2015-11-06 / Front Page

Grand National title was quite a ride

Sea Road student excels at championship horse show in Oklahoma City
By Duke Harrington Staff Writer


Tatum Milley, 9, a fourth-grade student at Sea Road School in Kennebunk, competes atop her 16-year-old horse, Minion Starlette, at the Morgan Grand National and World Championship Horse Show in Oklahoma City on Oct. 15. She was crowned Grand National Champion for her age division and finished fourth in the World Championship. (Courtesy photo) Tatum Milley, 9, a fourth-grade student at Sea Road School in Kennebunk, competes atop her 16-year-old horse, Minion Starlette, at the Morgan Grand National and World Championship Horse Show in Oklahoma City on Oct. 15. She was crowned Grand National Champion for her age division and finished fourth in the World Championship. (Courtesy photo) KENNEBUNK — It’s not unusual for the public to show great support for local student athletes. Every win is applauded, each regional title granted wide acclaim. And a state championship? Well, that can kick off a kind of euphoria that often stops just short of dancing in the streets.

And yet, one local girl has quietly become tops in the nation – and No. 4 in the world – in her chosen sport, to the accompaniment of almost no public notice.

To be fair, that’s partly because equestrian events are not found on the interscholastic sports plate. Still, the accomplishment is worth noting.

At the Morgan Grand National and World Championship Horse Show in Oklahoma City, held Oct. 10-17, Tatum Milley, age 9, of Kennebunk, was crowned Grand National Champion for her age division, while finishing fourth in the World Championship.

“Unfortunately, this type of thing doesn’t generally get as much press as a school sport, but 
Tatum Milley, 9, a student at Sea Road School in Kennebunk, poses with her horse, Minion Starlette, at the the Morgan Grand National and World Championship Horse Show in Oklahoma City. (Courtesy photo) Tatum Milley, 9, a student at Sea Road School in Kennebunk, poses with her horse, Minion Starlette, at the the Morgan Grand National and World Championship Horse Show in Oklahoma City. (Courtesy photo) it takes just as much hard work and dedication,” said her mom, Leigh Drummey, on Saturday. “Tatum has been riding for as long as she could walk and competing from a very young age. We were very proud and excited for her to do so well against the best in her division.”

“I’ve done it since I was 2 years old,” Milley said. “I’ve always had good horses, so it’s fun to ride, but I also just like hanging out at horse shows and doing fun stuff like that.

“When they announced my name [as the national champion] I was really happy. I couldn’t stop smiling that whole day,” Milley said. “It was so cool because, I mean, I was just happy I got to go to that horse show.”

Milley qualified for the national event with wins at New England’s 76th Regional Morgan Horse Show in July in Northampton, Massachusetts. Both of her ribbon-winning rides on the national level came in walk-trot saddle seat clas- sic equestrian competitions for riders age 8 and 9. Those are events in which the young rider must put a horse through its paces at a slow gait in a specific riding style before a panel of judges.

According to Milley’s coach, David Rand of the Rand at Sheaffer Farm in Falmouth, Milley’s division is noteworthy because it is the first year in which riders are put in complete control of the horse, competing without being tethered to a lead controlled by an adult handler.

“It’s a huge deal for anyone to be crowned a national champion at that competition. So, that was great in itself,” Rand said on Monday. “But to do so having just come off the lead-line, and on a horse she just got together with, that’s just fantastic.”

Milley got her new horse, a 16-year-old Morgan named Minion Starlette, as a birthday present in April, just three months before riding it to the regional win and six months before they won the national title together.

“We call her Elly in the barn,” Milley said. “She loves treats. I love her, she’s a really good horse and she loves kids. She’s been with kids her whole life.”

According to Rand, Elly’s breed, the Morgan, started out as an “all-around useful horse” for the average family “back in the good old days.”

“It could work for them during the week and yet still be elegant and fancy enough to take to town, to go to church or what-have-you,” he said.

Although the breed has been modified slightly for showing and competition, it still remains the moderate-sized, working class show horse it was bred to be.

Having a well-trained Morgan like Minion Starlette is critical to success for a young rider, but that doesn’t mean Milley is just along for the ride.

“The horse has to be trained and know what it’s doing,” Rand explains. “It has to know its job and be willing to do it for the child, but the child has to know what they’re doing, and be assertive enough to be in control of the situation. It can be quite challenging for a young child to get out there in the arena and keep their wits about them, do their required gaits and hold their required positions. It really is quite a great feat for Tatum.

“When she gets out there she has to be in control of any situation, because it’s a large animal, so you never know what’s going to happen,” Drummey said. “It’s a big arena so there’s no quickly helping them. They have to be able to think and control the horse on their own.”

Getting to the top level is not easy. Milley trains three times per week after school and, despite that work, has been thrown by Minion Starlette once this year, on her way to the national title.

Her horse spooked and she came off. So, things definitely happen,” Drummey said.

But, like any future champion, Milley simply got up off the ground, dusted herself off, and hopped back in the saddle.

“She has such a great personality,” Rand said. “She’s such a kind and hard-working person, and that comes though with the horse. Horses are almost telepathic and she transfers her great energy into her riding and into her horse, which obviously gives her great results.”

At the national competition, in which riders are judged on control, skills and form, in much the same fashion as figure skating, Milley got first-place votes from two of the three judges. Despite a fourth-place nod from the third judge, Milley’s total score was enough to take the top prize, including ribbons for both her and her horse, as well as a neck medal, the mark of distinction in what Rand says is essentially the Super Bowl of the show horse sport.

Still, Milley takes the awards in stride.

“I’ve got a ton of ribbons all over my room, falling down on the floor and stuff, and in the car, too,” she said.

It’s not the accolades that drive her to compete, Milley said, but the camaraderie with other riders and a mutual love of all animals – not surprising given that she’s been around horses from birth, starting at the Springvale horse barn of her grandmother, Peggy Drummey.

Both her grandmother and mother rode horses, with Leigh Drummey also competing on a national level, and Milley also has two cousins in the sport, one of whom also scored well in Oklahoma City.

Still, despite her early success, Milley says she rides for the love of it and will take any success as it comes. She’s not obsessing over a potential Olympic, or even professional, career.

“I just hope that I get to move up through the divisions until I’m an adult,” she said.

Maybe one day, she’ll make a career out of working with horses, she says, much as her mother has recently done. In April, Leigh Drummey left a career in sales to take an assistant trainer job at the Rand farm.

But for now, with the competition season over following the U.S. Equestrian Federation event in Oklahoma City, it’s back to the training, which, given her love of horses, is not so much a grind, Milley says.

The competitions will resume next year in April, with the United Professional Horsemen’s Association Eastern States Spring Premier Show in West Springfield Massachusetts.

Rand says he expects Milley to pick up right where she left off.

“She’s a talented rider and certainly this win got people to take notice of her,” he said. “It will open many, many doors throughout her life. But just the connections and people she’s met already, and the name she’s made for herself, it’s pretty remarkable for an itty-bitty 9-year-old.”

That said, Rand has a compliment for Milley that may mean as much to her, and say as much about her, as any national title.

“She’s a great kid,” he said. “I’m thrilled to have her in my program and in my life.

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