East Dorset, Vermont — Courtney O’Connell, 23, has been a competitor at the Vermont Summer Festival since she was eight years old. She’s returned faithfully each year to East Dorset, VT, for the six-week circuit, but now tailors her show schedule around busy days interning for veterinarian Dr. Robert Barber.
Dr. Barber serves as the official veterinarian for the Vermont Summer Festival, and O’Connell takes advantage of her breaks from veterinary school at Cornell University to intern with his talented team of equine veterinarians. O’Connell joined Drs. Barber and Kate Stephenson for the first time at last year’s Vermont Summer Festival, and is thrilled to return for another summer, having also assisted Team Barber over the winter in Ocala, FL.
O’Connell squeezes in time around her internship to show her mother’s horse, Till Tomorrow, in the Modified Adult Hunters at the Vermont Summer Festival and hopes to move up to the Adult Amateurs during this year’s stay in East Dorset.
“I’ve always loved coming to shows anyways to compete, so it’s nice to be able to come to Vermont and work, too,” O’Connell said. “I get to see a lot of horses while working for the Barbers. It’s a win-win. I have fun and I’m getting a lot of good experience, so when I have a moment to squeeze it in, I like to try and get to a show.”
O’Connell of Bloomfield, CT, trains with David and Maari Wilbur at Folly Farm, and had become well acquainted with Team Barber as they worked on her horses over the years. Maari Wilbur inquired if O’Connell could come work for Team Barber, and the 23-year-old was welcomed aboard.
“The Barbers have been great. I’m definitely getting a lot of good experience, and it works out well that my breaks are long enough and overlap with some of the shows,” O’Connell explained. “I was nervous my first day! I didn’t know what to expect. I just wanted to do a good job. But they were very good at easing me in and making me part of the team.”
O’Connell has especially enjoyed the exposure she’s received to a variety of different equine health issues, as Team Barber can see dozens of horses each day at the Vermont Summer Festival. The majority of their cases involve diagnosing lameness in their four-legged charges, but O’Connell described an eye laceration as the highlight of her circuit thus far. She has also had the opportunity to aid Dr. Stephenson while relieving a horse that was choking, one of her most gratifying experiences in the field.
O’Connell grew up with a great respect for her ponies’ veterinarians, and the opportunity to spend her work days outside of a cubicle with the animals she loves was very appealing. She always had a passion for science and the motivation to pursue post-graduate education. After interning for a practice in her hometown following her sophomore year of college, she decided to channel her passion for science into a career as an equine veterinarian.
O’Connell attended Mount Holyoke College as an undergrad, where she graduated with a degree in biology and French. With her first year of veterinary school at Cornell behind her, O’Connell acknowledged the workload has been intense, but it’s a challenge she’s happy to take on.
“It’s been fun,” O’Connell smiled. “I really like it and I have a great group of classmates, but they definitely keep you busy! I got a great education at Mount Holyoke, but vet school ramps it up a bit. I spend a lot of time in the library!”
She continued, “Keeping horses in showing condition and helping their riders – that has been fun and a very enjoyable job to do. Keeping that goal in mind, even though I like school, makes it worth it when I’m in the library with a few hours to go.”
The Vermont Summer Festival offers a full schedule of hunter, jumper, and equitation competition from July 1 – August 10 at Harold Beebe Farm. This week's $10,000 Open Welcome Stake Series, presented by Manchester Designer Outlets, will be held Thursday, July 10, with the week’s feature event, the $30,000 Vermont Summer Special Grand Prix, taking place at 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 12. The $5,000 3’3” NEHJA Hunter Derby series will take place on Thursday, July 10.
Competition runs weekly from Wednesday through Sunday, beginning at 8 a.m. Admission prices are $5 for adults, $3 for children from Wednesday through Friday. On Saturday and Sunday, admission is $7 for adults, $5 for children. 100% of the gate proceeds benefit area libraries, including Manchester Community Library.
For over 20 years, the Vermont Summer Festival has attracted exhibitors and their families to the Manchester region in southern Vermont. Known for its wide variety of area amenities including restaurants, outdoor activities, and lots and lots of shopping, Manchester-area businesses warmly welcome horse show competitors to the area each summer.
The Vermont Summer Festival is a proud member event of the Show Jumping Hall Of Fame, the Marshall & Sterling League, and the North American League (NAL). Please e-mail us or visit our website for more information about the Vermont Summer Festival.