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Top trainer finds success at Pennsylvania National



BY KIRA L. SCHLECHTER Of The Patriot-News

She is one of the reigning queens in her field, and many of her champions have been crowned right here in Harrisburg at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show.

She is Melissa Moore, renowned rider and trainer of American Saddlebreds. One of her most loyal clients is Bob Lilley, owner of Liberty Saddlebreds of Hummelstown.

At her Sunrise Stable in Versailles, Ky., Moore rides and trains horses for Lilley. She also worked with Emmy Award-winning actor and longtime Saddlebred enthusiast William Shatner for nearly two decades.

Moore's parents are World Championship Horse Show Hall of Fame trainers Tom and Donna Moore; her sister Melinda also is a successful trainer. "I guess it's just growing up in it," Moore said of her work in a phone interview from Kentucky. "I love horses, and I just love this breed. They're great show horses, and yet they're very versatile -- amateurs can ride them and professionals show them," she said.

Moore also is a show judge and competes in both riding and driving classes. She rides three- and five-gaited Saddlebreds and drives both Saddlebreds and Roadster horses (Roadsters are of the Standardbred breed).

The breeds she drives appeal to her for different reasons, she said. "Roadsters are totally different than Saddlebreds; it's all about speed and form," she said. "With a Saddlebred, it's about control and power. It's the exact opposite."

And wherever she goes, in whatever discipline, success follows. In 2003, Sunrise Stable racked up eight World Championship titles and eight Reserve World Championship honors at the Saddlebred industry's Oscars, the World's Championship Horse Show at the Kentucky State Fair. This year brought two more World Championships, in the Amateur Fine Harness and Roadster divisions (with a Shatner horse), and a Reserve World Championship in Fine Harness (with Lilley's Last Tango in Paris, who will be at Pennsylvania National).

Moore has been showing at Harrisburg for about six years. She's won the Three-Gaited, Fine Harness and Roadster stakes here several times. "They're all great wins," she said. "I love showing there; I think it's one of the best places to show as far as getting an audience and the appreciation of the horse up there. It's a nice change from showing around here [in Kentucky] in front of the same people you always show in front of."

Lilley's standouts have included two world champions, WC Lime Twisted Gin and WC Royal Messenger, as well as other stars like The Secret's Out, Heirogant Rose and The Edge. "Being that he lives in Pennsylvania, we don't get to see him enough," Moore said of Lilley. "I wish that he was closer so that he could be a little more involved with the horses every day -- I think he would like that more. But he's involved; we talk on the phone almost every day." She called Royal Messenger, whom Lilley sold last year, his best. The horse is returning to Sunrise Stable with a new owner. "He was just great every time he showed," she said. "Every day he came out and went to work. He was just a great horse. We counted on him every time he went in the ring -- he knew he was going to do it."

She has high hopes for Lilley's 3-year-old mare, Glenview's Ooh La La, who will be at Pennsylvania National but won't be shown. "She's very gifted, very much like Royal Messenger," Moore said.

Moore also stands Lilley's two stallions, Only Man in Town and Molligny's Don't Worry Be Happy. She's pleased with the latter, a five-gaited South African import, calling him "pretty exceptional." He, too, will be at Pennsylvania National; it will be his final show before going to stud full time. "We have his first crop of babies this year ... and they look wonderful," she said. "He is very athletic, he's got a great temperament, he's really sweet."

She keeps about 20 broodmares at Sunrise and gets about 10 to 12 foals each year, most of which are sold as yearlings or 2-year-olds.

Lilley, former owner of Liberty Productions, which put on auto shows nationwide, wouldn't have anyone else but Moore develop his prize horses. "She's one of the top five [trainers] in the country," Lilley said. "She more than anybody does it because she loves the horses."

He owns eight horses. His involvement in the horse business started out as a hobby, he said. "I just went to a horse show one time and wanted to own a horse," he said. "I started out with a bunch of different [breeds] and ended up with Saddlebreds because they're so elegant and so full of power and motion." Moore helps Lilley select his winning horses. "You kind of get an eye for them," he said. "And when you're really known, everybody's calling you trying to sell you good horses. So it's a matter of how to say no instead of yes." Lilley, too, is excited about Ooh La La and his promising stallion, Don't Worry Be Happy. "His babies are so strong and magnificent; he might be one of the best studs there ever was," he said. "They're elegant and beautiful, but they have more stamina. And that's what he's showing in his offspring."

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