As a two year-old, Henson Avenue failed to live up to the promise of his Thoroughbred breeding and training. When it was clear to his owners that he wouldn’t make-the-grade racing, they quickly said, “He must go!” That failure was the birth of his future success. Henson may have been bred to run, but his true talent would prove to be in Eventing.
Talana Kennedy of Collierville, Tenn. leased her daughter’s successful Preliminary level Eventer to an Adult Amateur female rider in St Louis, but the horse died only a few weeks into the lease. Feeling remorseful, Talana went on the search for a horse for the woman. Through connections in Kentucky, she found a 2-year-old Thoroughbred who had only raced twice. When the lady in St Louis decided she didn’t want a young horse, Talana decided to get Henson anyway. She says, “I love rehabbing young horses.” Henson Avenue was “lovely but slow: he raced twice and was dead last both times,” she adds. Talana thought, “I might as well go get him, get him going, and sell him if I can’t use him.” Once she brought the horse home and turned him out she gushed, “my jaw literally dropped the first time I saw him trot in the pasture at home. Thoroughbreds don’t move like that!”
What do you do when you think you’ve found that special horse? You make a plan and go slowly. Henson was ridden lightly as a 3-year-old. “He didn’t bat an eye when ridden. He seemed so special,” Talana recalls. So in late 2021 she created a plan to qualify for the 2022 Duta Corp USEA Young Event Horse Championship held at the Maryland 5* at Fair Hill in Elkton, MD. The fall of Henson’s 3-year-old year she rode him on a cross country course for the first time. “He was so brave,” she says. At home she watched him jump huge piles of sand in the arena, “he looked like a Grand Prix jumper!” With the help of Eads, Tenn. trainer, Macy Clark, of Windyrein Farm she brought him along with the championship in mind. Talana notes Macy was instrumental that year in developing his talent. Talana is also quick to credit Tracy Moss for his role in Henson’s progress through body work and excellent farrier care. Everything was coming together for 2022.
Aiken, SC was the location for a qualifying event, so Talana asked her friend Allison Thompson to recommend a trainer there. Morgan Conrad Batton’s name rose to the top so a few months prior to competition Henson went to her farm to prepare. Morgan also rode him at the championship event where he finished second in jumping, tenth overall, and was awarded the Thoroughbred Incentive Program high point award. Talana is clearly very proud of Henson: “he’s such a good boy. He shows up! He gives his all, he is genuine at shows, and so honest!” Talana is “excited about being in the competition world again. Not as a rider, but with my horse!”
Now, what to do in 2023? Henson will move to Ocala, FL to train with Allison Thompson where he’ll go to local schooling shows, rated shows, and compete in a qualifying class for the 2023 5-year-old East Coast Eventing championship. Allison will focus on Dressage, his weakest of the three phases in Eventing. He will start 2023 competing at Novice level, but will move up to Training level as soon as possible. To be successful at the 2023 Championship he must be confident at Training level. As he continues to develop physically and mentally, he will be monitored closely to ensure he is ready for the challenge.
For now, Talana is satisfied to have Henson showing with experienced professionals, but she does dream of the day when she might compete with him herself. “Maybe some year I will ride him in lower levels. I am working on my riding in order to give him the ride he deserves,” Talana says. She’s also quite aware of the investment of time a young horse requires. Balancing Henson’s schedule and needs with her work as a hospital-based RN and a new, non-horsey husband was “personally a challenge last year.” “My husband, Brian Kennedy, is so supportive of my dreams for Henson,” she lovingly says. They weren’t married when she got Henson in 2021, but he willingly went with her to Kentucky to get him. “He has truly been with me since the beginning of this journey,” says Talana. She acknowledges he’s learned a lot and understands her passion for developing young horses. She is looking forward to them cheering together for Henson Avenue at the 2023 USEA Young Horse Championships.