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‘He Feels Like Home’: The Story of Cornelia Dorr & Sir Patico MH

Cornelia Dorr and Sir Patico MH (“Hugo”) have had an epic relationship. Their worlds collided when Cornelia was 13 and Hugo was 5 — now, 9 years later, they were on the cusp of tackling their first five-star at the (sadly canceled) 2020 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event. Together with the strikingly colored Zweibrücker gelding (Sempatico M x Queen’s Lite XX, by Lite the Fuse), Cornelia won individual bronze at the 2017 NAYC, earned top finishes at the three- and four-star level, and made her European debut at Blenheim last fall. She reflects on their journey.

Cornelia Dorr and Sir Patico MH (“Hugo”) at the 2020 MARS Wellington Eventing Showcase in February. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Horses play so many different roles in our lives. Each one we are blessed to know becomes a monument in one’s mind. Maybe your first pony marked your years in middle school, or perhaps your first horse reminds you of the transition between high school and college. For me, Hugo is all of these moments. Through every change in life he has been the constant though it all. A lot of people know the brief outline of Hugo and I’s story, but very few know the details of it. I thought it might inspire someone out there to hear how we started and where we came from.

I have been blessed to ride some really nice horses in my short 10 years of experience to this point. But I always come back to Hugo. Not because he’s easy or a pleasure to ride — he is, sometimes. But because he feels like home. That feeling you get when you finally get back to visit your parents at your childhood house after being gone at college. The peacefulness and relaxation that you can’t seem to find anywhere else but that house, where there is no judgment or expectations; that is Hugo to me.

Cornelia and Hugo made their European debut at Blenheim in September 2019: 

I bought Hugo though Courtney Cooper and my coach at the time Babette Lenna. I was in 8th grade, it was February in Aiken. My pony had just bucked me off for the last time and I was on the verge of deciding to toss in the towel. My mom and I drove up with Babette to Courtney’s barn and as soon as I got out of the car I turned around to look up the hill, I saw a beautiful black and white tail bouncing left and right as he walked away from us. I didn’t know much then, but I knew it was a pretty tail, and a beautiful walk. It made an impression on me and thinking of the moment today brings back the same emotions as if I was standing there again.

I was surprised when Courtney walked us up to the ring and said, “Here is the first horse you’ll see today.” I also remember in that moment thinking, “But he’s black and white…” as the stereotype slid into my mind. However the more I watched him warm up the more I fell in love, even unknowing. Something right away felt peaceful and homelike to me. I have attached some photos of this day, when I first sat on Hugo, as a shy and awkward 8th grader, to show how average we were as a pair.

Cornelia and Hugo’s first ride together, and an early event:

After riding Hugo I sat on one other horse, trotted her around for two minutes, and got off. “That’s the one.” As I pointed at Hugo. Babette acknowledged that, while he was only 5 he was safe, and kind, and that he would be happy to go in any direction. I was heading off to boarding school in six months and the ability to event while at school was blurry. My family lived in Massachusetts at the time and I was off to Maryland.

August rolled around and I packed up minimal belongings, organized a shipper, and sent Hugo off to Maryland where I would meet him at our new home for the next four years.

Girls can be tough, and moving away from home at 14 to an all-girls boarding school is tougher. But somehow, the idea of being able to bring Hugo with me gave me the courage to bravely walk him out of that Brook Ledge trailer and into the school’s barn. Keep in mind at this point I had just learned what “on the bit” means and that I had just done my first few Novice level events a few months before. It was over the next nine months at school I found my genuine love of the sport, solely thanks to Hugo. Now I wasn’t winning by any means …  getting 40s in Novice dressage tests didn’t bother me. For us, it was just fun! And it still is.

Cornelia Dorr and Sir Patico MH. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Over the next few years at boarding school we developed, and eventually got up to Prelim. The school’s riding program had done everything they could for me, but it was clear I needed a more specialized training program and I was hungry for it. That is when I moved Hugo to Sharon White’s barn. She was an hour and a half from school so as soon as class got out on Fridays I would book it to my car and get there before dark to ride Hugo. These weekends spent at Sharon’s firmed up my belief that I was in this sport for the long haul, with Hugo in tow. I don’t think anyone really knew what Hugo had in him, but thanks to the professional help I had along the way it was slowly brought out of him.

I think he and I have done what we have as a pair because our relationship started in such a delicate, wholesome and carefree way. Not once did I put the pressure on us to be the next big thing or go win something. It is not about that for us and it never was. Had I known enough to do that, I think he would have said no a long time ago. Instead he just kept saying “more” every time we moved up a level. He has this uncanny ability to morph himself into whatever I dreamed him up to be that day. However I can say I never dreamed I’d enter the Kentucky five-star, let alone on him.

Cornelia Dorr and Sir Patico MH. Photo by Shelby Allen.

While COVID-19 changed our plans, we were just a mere month away from Kentucky and to me that is a huge deal for the two of us. I could list off the amount of people that told me to sell him, that he wasn’t safe to go Prelim on. But I won’t, because those are the people that we heard, but never listened to. We could feel it in each other and it didn’t matter what anyone else thought.

Hugo is an anomaly through and through, and I am grateful for every day with him. He has been (other than my family) the most consistent thing in my life since the day we bought him. My rock. It sounds cheesy, I know, but it’s the truth. From boarding school, to heading off to college, a quick change of events then had us on our way to work for Sharon White, which turned into four years. This past year I went out on my own and moved to Florida. All the physical change Hugo witnessed is unmatched by the many relationships with friends come and gone and all the growing up and life lessons I went through. From my 13 year old self, to now 22, he has raised me. Hugo is my home, and I his.

Cornelia Dorr’s Sir Patico MH. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

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