Breeds

Juliette Dell: “It felt like a dream come true”

©Howard Schatzberg

The Lexington Junior League Charity Horse Show is known as the first jewel of the American Saddlebred “Triple Crown.”

Any ribbon there is special. When it’s your second show with a new horse, as was the case for Juliette Dell and the dynamic Eeta Sachon, a blue ribbon in Lexington takes on even greater meaning. But it’s still secondary to the journey—and the mare—that got her there. 

Dell’s riding career began aboard Arabian horses near her home in Austin, Texas, when she was just four years old. It was the legendary equitation instructor Lillian Shively who first stirred her interest in Saddlebreds.  

“Throughout my junior exhibitor years I really admired Lillian and was always so inspired by her riders,” she said. “When I was 15, I had the opportunity to start riding with Delovely and that’s how I got my start in Saddlebreds.”

Meanwhile, a special young mare was starting a career of her own. Eeta Sachon, affectionately known as “Chili,” made her first show ring appearances in the futurity and fine harness classes, but quickly found a niche in five-gaited competition. In 2018, as a junior horse, she really came into her own, winning with trainer Melissa Moore at many of the country’s biggest shows: Lexington, All American Horse Classic, St. Louis National Charity and Mid-America Mane Event, as well as being named the Junior Five-Gaited Mares World’s Champion. Everyone took notice…including Dell. 

“I was a big fan of Chili all last year,” she said. “I loved her elegance and grace in the ring, and I was always in awe watching her from the stands.”

Though the Dells weren’t looking for a horse at the time, Juliette enjoyed keeping up with Chilli and cheering for her at shows. When they did decide to add a new horse to their string this past winter, she knew exactly which one topped her dream horse list. 

“I loved her before I even met her,” Dell said. “I had the opportunity to try her out in March, and we had an instant connection. Chili is my favorite horse to ride! She is very intelligent and game and has already taught me so much. My favorite thing about her is how much she loves her job. She exudes happiness and enthusiasm when she’s working, and she’s like that every day. It’s impossible to not feed off that energy and have fun with her!”

Dell and Chili began their 2019 show season at Indianapolis Charity, where they took third and then second in deep Amateur Five-Gaited classes under the direction of Stachowski Farm.  

“I had a lot to learn when we first started together,” Dell said. “She is extremely athletic and game and I had to work hard to keep up with her. We’ve put in so much time practicing at home and I’ve worked a lot on myself to get ready for her. We have become very close through the process.”

At Lexington, in just their third show ring appearance, they put in an incredible performance in the Ladies Five-Gaited Mares class, and moved up another notch to take the blue ribbon. But Dell’s goal didn’t have anything to do with ribbons. 

“My goal was to give it our all and have fun,” she said. “I just wanted to be in the moment and enjoy every step.”

As it turned out, she accomplished that, too.

“Monday night was the best she’s ever felt,” Dell said. “She was so excited to get in the ring and her energy was electric. I couldn’t believe that I was getting to ride every step with her. I was just so happy and it felt like a dream come true. I will never forget it!”

Though they’ve only been together for a short time, Dell has already decided that Chili has a home for life. 

“Someday when Chili retires, she will come live with me in Texas and have babies,” she said.  

But in the immediate future, Dell aims for many more rides like Monday’s class. Pairing up with a superstar like Chili did come with some perceived pressure or expectation, but Dell has managed to keep it all in check. 

“I did feel some pressure, but I’ve tried to be patient and know that it takes time to become a team,” she said. “There are so many wonderful people that have been involved in her life and care about her. My hope is to do her justice and make everyone who loves her proud.”