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Careen Dubuc.... Her Path To Freedom Hall

by Bob Funkhouser

The dreams of little girls and their horses make up a good portion of our industry and what a story it is when the dreams go far beyond the wildest expectations. That is the story for New Hampshire’s Careen Dubuc and her trainer Kevin Tomasko.

It was a strange path these two took to hook up and create Louisville memories that will last a lifetime. Dubuc started riding about 10 years ago but it was in a different discipline. “I started teaching her [Careen] by accident,” said Tomasko, owner/trainer of Phoenix Stables in Hopkinton, New Hampshire. “She needed the help. I had to get the hunt seat out of her. Still today if she gets a little nervous the hunt seat comes back but she has been such a great student.”

Dubuc started with hunt seat lessons from her mom and then moved to saddle seat. When Tomasko saw her, he saw a kid with some ability that needed fine tuned and turned out right. When he made the decision to take her on as a student the pair hit it off and have enjoyed many great experiences over the past few years.

Having his own barn for six years now, Tomasko has had horses in and out of his life for as long as he can remember. “My father used to take my sister for lessons and make me go along,” said Tomasko. “It wasn’t long before I kind of got good at it. Riding was a real comfort zone for me. Then as I was growing up I rode with Barbara Currier at Hearthstone Stable. She was not in the best physical condition at that point so I actually got to work a lot of horses. At 14, I was learning a lot because I was getting to ride so many different horses.”

After high school he dropped out of horses for four years and earned a degree in architectural engineering. Accomplished at that endeavor as well, he got a job right away and worked in the field for a year and a half.

“I liked my work but I didn’t like sitting at a computer all day long,” explained Tomasko. “I thought, ‘What else can I do?’ A local barn came up for sale and I really didn’t want to work for anyone else so we bought the barn, did a lot of work on it, and started doing some lessons. My original plan was to hire a trainer and keep a couple of horses just for myself to show. Then I didn’t really see anyone I wanted to hire so I just started doing it myself. I was still working on my drafting from home, but the busier I got at the barn the harder it was to do my other work. Finally I had to give up the drafting and do this full time.”

Meanwhile Dubuc was growing as a person and a rider. The relationship with Tomasko was strong and she started showing horses like Breezy Meadow City Slicker, Highview’s Born Believer, and then the multi-titled three-gaited star Eastwood’s Prime Time.

A little over a year ago the duo started looking for another horse. They wanted a horse that she could be competitive with, but a horse that was safe and fun.

“Some of her previous horses were hard,” said Tomasko. “I wanted to get her something she could go to the ring with and have fun. We looked for a while but couldn't find a horse. We went to Louisville last year to try and find one and we couldn’t agree on anything. Horses she wanted I thought there was no way for her to ride. I would see something and she wouldn’t like it.

“I was about sick of her [Careen] so I told her the next day I was going out by myself. Since I didn’t see anything at the show I thought maybe I should go and visit some of the local farms. I pull up to the chute in my golf cart and I’m looking through Saddle Horse Report trying to find some phone numbers to set up some appointments. I’m not paying attention to anything going on around me but this other golf cart pulls in right beside me. There was all kinds of room but they pull in right beside me. They’re talking about this horse [Undulata’s Jimmy Hollywood] that they are getting ready to try. Again, I’m not really paying attention but I’m hearing about half of their conversation about what a nice horse he is and then I turn the page in the paper and there he is. I’m thinking this looks like a nice, big horse and about that time Kathy[Boggs] rides by with him and these people try him.

“I watched and really loved him. Thought he was exactly what I was looking for. After they work him about seven people follow them back to the barn and I walk right through the crowd up to Kathy and ask her, ‘How can I buy this horse today?’ She said, ‘That’s easy, just write a check.’ I said, ‘Okay, we’ll take him.’ The people that were looking at him had the first option so Kathy told them they had 30 minutes to decide. They came back and said that was too quick for them, so we got him.”

“Kevin called the hotel and said, ‘I think I bought you a horse,’ said Dubuc. “We had him vet checked and everything was good so we took him. He is the best horse. He’s very willing and good hearted. You never have to worry about him doing anything bad.”

They started in the junior exhibitor park division last fall at Eastern States and were first and second. This year they moved to the pleasure division and enjoyed early success before heading to Lexington Junior League.

“We went thinking that if we had a really good show we could have a shot at something good. Top three was our goal,” said Tomasko.

It turned out a lot better than top three. Dubuc and Undulata’s Jimmy Hollywood won the 15-17 Show Pleasure class. “I got really excited,” said Dubuc.

Going into Louisville the pair kept their calm and were looking forward to having fun. That was their focus all year long to be consistent and have fun.

“I had a bad experience at Louisville before,” said Dubuc. “It was important to have a really clean ride and have fun. I didn’t want to have any regrets.”

“I knew she was riding really well and I knew I could rely on the horse,” added Tomasko. “I was confident they would be consistent. I told “Squiggs,” ‘This is what we’ve learned and this is what we’ve done. Just stay with the game plan. She’s such a good student. She listens to every word you say and then really thinks about it. She will react to adjustments you make while she’s riding and then she goes back and thinks about it, really understands it.”

The work paid off. On Tuesday morning they won the 16-17 pleasure class defeating 14 other entries. “I was in shock,” said Dubuc. “I thought, ‘This is not happening to me.’ He’s such a cool horse. We’re on the way back to the barn and he’s just strolling along. The former owners came up to me and gave us a big hug. It was really cool.

“After winning I was more nervous going back in the championship. Kevin told me to take it all in and enjoy it. He stays so calm and is always positive. His patience is awesome.”

“We did what we came to do. The next class was secondary,” added Tomasko. “I said to her, ‘You’ve done such a good job of riding him this time I want you to remember the experience. Ride to remember.’”

Remember she did, as Dubuc and Undulata’s Jimmy Hollywood closed out the week by winning the Junior Exhibitor Three-Gaited Show Pleasure 14-17 World’s Grand Championship.

With reality now beyond their dreams, the New Hampshire team is turning their attention to next year and Dubuc’s first season in the amateur ranks.

“We’re going to let this horse be her first horse for the amateur division,” said Tomasko. “She can get a feel for the division and have confidence in this horse. Then the next year we’ll probably look for another horse which will be more competitive now that she will be showing against adults.”

“I’ll do show pleasure this first year and then hopefully find a gaited horse,” said Dubuc. “I want to rack and trot.”

What has all of this success done for Tomasko and Phoenix Stables? “I think maybe it gives me a little more credibility as a trainer, but I don’t know that it will really do anything for my barn,” said Tomasko. “I’m pretty humble. Maybe it will give the barn a little boost, but I’ll just keep doing what I’ve been doing.”

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