By Sarah E. Coleman
Wise beyond her years, recent U of L graduate Devon Blandford is looking forward to getting more saddle time with her OTTB Kentwood this summer (read on to find out why she didn’t walk at her graduation!). Deeply passionate about traveling the world and helping others, it should come as no surprise that this inspiring young woman lives by the mantra of being proactive and making things happen. “Life doesn’t just happen to you,” she says.
MSEDA: Where are you from?
Devon Blandford: I am from Louisville, Kentucky.
MSEDA: When did you begin riding?
DB: I grew up riding family members' horses, but didn't start taking lessons until I was 11.
MSEDA: Did others in your family ride or how did you get the horsey gene?
DB: Some of my family members owned a horse farm, so I grew up around them and have always loved them. I grew up riding in my mom's lap before I could even walk.
MSEDA: Were your parents supportive of riding?
DB: My parents have always been extremely supportive of my riding. They would drive me out to the barn five days a week when I got my first horse before I could drive. My mom is always up at 4 a.m. with me before horse shows; she helps me braid, clean tack and is always my photographer when I need one. They were even supportive when I told them I was skipping my college graduation to go to a horse show!
MSEDA: Did you have to give up other things like sports, prom or other important events to ride? What made you decide to choose horses over the other event(s)?
DB: I played every sport imaginable growing up, but eventually gave them up after getting my first horse when I was 15. I never really felt like I was missing out [by quitting the other sports] though because riding what was I was really passionate about.
I did miss walking at my graduation from the University of Louisville to go to a horse show. I felt like I had missed out on a lot in the horse world while I was in college. I was a full-time student and was working at a hospital, so I had to put riding on the back burner for those four years. It was really an easy decision not to walk at graduation and go to the horse show instead. I felt like I had given up riding for school long enough and not walking across a stage wasn't going to make my achievement any less valid. And at the end of the day, the horse show is where I would rather be!
MSEDA: When did you get your first horse?
DB: I got my first horse in 2011; he was a chestnut Thoroughbred named Oliver.
MSEDA: How did you get Oliver?
DB: I found him online and begged my parents to take me to go see him and, of course, I fell in love with him. My parents had me wait and look at some other horses first before deciding, but I knew that he was the one for me!
MSEDA: When did you begin competing?
DB: I didn't start competing until I was 13 or 14.
MSEDA: What horses do you own now?
DB: I own a Thoroughbred gelding named Kentwood.
MSEDA: Who do you ride with?
DB: I ride with Angela Ariatti. I have been with Angela for about 5 years now; she's amazing!
MSEDA: How did you get him?
DB: I had to sell my previous horse Oliver. I was heartbroken because he was my first horse and I had a really strong connection with him, but I knew that selling him was the right decision for me to meet my riding goals. I waited about 7 or 8 months before getting a new horse. Angela Ariatti. and I had our eyes out for horses that would suit me, but I wasn't in a hurry for new one. I was in college at the time and needed something that could adapt to my busy work and school schedule. Angela called me one day and said she had heard about this horse for sale and thought he would be perfect for me. I got Kentwood in October 2016 and we really are a perfect match. I can be a bit of a nervous rider, but I know Kentwood will take care of me!
MSEDA: What do you compete Kentwood in?
DB: We compete in Beginner Novice eventing.
MSEDA: How did you choose your discipline?
DB: My passion has always been for dressage and for the longest time that was really my only interest. Jumping made me nervous, so I had decided that it wasn't going to be for me. I started training with Angela in 2015 and she slowly introduced me to jumping. It didn't take long for me to change my mind and decide that jumping wasn't so bad! It still makes me nervous sometimes, but I love the excitement.
MSEDA: Who is one person you would not have met without the horses?
DB: I have met some of my closest friends through horses! One of my best friends, Anna Hennis, and I ended up at the same barn when we were in high school. We rode together almost every day and even when we both went separate ways with our horses, we stayed close friends.
Anna is extremely supportive of my riding. I feel so lucky to have a friend who cares just as much about my success and happiness with my horse as her own. Although we became friends through horses, I know I have a friend for life even if horses are ever not in the picture.
MSEDA: What have the horses brought you that you are most thankful for?
DB: Riding horses has taught me to be flexible. I am someone who loves structure and I like for things to be predictable. Especially when I was younger; I would get upset when things didn't go exactly according to plan. I have always had trouble adapting to change. Horses can be unpredictable and inconsistent. What works one day might not work the next day; I could have a great ride one day and work on the exact same thing the next day and it doesn't go so well. I learned to be OK with that. I might have a plan in my head of what I want to work on in my ride before getting on and then get on and the plan has to change. I had to learn to be OK with things not always going according to the plan. This became applicable to so many other areas of my life as well. Oh and it taught me good posture :)
MSEDA: What are your horse's favorite treats?
DB: Peppermints! The horse goes crazy for some peppermints.
MSEDA: Do you have any good luck rituals?
DB: I don't have any rituals, but I do have a lucky pair of riding socks!
MSEDA: What are you planning on doing with your degree?
DB: I just graduated from the University of Louisville with a biology degree. I am currently applying to programs to become a physician assistant.
MSEDA: Do you volunteer with any organizations?
DB: I have volunteered with the Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children. Their goal is to provide medical services to disadvantaged families around the world. I really love this organization and even traveled with them to Ecuador in the summer of 2017 to help the families living there.
MSEDA: What are your favorite riding accomplishments?
DB: Getting on my 17.2 hand Thoroughbred from the ground after dropping my whip in the woods.
MSEDA: What is your favorite memory with your horse?
DB: My favorite memory with Kentwood is doing the Long Run Hunter Pace. I look forward to it every year. It's something fun and different for both of us!
MSEDA: What is your goal this year?
DB: My goal this year is to get out to as many events as possible with Kentwood! Now that I’m finished with school, I plan on taking every opportunity I can to get Kentwood out and about.
MSEDA: What is one piece of advice you would give someone, related to anything?
DB: Something I read one time that really stuck with me was that life doesn't just happen to you. The perfect opportunity doesn't always fall in your lap, so don't sit around wait for it! If you want something, be proactive and make it happen.
MSEDA: What would be the first thing you would do if you won the lottery?
DB: I would buy a cozy, secluded house in the mountains where I could ski in the winter and hike in the summer.
MSEDA: What is your favorite book?
DB: The Outsiders. I have read it over 10 times.
MSEDA: Do you have other hobbies?
DB: I love most outdoor activities. I love snow skiing, kayaking, hiking with my dog and swimming.
MSEDA: What do you feel makes a horse person “successful?”
DB: I think that riding horses is all about the little victories. If I end my ride better than it started, that is a success. For me, it’s about continuous self-improvement. If I'm setting realistic goals for myself and put the work in to reach those goals, I am successful.
MSEDA: Describe your horse in 10 words.
DB: Dig, handsome, kind, lazy, forgiving, brave, level-headed, sometimes grumpy, opinionated, smart.
MSEDA: What is your favorite memory?
DB: Spending the night in the barn as little kid with all of my friends.
MSEDA: What other animals do you own?
DB: I have an Old English Sheepdog/Poodle mix named Lincoln.
MSEDA: Is there anything unusual about your horses now?
DB: For an OTTB, he is incredibly lazy and even tempered. No wonder he didn't make a very good racehorse!
MSEDA: What are you passionate about other than horses?
DB: I am in love with traveling. Since I was 18, I save money throughout the year and every summer I travel somewhere new. So far, I have been to several parts of South America and Africa, and most of Europe. I am in love with exploring new places and learning the history. I also really love languages. I was really quiet and shy when I was younger, and I didn't like to go outside of my comfort zone. Traveling has made me much more outgoing and open to new experiences.