December 2016 - Horse People: Sydney Hutchins
Written by Kim F. Miller
Thursday, 01 December 2016 02:37
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Two-time Maclay Regionals winner juggles final junior year with busy life as a University of Georgia Bulldog.

by Kim F. Miller

The final year of junior eligibility can create crushing mental pressure for medal finals participants. But Region 8 Maclay Finals winner Sydney Hutchins decided not to let herself get into that situation.

Senior portrait with Chantal

With mom, Sandra, and dad, Greg, at the Maclay Finals.

“I wanted to come into my last junior year with a positive attitude,” she explains. “A lot of people let the pressure get to their heads, but I just wanted it to be a fun year; to finish up strong and have no pressure on myself other than to ride the best that I could. That was my only goal. Anything can happen with horses on a given day, so my only strategy was to go in and do the best with the horse I had that day.”

An already remarkable junior resume may have helped in keeping the pressures at bay. Sydney won the Maclay Regionals in 2014, was part of the Zone 10 North American Junior Riders silver medal team this past summer and had logged successful rounds in the 1.4M Markel Insurance Grand Prix division.

With the win in the mid-September Maclay Regionals, held during the Blenheim Fall Classic in San Juan Capistrano, Sydney continued to execute her plan for her final fall as a junior exhibitor. She finished a career-best sixth place in the USEF Pessoa Hunt Seat Medal Finals in Pennsylvania in October and was hoping for another top finish in the Maclay Finals set for early November at the CP National Horse Show in Lexington, KY.

Sydney’s calm demeanor is all the more impressive because she maintained it while juggling her show schedule with her first few months of freshman life at the University of Georgia. Along with the normal barrage of new experiences, Sydney is a member of UGA’s many-time NCAA champion Bulldogs Hunt Seat team.

An Eye-Opener

With her teammates, including several from California, Sydney jumped right into student-athlete life. “It’s very busy and we’re on a very strict schedule, which is good to have that kind of focus and discipline for the freshman year,” she says. Life in the South is much different from that in her Westlake Village hometown and surrounding Southern California culture, but her busy schedule has helped prevent homesickness. The fact that her mom

Sharing a quiet moment with jumper Zorlando

Elvenstar founder Jim Hagman with Sydney at the 2002 LAHJA banquet

Sandra has been able to make most of her East Coast horse shows also helps.

She had a general understanding of the format for NCAA competition, but says it was still an eye-opener to experience the full concept in action. “The flat pattern is very different from what we’re used to in the hunter/jumper world,” she explains. “It’s a dressage test with a specific pattern and it’s different for every competition.” All jumping is done at the 3’6” height and over-fences and flat are ridden on unfamiliar horses provided by the host school. Two years of competing on the Interscholastic Equestrian Association high school league helped her with the catch-riding component of collegiate competition.

Completely new was the exciting vibe of representing her school in heated competition to defend the Bulldog’s many titles, especially in an early season match-up with the University of South Carolina, a major rival.

The team practices riding twice a week, complemented by four days of work-outs that include weight circuit work focused on leg strength and Pilates. A lifelong rider, Sydney says both have produced tangible results.  “Pilates helps the core and upper body and with maintaining my position over fences. And the leg work helps me keep my leg stronger and more wrapped around the horse, for a better base of support.”

An Elvenstar Lifer

All of that builds on a horsemanship foundation established at Jim Hagman’s Elvenstar, where Sydney has ridden since she first started 14 years ago. The multi-tiered riding program in Moorpark has a famously positive and supportive environment. Sydney is the most recent in a steady stream of well-liked and much-admired riders to rise to the top of the sport from that base.

An Elvenstar lifer: Sydney with CJ, one of the Moorpark riding program’s school ponies.

(As the Maclay Regionals champion, Sydney was one of four Elvenstar students in the top 10 for Region 8. Kayla Lott was reserve champion, Paris Sommerfeld finished eighth and Michelle Mallett was ninth.)

Sydney with Jim and Katie at NAJYR Championship

As coaching goes, Jim handles the big picture aspects. “I have 100 percent confidence in Jim,” Sydney says. “He’s helped me find the right horses and to prepare thoroughly for each new challenge.” Another Elvenstar lifer, Katie Gardner, focus on the details of position and technique in Sydney’s day-to-day riding. She’s grateful to both and to the entire Elvenstar program that’s brought her to steady show ring successes and, more importantly,
an appreciation and enjoyment of any time she gets to spend with her horses. She is missing those horses big time at the moment. While she’s met up with her equitation mount, Gaudi (owned by stablemates, the Harris family), at the Indoors circuit through the fall, not seeing him and her jumper Zorlando every day has been hard. “Of course I miss riding them, but more I miss just seeing them and being around them. Seeing their personalities is my favorite part.”

With her equitation days behind her, Sydney will focus exclusively on jumpers. She looks forward to reuniting with Zorlando this winter during visits to the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, FL. He was her partner in North American Junior Riders Championships team silver for Zone 10 this past summer, and in a few 1.40 Markel Grand Prix classes. She also has another fairly new jumper in Chantal. Another go for the NAJYRC

Championships and a visit to Spruce Meadows are among the 2017 summer possibilities Sydney is thinking about at year’s end.

As for the future beyond that, she is pursuing a psychology degree, but, like most freshman, doesn’t have a firm idea what she’ll do with it. A career in the horse industry is probably not in the cards, but her lifelong passion for horses and the sport will likely keep her in it as an amateur and a hard to beat one at that!

2016 Young Rider Trials

2016 Maclay Regionals

Sydney competing for University of Georgia