Vougeot & Abbey

07/01/2022 12:20 AM By Lisa Anderson
From the Paddock
Abbey Slaven and Vougeot
Abbey Slaven
Story by Lisa Anderson • Photos by Joshua Jacobs

Vougeot & Abbey

Bonding Over Food & Jumping

Ocala resident Abbey Slaven (27) began riding horses at the age of 3 years old. "Horses have been all around an amazing part of my life." She began riding after a preschool friend invited her to participate in their family's summer camp and lessons for kids.

After moving to Ocala around the age of 6, Abbey attended the Marion Saddle Club (MSC) Horse Shows. "That was like the highlight of my childhood—going to those shows. As I got older, I started to branch out. I started riding with different trainers."

Abbey eventually gravitated towards jumpers. "I've shown everything up to Grand Prix. It's been neat getting to travel and see the world in a different way with the horses.

I Call Him Squishy

Vougeot entered life with Abbey about seven years ago. "Vougeot is my Grand Prix horse. He's a really big character," Abbey chuckles. "He's just a wonderful partner. He's amazing, and he tries so hard. He loves people food. He eats anything: pizza, donuts, french fries, milk shakes. He'll eat salad. It doesn't matter what it is. He loves food. I think it's just the novelty of being fed something he shouldn't be having."

He's even been known to steal a banana from the tack room, leaving someone without their snack, but Vougeot was not always the character he is now. This took a lot of work on his part, but mostly, the work had to come from Abbey.

When Abbey first bought him, "he had no personality. He hated people. He didn't have good training. They were really mean to him. He just got really internalized in his shell. When I got Vougeot, he was really good at competition, but anything outside of that, he was so difficult. It got to the point where I wanted to sell him. I was frustrated."

However, Vougeot got injured around the time Abbey was having these thoughts, and he would require a year to rehab. "I ended up doing a total pivot with my riding and doing some self-discovery. I had gotten a little burnt out, a little too competitive, and I kinda had the 20-year-old attitude."

Around the same time, Shawna Lewis entered Abbey's life and introduced her to Dressage Naturally with Karen Ralph. "Karen does a wonderful sport-orientated program, but with a natural side," explains Abbey. "It helps you learn and communicate with your horse better and build the trust and relationship that a lot of partnerships lack. Shawna started helping me, and Vougeot, and I actually learned that it was more-so me that needed help than it was him. Learning to take a step back and communicate and build that trust has changed every facet of my riding. Horses have helped me from a business perspective as well."

Horse Farm to Golf Carts

For about 10 years, Abbey had a professional farm but sold it last year. She stepped down to the amateur riding level. "I went from full-time career in horses to now being an entrepreneur."

She started a technical platform that verifies if contractors are licensed and have insurance. She works with her parents’ pool company, and she and her boyfriend recently started a custom golf-cart business.

Abbey also started working with wild mustangs a few years ago, and when the farm sold, she kept two of the mustangs and Vougeot. She works a lot with the Equine Initiative, so the mustangs make appearances downtown regularly. "They trail ride. They jump. They've gone barrel racing. They do obstacle challenges. They go Western. They go English. Amazing ponies."

Vougeot and Abbey can still be seen training together and participating in shows at the World Equestrian Center. "My horses keep me sane. I always prioritize coming out to the barn and riding. I usually ride first thing to start my day off, and then I go into the office and work until super late. It starts my day off right.

"I tried to back off and focus on work, but it just wasn't working. My life without horses, I just don't know what that is."
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