Horse show organizer riding high

As equine companion Sally stands quietly by, Mollie Bogardus displays a picture of her father, Tom Usher, who financed her start as a horse trainer. - ROGERICK ANAS/Staff Photo
As equine companion Sally stands quietly by, Mollie Bogardus displays a picture of her father, Tom Usher, who financed her start as a horse trainer.
— image credit: ROGERICK ANAS/Staff Photo

The Bainbridge Island Classic horse show, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this weekend, can trace its origins to a tiny cubicle in a Seattle ad agency.

Shortly her 1981 graduation from the University of Colorado with a political science/journalism degree, Mollie Bogardus returned to her near-native Bainbridge (born in New York, she celebrated her first birthday here) and quickly found employment across the water.

But it hardly qualified as “gainful.”

“I hated every minute of it,” Bogardus said. “It was straight off the ferry and straight up the hill. All I could think of was the time that I was wasting on the commute.”

Time that she could have been riding her horse.

So she quit to pursue her passion, though she had no idea that equines would eventually become her livelihood. The following spring, by now a veteran of riding in several big shows, she originated the Classic.

Apart from three years at Poulsbo’s Manor Farm a decade ago, the show has become a June fixture at Battle Point Park and often serves as the competitive introduction for young Bainbridge riders.

Rough ride

Bogardus’ introduction to riding came when she was in the fourth grade.

Her parents, Tom and Jeanne Usher, bought her a horse.

That was Misty, represented by the sellers as a 6 year old, but in reality probably no older than 2. As in the Terrible 2’s.

Near-disaster struck when Bogardus took her new horse on their first ride.

“I’d ridden to Wilkes and was on my way back home,” Bogardus said. “But something spooked the horse and I went flying onto the road.”

So Jeanne’s initiation to being a horse mother – she had followed horse and rider in her car – was the sight of her daughter lying unconscious on the asphalt, bleeding copiously from her mouth.

Fortunately, Mollie was wearing a helmet and suffered no lasting damage.

“She (Misty) was a young unbroken pony,” Bogardus said. “She got nothing but wilder.”

The increasingly desperate family went through several trainers. One in particular was too hard on the horse, they felt, and made their sentiments known. Soon afterward, in the midst of a dinner party, there was a knock on the door. It was the trainer, leading the pony.

“Here’s your horse back,” he said.

That set off a series of frantic phone calls which had a fortuitous outcome: The family hooked up with trainer Nancy Lowery, who maintained a small facility on Madison.

“I was very lucky,” Bogardus said. “She was an excellent, excellent teacher.”

Eventually Misty was brought under control and Bogardus spent the next several years honing her riding skills.

“I had a boyfriend, and he joked that he knew where he stood – after the horse,” she said.

As often happens, when Bogardus went away to school – a year at Arizona State and then to Colorado – her involvement in riding lessened.

But Bogardus had a fateful meeting during Christmas vacation of her senior year. Her future business partner, Phil Le Dorze, was conducting a clinic and invited her to join him.

“He did jumpers, which I’d never ridden before,” she said. “It was so much fun that I went out and bought a jumper.”

That rekindled her passion.

“I believe that people are born with a love of riding in their blood,” she said. “But I had no aspirations that it would eventually become my professional life.”

Family investment

After graduation that spring, her brief unhappy brush with the corporate world during the summer and a fall trip to Europe as a graduation present from her parents, Bogardus restructured her life.

She worked in a Poulsbo emergency room in the front office. The 12-hour shifts meant three-day work weeks and four days to ride.

And her father made the first of two investments in her daughter’s future – he purchased a second horse and funded her travels to a variety of shows in Arizona, Oregon, Washington and Canada.

“He told me, ‘Here’s the deal. I want you to work hard and take this seriously.’

“I think he felt I’d either get it out of my system or figure the business out,” Bogardus said. “I still don’t think that he was that wild about my going into the horse business.”

Inspired by what she’d seen while competing in the different shows, she put on the first Classic in 1982.

“We traveled so much for shows and the island has such a horse history,” she explained. “And we have such a beautiful park (Battle Point) to use.”

The following year, she and Le Dorze leased a small barn on Mandus Olson Road, though she continued to work in the Poulsbo ER office and later with a Winslow chiropractor.

In 1986, her father made the second investment, purchasing a stable on the site of a former gravel pit where his daughter had played during her childhood.

“He told me that I’d either have to make it or break it,” Bogardus said. Now she was committed full-time in the horse business.

Snow damage resulted in the construction of a bigger covered arena, and the 15 original stalls have tripled. Haven Farm – named for Talk of Haven, the jumper Bogardus purchased following that Christmas vacation clinic – now supports about 50 horses. Two thirds are boarders, and remainder are show and school horses.

The farm also has one stallion – Big Boy – and four brood mares.

Bogardus’ father died early in 2001, after seeing his belief in his daughter’s passion amply justified.

She dedicated last year’s show to his memory. She also credits her mother with her success.

“My mom has always been my right hand to help,” she said. “She was actually the one who went to the shows with me.”

She’s lost count of the number of youngsters who have received their start in riding at the farm.

“Several clients were classmates who have kids riding,” she said. “Now they’re ready to graduate from high school. That makes me feel old.”

Her own kids have taken different paths, as she “didn’t want to force riding on them.”

Tanner, who turns 12 next month, is “Mr. Baseball,” Bogardus said.

“He rode for a couple of years and was pretty good at it. But he decided that he didn’t want to do it.

“My dad had a passion for baseball, and Tanner loves it too.”

Six-year-old Danielle may have inherited her mother’s passion.

“She began riding as soon as she could prop herself in the saddle,” Bogardus said. “She’s already jumping, riding a 30-year-old pony.”

At that rate, she could eventually become one of the 160 riders – about half from Bainbridge – which Bogardus regards as the Classic’s limit. Calculating that each rider has two more people in their entourage, that means 500 connected with the show alone.

“And I wouldn’t even venture a guess about the number of spectators,” she said. “Some are die-hard fans who come every year, some just happen to be in the park and go out of curiosity.”

Apart from one year at Manor Farm when rain fell “without one second of reprieve,” Bogardus says, “We’ve been pretty lucky with the weather. And this weekend is supposed to be pretty nice.

“The week before the Classic is murder, because I’m juggling everything. But when the show starts, it’s pretty easy and fun. And I have tremendous help, particularly from Leigh Manheim, Laura Kornfeld and Laura Kemp.

“When I see Bainbridge kids out there having a ball, riding in front of their family and friends, that makes it all worthwhile.”

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