California Riding Magazine • May, 2011

Eastern Influences
California junior shares Winter Equestrian Festival experience in Florida.

by Emily Hartley

I am a 16-year-old hunter/jumper rider from Norco. I am a working student/catch rider and I assist trainers in California and Missouri. I have traveled to horse shows around the country several times. I was to spend three weeks in Wellington, FL at the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) assisting trainer Micaela Kennedy until she became unable to go. With a plane ticket purchased, accommodations secured and school taken care of, I was distraught that I could not attend. After talking with my friend Zazou Hoffman, I was able to be a working student with Missy Clark. This was an opportunity of a lifetime. The following is a summary of my experience.

I arrived in Wellington early on a Monday. When I travel, I have to take my laptop in my carry-on bag to keep up with school work, and also my saddle. My checked luggage includes my show clothes plus clothes for all types of weather. Upon arriving, I was informed that I would begin work the following day. I was to start work at 7:30 a.m. It is a 25-minute hike to the barn, so I have to hustle. My duties were to feed, water, clean stalls, sweep aisles, clean tack and wipe off tack trunks. I was nervous about meeting Missy and her partner John Brennan because I heard they are tough, but instead they were nice, funny and made me feel welcomed. I took a lesson that day and Tuesdays were "no stirrup day." It went well and I learned some valuable tips. As the day progressed, I met the other riders and learned the barn routine. Each week, I assisted in removing the jumps from the arena and setting a new course. This is a tough task and gave me stronger arm muscles. I had sole care of two stallions and helped others in tacking and untacking, unbraiding, taking horses to the rings, and setting jumps. I was not expecting to show, but when Missy offered, I quickly accepted.

The next few weeks I rode a variety of horses. I had few struggles and many accomplishments. Most of my critiques being: "You're such a soft rider and that's why we like you, but you need to be more aggressive." I tried to stop by and watch the North Run juniors compete in the medal classes. During the second week, I competed on Missy's stallion, Le Filou, in some jumper classes. I was told to practice like I was riding an equitation course. By the second round we had become a team and finished 15th out of 56 riders. I was thrilled with how the rounds went. The North Run team had instilled a new confidence in me.

With a weekend of showing under my belt, the following week seemed to get better and better. Missy asked if I would like to show an equitation horse this week and I was thrilled. The horse was named Micah. I rode him two days before I was going show him. It went great. He was flowing and had a consistent pace. I felt assured that I would have some good trips. As Sunday grew near, my excitement grew. Most equitation days start early and I arrived at the barn at 5:15 a.m. to make sure all the tasks were taken care of and the horses were ready. At 7:30 a.m. the showing juniors, including me, went to walk the course. My first class was the ASPCA Maclay. As we walked, we were given tips on how to ride the course. I returned to the barn, quickly mounted and headed off. I had a nice warm-up and, after watching a few rounds, I headed in. My course was really nice, I was a tad under paced to the first jump and had a swap, but I was proud of our course. I then returned to the barn to take care of Micah and finish my chores before my next round, the USEF Hunter Seat Medal. I started off strong and put in a pretty solid round with a few minor errors. I was happy with my rounds and had a great time.

Back at the barn we joked around saying, "The last week you're here was your equitation debut." I was sad to leave and return home, but I learned so much and had a great experience. I have a standing invitation to return anytime, which made me feel great. It was an amazing opportunity and I hope to do it again.