No better place to see the future of our sport than through the eyes of the young. We reached out to top medal winners from seven of the California's regional hunter/jumper associations to get their views on their 2013 accomplishments and see what's in store for them this year.
We asked each:
- What riding exercise and/or advice has been most helpful so far?
- What aspect of your riding improved the most last year?
- What do you most want to improve this year?
- What are your goals for this year?
- The secrets to getting the best performance out of your horse or pony?
- Professional riders you most admire and why?
- The most fun thing you've done with your horse or pony?
We hope you enjoy getting to know these girls as much as we did!
Medal: Greater San Diego Hunter Jumper Association 3' Medal
Trainers: Penny Wahler & Alysia Lynch-Sherard in San Diego County's Encinitas
- Endless hours of hard flat work, gymnastics and technical courses have definitely been most helpful in my riding so far. As for advice: keep riding through your struggles and challenges no matter how difficult they are. It will make you a better rider.
- Confidence is the aspect of my riding that's improved the most over the last year. I feel that I now have the right tools, horses and training to get me to where I want to be and that feels awesome!
- I want to become a more consistent rider overall. I'd also like to be better at taking all I've learned at home and applying it when I get into the show ring and there's more excitement. I want to prove that I can put everything I've practiced into play in the show ring.
- With my (new) equitation horse, Leo (show name: Calino G), I have a huge goal of qualifying for the West Coast medal finals, and with my hunter, I want to qualify for the West Coast Junior Hunter Finals. I would love to make it to the USHJA Hunter Derby Finals in Kentucky with Piglet (show name: Portrait).
- Taking time to figure out what my horses are really about. I spend lots of time with them, in and out of the saddle. We have tons of places to graze at our barn (Caballos del Mar in San Diego County's Encinitas) and the horses love it. I brush them, listen to music and just relax. Sometimes no one is here and it's very peaceful.
- My trainers Alysia Lynch-Sherard and Penny Wahler. Alysia because she is such a great role model. Her great attitude motivates me daily and she does everything possible to help me reach my goals. She's also a phenomenal teacher, rider and a great friend. I would not be where I am today if I did not have her in my life. Penny because of her great knowledge of the sport and her dedication to all the riders and horses.
- Winning the GSDHJA Medal! It was a huge goal to qualify for the Finals, let alone win it!
Medal: Los Angeles Hunter/Jumper Association Horsemanship Medal
Trainers: Robyn Stiegler, Citrus Hill Farms in Orange County
- The most important training advice I have received is to have a forward, balanced pace, with your eye level up and leg on.
- Eight months ago I could not see a distance or sit the trot very well. I now have knowledge to know how to find a distance and have gained muscle throughout my body to be able to carry myself without stirrups.
- This upcoming year I will try to improve my position. When I started riding with Robyn, I was 5' 6" and I am now 5' 9", so I am trying to learn my body angles as I am growing and as I am changing. I also want to improve my position over the jumps.
- In 2014, I will start the year with the 3' classes and hopefully end the year competing 3'3" and stepping into the 3'6".
- I get the best out of my horses by bonding with them outside of the ring. By giving them carrots or playing with them in the stall, just giving them love makes them want to work harder for you. Being an equestrian is not just about riding and showing but the horsemanship aspect is just as important. Owning a horse comes with responsibility of grooming them and making sure your horse is in the best condition when taken out and put in his or her stall.
- One rider I most admire is Demi Stiegler. Her hard work and dedication to this sport are what I try to be like. Also, her situation when she was my age was very similar to mine and knowing that she went through exactly what I am going through gives me hope in my toughest times.
- When I still had Ed Hardy (aka "Roo"), two girls from my barn and I entered a tandem jumping class at Flintridge: the South Shore Farm's Hunt Teams of Three Tandem, which was also a costume class. We all dressed up as Disney princesses and without even practicing, went into the ring and had a blast!
Medal: Onondarka Final
Trainers: Jan and Emma Hainze of Jem Stables in the Sacramento area's Dixon
- The most helpful advice I have received is to have a good pace, keep my shoulders back and have fun! Exercises that have helped me are bounces, riding without stirrups and practicing handy courses.
- My equitation has improved this past year. I found that by working on my riding skills, such as my leg and body position, it tremendously helped me in the hunters and equitation.
- I would like to work on being a smoother rider, my equitation and letting my horse jump to his best ability.
- My goals for 2014 are to go to the Junior Hunter Finals, and qualify for PCHA 14 & Under Finals and CPHA Foundation Finals.
- For Manny (show name: Truman), he performs the best when he is relaxed, on a forward pace, and knows exactly where his going. He also likes cookies when he comes out of the ring!
- I admire John French because he takes chances in the show ring that show off his horses.
- In Pebble Beach, I went on a one-hour trail ride through the sand on my large pony Forte.
Medal: Inland Empire Hunter/Jumper Association 2'9" Medal
Trainers: Gretchen Clark, Showcase Training Stables in San Bernardino County's Redlands
- I've found that using "upside down hands" can really be helpful when I'm trying to soften up Abbey's mouth. It creates more movement between your elbows and your shoulders, so you're able to be flexible with the horse's movement.
As much as I hate to admit it, no stirrup work has also helped me the most throughout my career. I don't practice it religiously, but I make sure to do it every so often so that my legs are sore the next day. As a result of training in a lesson with no stirrups, my leg becomes solid and I'm able to understand the constant feel. A strong leg is everything, afterall.
"Breathe and have a good ride" is something my trainer, Gretchen Clark, likes to say before I go in for a round. It's always refreshing to remember that riding is a competitive learning experience and to never get caught up in frustrations.
- After a year of work, I've really refined my release and my ability to find the "perfect" distance. A release that is too short can cause Abbey (show name: Set The Tempo) to throw her head up in the air and if I breakover too far, I risk her falling on her front end. I've realized how important it is to breakover where it's comfortable for the horse and rider as a team, especially jumping higher fences.
As I've progressed in higher divisions, I've also found that it's crucial to commit to a distance instead of frantically finding the perfect distance. A long or a short distance is workable, I just have to ride the distance and not give up or get scared. As a team, Abbey and I have become more confident in one another and learned how to trust.
- For the coming year, I would really like to work towards having a polished equitation round on the flat. I spend the majority of the year practicing my release and techniques over fences, but this year I'd really like to work on my flat skills. I think that will make Abbey and I the refined package.
- Since I'm in my final year of high school, I plan on competing for an NCAA or club college riding team. This will open up my knowledge into a whole new realm with catch riding and experimenting with different horses. I'm excited to see where moving up a level will take me and what I can make out of whatever situation I'm in.
- I think I really discovered the answer this year, and I'd have to say Abbey and I flourish with a team bond and trust. There is nothing more important than the connection a rider has with his/her horse. I think it's essential to do things that are out of your comfort zone. For Abbey and I, it's larger fences of jumping over solid objects. When we do these things, we learn to trust in one another so by the time we get into the show arena we're as comfortable as we could be.
Plus, the additional treats every once in a while never hurt!
- Since I was a little girl I've always idolized Beezie Madden, George Morris and Susie Hutchison. Beezie always made me want to keep riding. I felt like no matter what situation she was in, however many people were watching her or how big the jumps were, she would ride the course with such prestige and courage. I always respect George Morris for the rider he is and how far he's come. He used to hold a clinic at my last stable and I always found it intriguing to hear what he had to say about the rider and the horse.
When I was 10, I watched and met Susie ride at her barn. I didn't realize it then, but the picture we took that day would be a constant reminder to never give up. Each of these professional riders has qualities that make them who they are and I can only strive to be half the riders they are one day.
- This last competition season, Abbey and I competed in a Hunter Derby for fun. The course had different obstacles in it--like hay bales and pumpkins. We did it on a whim and actually had the highest score in the second round and placed second overall. It's always fun to do something out of the ordinary to take a break from what you've been training for.
Medal: Numerous medals at the Orange County Horse Shows Association Championship Show
Trainers: Dana Smith Show Team in Orange County's San Juan Capistrano
- One exercise that has been helpful throughout my riding career is counting strides to find a distance. I try to do it in my head as much as I can so I can get to the best possible spot! Another piece of advice I got from my trainer today was that if you can't see a distance, close your leg and go with it.
- What's improved in my riding is being able to jump at a higher level. The height I was jumping at in early 2013 has moved up especially toward the end of this past year.
- The aspect I most want to improve in 2014 is my ability to keep my horse engaged on the flat. He would much rather be jumping, but I want to be able to keep him occupied and enthusiastic while flatting as well.
- First, I want to show in medals at a higher level and not just in hunter and equitation. Second, I want to be super comfortable with jumping higher and doing more complicated courses.
- The "secret" to getting the best out of my horse is to stay focused, don't demand too much of him, and take good care of him because he takes care of me every time I ride.
- Beezie Madden, because of her great success and dedication to this sport. I have always admired women who do what they love and somehow manage to do it for a living!
- On really hot days, I used to take bareback lessons on a horse I leased. We would turn the big sprinklers on in the arena so we could cool off during the lesson. Also, I got to do a western trail clinic on my current horse, which was really cool.
Medal: NorCal Pony Medal Final
Trainers: Nicole Bloom and Currie Geffken at Round Meadow Farm at the Menlo Circus Club in the Bay Area's Atherton
- Keeping my eyes up and ahead. Sometimes I get nervous before an important class and, to lighten the mood, my trainer says to me, "Sponge Bob," and I have to respond with, "square pants!"
- The riding aspect that has improved the most in the last year has been my ability to focus and to communicate with my horse.
- The riding aspect that I would like to improve this year is keeping my leg in place on my horse's side.
- The goals that I have for this year are to compete with my horse Pete at the same level I did with my pony Mercury, and to compete in the bigger more advanced classes.
- My secrets to getting the best performance out of my pony or horse are lots of practice, making sure I use my aids correctly, and LOTS of cookies!
- The professional riders that I admire the most are Nicole Bloom, Reed Kessler, and Peter Breakwell.
- The most fun thing I have done with my pony in the past has been the gymnastic phase of the NorCal Equitation Challenge at the Sonoma Horse Park.
Medal: San Fernando Hunter Jumper Association Medal Finals
Trainers: Carolyn Culligan, Old Canyon Farm in Santa Clarita Valley's Canyon Country
- Gymnastic exercises with my horse, Fine Design (Finney), have helped me develop a neater position and have helped me to find distances.
- I believe that my eye for distances has improved most in the last year.
- Even though my eye has improved, I would still like to continue to improve in this area and become even more accurate. I am also always continuing to work on my position.
- My goal this year is to qualify for Capital Challenge on my pony, Salt Water Taffy. I also want to be competitive in Children's Hunters and some of the 3' medals, such as the Onondarka, with my horse, Fine Design.
- In the warm-up arena, my trainer likes to set a pole four strides before the jump. This helps us with our strides and distances so that my horse and I feel confident when we enter the show arena.
- Last year I went to Pony Finals in Kentucky with my pony, Salt Water Taffy. That was such a fun and valuable learning experience! Another highlight was winning the SFHJA 12 and under medal with my horse, Fine Design.
Good luck to all these talented young riders this year. Odds are, we'll be hearing about them far into the future!