry proved to be better every time he moved up. I can safely say he’s at his best running a 5 Star.”

The initial plan was to purchase Barry, train him and sell him at a profit. The agreement was for $15,000 up front and another $15,000 when he was sold. After about 18 months of training, Hamel estimated Barry was worth $150,000. That number keeps climbing.

The second $15,000 will never be spent because Barry and Emily will never part. She calls him magical. Like a real-life unicorn.

“He’s worth a lot more now but he’s not for sale,” Hamel said. “He owes me nothing. He’s my guy.”

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Lancaster Farming’s Mid-Atlantic Horse tells the stories of horses and their people. Big and small horses; fast, slow, harness, carriage and farm horses; wild horses, donkeys, mules, mustangs and more. Mid-Atlantic Horse covers the wide world of the genus Equus. And for every horse story, there are many more about the people who live so closely with their horses.

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