Making it to the Olympic Games for your country must be a dream for any athlete and their surrounding team. In late June, as the United States Equestrian Federation named their showjumping team for the Rio Olympics, that dream came true for Lucy Davis and the people behind her.
World of Showjumping sat down with Davis' head groom Tasha Houghton to find out more about what it has taken to get to the Games, and what the chance of travelling to Rio in August means for her. And let's be honest; when this girl says "I've come a long way" – it is a road not many of us could imagine travelling.
Tasha grew up in New Mexico, near Texas. "In the middle of nowhere," if you ask her. "I used to do rodeo, and all I wanted was to hang out at the barn. I wasn't at all excited about going to school."
Growing up with parents who weren't really around, Tasha ended up hitch hiking her way to New York. "I was around 9-years-old when I got to New York. I travelled alone and lived at the barns where I worked, and as far as studying goes, I changed schools very often. It is not easy to find work at that age, so the horses pretty much saved me," Tasha tells of a childhood that is quite out of the ordinary.
Tasha finished school just before turning 17, and as she was forced to grow up very quick she is grateful for the safe havens she found with the horses. "I had this dream of becoming a rider, and it kept me out of trouble most of the time," she says looking back. As breaking through as a rider herself started to seem rather impossible though, Tasha turned to grooming instead and that is where her big adventures started.
But how did this wild child end up in Europe? "I met Christi Israel in Florida. She was training with Markus Beerbaum and she told me she needed a new groom to travel with her horses to Europe. I said I have a passport and that was that. I started four weeks later and my first time flying over to Europe was with her horses."
Being based at Beerbaum's yard quickly opened new doors for Tasha; this is where she got to know Lucy Davis. "Lucy was also training with Markus and we met at his barn," she says. Tasha has now worked with Lucy for about three years. "I always wanted to see more and do the biggest shows, and with Lucy I have been able to do that and I have learned a lot. I really like the European system and I love living here."
Dedicating all her time to the horses and travelling the world with them would seem like a huge sacrifice for some, but for Tasha it has given her stability and kept her safe. "With my past, I think if it wasn't for the horses, I would have ended up a mess. The fact that you need to show up every day has kept me on track. I have met my best friends through the horses, and I love the way we help each other. The horses and my friends have turned into a second family for me."
If you meet Tasha at the shows, you cannot help but notice the tattoos on her arms and the long blonde hair – and when you spend a minute with her you can see that there is an endless amount of kindness under all that ink. If there is one groom who always has a word of encouragement and a smile for you, that would be Tasha. "She is very thoughtful", says Lucy when we ask her for a few words about her groom. "If it wasn't for her, I would have never been able to combine my studies and riding. I think we make a good team because we trust each other. We have a few special horses and I know she will take care of every little detail about them."
And the feeling of trust is mutual; "We have a very simple system - there is no fuss and we have time to focus on each of our seven horses properly," says Tasha.
"Really excited," is Tasha's answer when asked how she feels about the fact that they have been selected for the US showjumping team for Rio. "Last year was really difficult, so I didn't think this would happen. I am really proud that we were able to turn things around and make the team. We have worked really hard for this."
Lucy's ride for Rio will be the 12-year-old gelding Barron (For Pleasure x Nabab de Reve) – Tasha's favorite. "All our horses are really nice, but Barron has the best personality," she smiles.
Talking about dreams, an Olympic year seems more than appropriate for that. Talking with Tasha made it clear how dreams can come true, even if along the way some days are spend on focusing solely on survival. And as some dreams are coming true, others may not; no one seems more familiar with the curve balls life can throw at you than Tasha. "I am really happy with my work, and I am grateful to the horses for taking me so far from where I started. When I get older maybe I'll move to Montana, live on a ranch and hack around," the Tasha laughs about her future plans. "And if I would do something else than grooming, I think I would be a mechanic fixing old cars. I love old cars - I love to take things apart and put them back together."
Come what may, it seems nothing can tear this girl apart.
Text © World of Showjumping // Photos © Jenny Abrahamsson
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