Trotting around a dressage arena atop her 6-year-old thoroughbred Mystery, Francesca Toms looks the part of a world-class eventer. Black boots cover feet, white riding pants wrap around legs, a white shirt and black button-down vest surround her upper body, and a black riding helmet covers her head.
Crisscrossing the arena, Toms appears to be completely at ease with her surroundings, and her innate connection with Mystery is obvious. At one point during her routine, Toms urges the large thoroughbred to move from a trot to an off-gate canter, and without any resistance, the large animal immediately responds.
A few minutes later, Toms completes one final maneuver near the center of the arena before halting, saluting a group of judges and exiting with utmost confidence. More than a decade after beginning her riding career in Cortez, Toms has taken another step along a path that she hopes will eventually lead her to become one of the top eventers and horse trainers in the country.
Humble beginningsUnlike many of the country’s top eventers, who grew up surrounded by perfectly manicured horse stables on the East Coast, the majority of Toms’ youth was spent in Southwest Colorado, where Western saddles and cattle are far more common than show jumps.
Although Toms was exposed to horses at an early age, she did not begin formally training in an English saddle until shortly after her 11th birthday, at which time she joined Cortez’s Cliff Palace Pony Club and began working with local riding instructor Allison Eddy.
Quickly taking to an English saddle and immediately enthralled by show jumping and cross-country jumping events, Toms rose through her Pony Club’s ranks before eventually earning her C-1 rating.
After graduating from M-CHS in 2016, Toms moved to New Mexico where she worked with a horse trainer for six to months and competed biweekly throughout the summer.
Realizing that her passion for horses was far from fleeting and that horse training and eventing could eventually become a full-time career, Toms decided to move to Charlottesville, Virginia, to work with esteemed trainers Mark Combs and Mimi Combs with hopes of continuing her equestrian journey.
Progress in Virginia Upon arriving at the Combs’ High Point Farm near Charlottesville, Virginia, Toms was immediately struck by the size of the facility, as well as the level of training that the facility provides.
Offering instruction to all levels of riders, including those interested in advanced level eventing, FEI level dressage training, and Grand Prix level showjumping, the facility has become known as one of the nation’s best.
While residing at the facility during the past year, Toms rode several hours each day while also working in the facility’s various barns. Work days were generally 10 or 11 hours, and the workweek was consistently six days.
“My year at (High Point Farm) has shown me that I wouldn’t want to do anything else,” Toms said. “The horses teach me so much that I can’t learn on my own. I’ve learned that if I listen to horses, they will tell me so much.”
In addition to improvements to her own riding skills as a result of her work at High Point Farm, Toms also saw improvements in her horse, Mystery, who advanced from the ‘Beginner Novice’ level to the ‘Novice’ level in one year.
“We think that he can go one star and possibly two stars,” said Toms, when asked about ‘Mystery’s’ potential.
“He’s proving to be a very successful horse so far, and my goal in the next six months is to get him to training level.”
A bright futureCurrently back in the Cortez area for a few weeks to visit family members and friends, Toms will return to Virginia later this month to begin her freshman year at Randolph-Macon College, where she will compete as a member of the school’s equestrian team.
As an eventer, Toms will compete in dressage, show jumping, and cross-country, which together, have become known as the equine triathlon.
“Randolph-Macon’s eventing team is one of 30 eventing teams in the U.S.,” Toms said.
“Everyone really loves eventing because of cross-country (jumping). It’s the component that is strict to eventing. I appreciate every part of eventing because it tests different things.”
In addition to improving her riding skills while at Randolph-Macon College, Toms plans to pursue a degree in business.
Even though she’ll be far away from her hometown, the Cortez native said that she will never forget her small-town roots.
“Growing up in the Cortez area has taught me to always remember where you came from,” Toms said.
“Every single person plays a role in your life and even though I’ll be on the East Coast, I’ll always stay connected to my family, my friends and the trainers who started me.”