Tori Wadsworth and Fabio: A Grand Pair
Win two first-place ribbons at 2017 Grand National & World Championship Morgan Horse Show
BECKET — In a chilly barn off County Road in Becket, about five miles from the roar of the Mass Pike, a large Morgan Horse named Fabio munches away on a pallet of hay. The luxurious locks by which he earned the moniker of his supermodel human namesake are tucked beneath a warm, blue blanket.
Fabio's life for the last month or so has been pretty relaxed with good food, warmth and the regular pampering befitting of a champion of his stature.
The person responsible for that care and upkeep, who is now just as much of a decorated winner as her mount, hasn't quite had the same chance to kick back and relax after their most recent ribbons.
Tori Wadsworth likes to keep busy.
While her horse has been enjoying the good life following their incredible performance at the 2017 Grand National & World Championship Morgan Horse Show in Oklahoma, Wadsworth came out of the dream-like state in mid-October to dive headfirst back into the reality of a 21-year-old college student with work, studies and life coming at her faster than a hand gallop through a 2-foot-6-inch hunter course.
Before she next mounts Fabio in a competitive setting, Wadsworth will have likely graduated from the University of Massachusetts-Lowell with a double-major in psychology and special education. She is a graduate of Lee High School and already owns an Associates Degree in psychology from Berkshire Community College. On top of her studies and caring for Fabio, who will soon move from her grandmother's barn in Becket to her trainer Jess Riley's in Claverack, NY, she works as a paraprofessional at Berkshire Hills Regional School District and as a nanny for a family in Pittsfield.
The kids in her life are some of her biggest fans. They were pulling for Wadsworth and Fabio while the duo was competing Oct. 7-14 at State Fair Park in Oklahoma City.
"I love waking up every morning and going to my job. The kids I work with are amazing and the people I work with are amazing," said Wadsworth. "I'm very lucky, and before I left they made me the sweetest card and were rooting for me from all the way up here. They were pumped."
Of course, the two responded to those cheers with three more ribbons, including a pair of first-place finishes. It was Wadsworth's first time back at the Grand National since 2013, when as a 17-year-old on a horse she leased, she placed second in nation and third in the world. She remembers leaving for the competition a day after getting senior pictures done at Lee.
Now, with Fabio in tow, she placed first in both the Bridle Path Hack Finals and Working Hunter Amateur Finals, while also landing third in the World's Low Working Hunter Division.
Bridle Path Hack consists of a flat track judging series that had 17 competitors walk, trot, canter and then hand gallop their horses. Then, they had to halt, stop on a dime and back up. Finally in a line-up, Wadsworth and Fabio were the only team to dismount and remount without issue.
"Winning this class floored me," said Wadsworth. "There were 17 in the class and I just went in wanting to have some fun against some amazing horses. So we went in and had a blast and that was probably the best ride I've ever had on any horse. When they called my name I was just bawling. It was a dream come true. It was absolutely crazy and the perfect way to end it."
The other two competitions featured 2'6" jumping courses in front of a judge.
"Going back again, with a horse that I owned, and I had such a strong bond with, and we ended up winning. It was so much fun," she said, while smiling at Fabio. "I had to redeem the second place. Now that I've got that first, we've got to go back and redeem the third place in the world."
Wadsworth traveled to Oklahoma with her biggest supporters, her family. Her parents, Andrea and Kevin, have worked to build an arena on the farm where she works out for most of the year. The farm has been in their family for around 100 years and is now the full-time residence of Tori's grandmother. The barn that now houses Fabio and Kevin's horse, Buddy, was built in 2010.
"They've been great, they're very supportive of it," said Wadsworth. "My mom and dad will usually come up in the morning to feed, and then my dad comes back at night to feed. I'm very appreciative to have such great parents that support this, and my brother, Airen, supports it as well. It brings us all together."
The one family member who couldn't be there was Cruiser, Tori's first horse, who passed away in April at Age 30.
"He's the reason we're all here," said Wadsworth. "I met him when I was nine and I officially owned him by my 10th birthday, which was really cool.
"When we met Cruiser we mostly did New England competitions. He was the best. Taught me so much of what I know."
She owned Cruiser through a lot of other competing horses, and he always kept an eye on things to make sure they were treating his girl right. Then, 18-year-old Fabio came along this spring. Cruiser only watched Fabio a few times before he gave what in Tori's eyes was the ultimate approval: Cruiser passed away on April 5, just four days after Wadsworth passed papers on her new mount.
Wadsworth began riding at three and competing at Age 5, but it wasn't until Cruiser came around that things took off. Now, his picture hangs on the inside wall of the barn where he can continue keeping an eye on things.
Fabio originally hails from Oklahoma, but has made the transition to being a northern horse now. Even at 18, the cold doesn't seem to be bothering him.
"He doesn't show his age. He's spunky and I love it," said Wadsworth, who also credits Great Barrington trainer Aimee Boyer for helping with the transition. "Before I met him he was an eight-time world champion. So he's got some miles on him, which is good because he can show me."
Most Morgan Horses come from southern and mid-western states, where the bulk of competitions are held. The 2018 Grand Nationals will be back in Oklahoma Oct. 6-13. Before then, there will be some local competitions, likely at the Northampton Fairgrounds and the Big E. Those will be held in June to qualify for regionals in July, which will in turn qualify them for another trip to worlds.
Until then, there is plenty of training to be done.
"He needs top be in tip-top shape, so I'll work him probably five days a week," said Wadsworth of Fabio's next step. "And then on top of that, I have to be in shape so I'll be working out every day; running, weights, spinning classes. In the bridle path hack you have to get on from the ground without any assistance. It's all upper body and core."
Her own exercise gives her the extra edge when competing against a myriad of people with ages ranging from 12 to 75. All that is, of course, on top of graduating from college and starting on the path to a Master's Degree and continuing her work with local children.
"It's been a crazy year," Wadsworth said. "Throughout all that, though, I'll be riding my horse."
Mike Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @CLNS_Walsh on Twitter and 413-496-6240.
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