When Melissa Cohn, owner and founder of The Manhattan Mortgage Company, went out in search of a horse for her oldest of two daughters, Sarah Alvarez, she knew what she was looking for. She wanted a horse that could “teach Sarah the ropes,” explained Ms. Cohn; A horse that could “navigate her junior career.” And so when they found this “simple, beautiful horse whose potential was obvious and who seemed like he was well worth taking the chance on,” they purchased him and then changed his name from Cartouche to Navigator. True to his name the nine-year-old, brown 16.2 hand German-bred gelding proved his mettle and in a few short years he has navigated Alvarez and others on a road that has led them to many successes.
“We bought him specifically for Sarah,” explained her trainer Scott Kemery, who lives in Wainscot, LI, NY. Kemery shares the training with Patti Foster, also from Wainscot. “He is the best horse I’ve ever had. He is the one in a lifetime.” Navigator had come from Germany and was imported into the U.S. by Sam Edelman as a grand prix jumper prospect. But “we saw him as a hunter,” explained Kemery. When The Manhattan Mortgage Company bought Navigator he had just gotten out of quarantine and was in the U.S. for only a week or two. It was just one of those lucky finds.
Kemery was the first one to spot the horse. “I was sitting in my Waterside Farm tack room at the 2000 Hampton Classic and Holly Brewster (who used to work for Edelman) was riding him. I took one look at his face and I knew right away I had to have him. It was his expression. The next day Sarah tried him and they bought him, right there on the spot. I liked the way he moved and the way he jumped.”
They next took “Gator,” (his nickname) to the Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida where Holly Orlando showed him in the First Year Green Hunters and Alvarez competed in Children’s Hunters. During that time he took his share of ribbons. Near the end of the season Megan Young (who is trained by Bobby Braswell and Christina Schlusemeyer) started to also ride Navigator. Alvarez was away in Boarding School and couldn’t get to Florida every weekend. “We told them we needed a kid to show this really nice horse,” explained Kemery. Young proved to be the perfect choice.
By the end of the winter of 2001, Alvarez was ready to move up to the Junior Hunters. For that first year Navigator guided her around the show arena teaching her the ropes. Sometimes they won and other times they learned from the experience. That Fall they had anticipated going to the Indoors but the September 11th bombing of the Twin Towers crushed that goal. Since Ms. Cohn’s Manhattan Mortgage Company’s headquarters are in New York City (although not near the Twin Towers) her focus changed to lending support to the aftermath efforts. Riding was put on the back burner for a short time.
During the summer of 2002 Navigator went off with Kemery to the Vermont Summer Series. Sarah and Megan competed in Junior Hunters while Liza Towell showed him in the Second Year Green Hunters.
That winter (2002-2003) both Megan and Sarah continued to show Gator and it didn’t seem to matter who was in the irons because those ribbons kept coming.
Then in 2003 they took turns riding him in the Indoor shows. Megan competed in Harrisburg while Sarah rode him at Washington. They were happy with their ribbon winnings but Navigator and his riders weren’t showing it all just yet. By that winter (2003-2004) things were starting to improve and Sarah was Reserve Champion at the Winter Equestrian Festival in the Larger (Older) Juniors.
The year 2004 continued to show great promise. Navigator started by winning the Large Junior (16/17) Championship at Devon, one of the most prestigious Hunter/Jumper horse shows. Then later that year at Harrisburg he was Grand and Large Junior Hunter Champion. At Washington he was the Large Junior Champion. As if that were not enough, at The Metropolitan National Horse Show in New York City (November 2004) he again was Grand and Large Junior Hunter Champion.
“I can’t remember a horse (that won Indoor as much) in the same year,” commented Kemery. “If you include Devon, Harrisburg, Washington and New York, I am sure it has been done but I can’t remember any. There were some really good Junior horses but they never put all four together in a year.”
“It’s pretty unbelievable,” added Young. “I don’t know of any other horse that has won all four of the major horse shows in one year.”
A TRUE CHARACTER
Just because a horse is a winner doesn’t mean he’s easy to work with. Some of the most talented competitors are often the most difficult; but not Gator. “He’s an angel around the barn,” explains Kemery. “He thinks the barn is his. He is pretty full of himself. I think he knows how good he is.”
They sometimes also refer to Gator as “Prince.” “He’s the Prince and he is the man and he knows it,” chides Alvarez.
“He’s definitely very sweet and always likes attention,” adds Young.
And Gator loves to eat and especially loves being turned out on the grass paddocks at Waterside when not on the road so that he can munch away all day. “He begs for extra treats and when he gets it he begs for more,” adds Kemery. Gator has discovered that peppermints are one of his favorite treats.
“He is very spoiled,” says Young with a smile. “He knows he has peppermints waiting for him when he comes out of the ring. If anyone is in the ingate, he nuzzles them for mints until he finds Scott who has them. He usually gets a peppermint when he goes into the ring (as a mood sweetener).”
Alvarez explains that, “He has a trick when you come near him with a treat or he wants a treat, he will put up his front leg and start waving it at you.” She noted that Kemery had taught Navigator that, “but we are not sure how.” Alvarez also carries peppermints with her “as a part of showing – it’s a requirement.”
Young also revealed that Kemery “taught Gator how to tell his age by pawing the ground. So he paws eight (or nine) times.”
Gator has personality and he also has character and both of those traits help him in the competition arena. “He is a very flashy horse and he walks into the ring as a beautiful horse,” explained Young. “He has a wonderful gallop. I can pick up the gallop and keep the same rhythm. His gallop is more like a hunting type; I get into my half seat and he gallops and it is a pretty picture.”
Alvarez is not surprised with Gator’s successes and recalls when she first started riding him. “We were trying horses and had seen many that were already showing in 3’6”. Then we tried Gator and Scott thought he was really special. So, we decided to buy him. I rode him (but did not show him) at the 2000 Hampton Classic. When I was up on him I thought he was incredible. He was so much fun to ride. He was very easy and makes it very enjoyable.”
Alvarez doesn’t get to ride her mount all the time but explains, “I definitely appreciate going back to ride him.”
MEGAN & SARAH – SHARING THE NAVIGATION
Young first rode Gator at the 2002 Pennsylvania National Horse Show in Harrisburg. “We had a lot to learn because I was young (15) and he was young,” she explained. “But he was a great horse then. He always jumped well and he tried his heart out. You could ride him and he would take care of the rest.” The only time Young was a little cautious was over the vertical jumps. “He’s not built very uphill or downhill (he’s built more on a horizontal plane, which is also the way he gallops across the ground), so you have to make sure you don’t get him too close to the verticals.”
Young recalls Gator back then as being “a quiet horse that didn’t take much prep to get to the ring. He was beautiful and I knew he had a lot going for him in the future. So, whenever Sarah couldn’t make it, they would have me show him.”
She remembers getting some ribbons that first year but she and Navigator were still navigating their way to the top. “We really didn’t click until this year (2004). Until then, we had little mistakes in each class because we were learning each other and he was young.”
In 2004, Alvarez rode Navigator a lot in Florida and so Young didn’t show him as much. Young won at Devon. Then Young continued with him at Harrisburg. Not only did he get the Grand and Championship ribbons there but Young also was named Best Child Rider, a feat only a very few riders can claim.
Adds Young, “I have ridden quite a few good horses but he is one of the best, for sure.”
This year was Young’s swan song with Gator. She is 18 and turning professional, but having Gator bring her to some of her final victories in the Winner’s Circle was a special treat for Megan, Melissa and Sarah.
For Sarah it’s been a great road to travel. When asked if she thought he would be this good Sarah commented, “I think we all did.”
During the Winter Equestrian Festival Sarah competed on Navigator on the weekends in the Amateur-Owner division, since she is now 18 and has aged out of the Juniors. Now that Spring is here and Summer is approaching, keep an eye out for Sarah and Gator as they navigate down a new road. They’ll announce the owner as The Manhattan Mortgage Company because whether Melissa Cohn is running her company, spending time with her family, or buying horses, she follows the same policy of navigating the best course she can possibly negotiate. That’s the road to success – that’s Navigator’s true course (but just don’t forget those peppermints)!