Photo by Sara Jorgensons
Haley Schwab may have mixed feelings when this year comes to a close. With her two amateur jumper mounts Wakyra and Rydam Regis, she's seen several years of hard work and stretches of frustrating results coalesce into steady and impressive successes. A red ribbon in the Sonoma Horse Park's $25,000 Balancing Tonic Grand Prix in September and a four-fault effort in the Sacramento International's World Cup class in October capped a year during which everything came together between Haley and her horses.
Yet things could get even more exciting in 2014.
New territory awaits as the 19-year-old heads to England in January to ride for Peter Charles, an international veteran and star of Britain's gold medal winning 2012 show jumping squad. The gig includes riding young and for-sale horses and competing on the Sunshine Tour in Spain.
Haley and Rydam Regis.
Photo by Tass Jones Photography
The opportunity was arranged through Haley's trainer, Macella O'Neill, who runs Diamond Mountain Stables in Calistoga with her partner Charles White. Peter is impressed with Haley's show results, reports Macella, but what sealed the deal is what Haley does around the barn day-in and day-out. "She has a real affinity for the whole endeavor," the trainer explains. "She stays here all day riding the green and difficult horses, giving turn-outs, putting on fly masks, etc. Whatever needs to be done, she wants to do it. And that's not very common in my experience."
It was at Peter's yard in the United Kingdom's Alton that Macella found Rydam Regis, a 9-year-old Anglo European Warmblood, and predicted he'd be right for Haley. Because she trusts Macella's "infinite wisdom," Haley wasn't too worried when "Rye" arrived in Calistoga last December as "hell on wheels."
"He was scared of everything and would buck and run away and we couldn't find a stall that he would stand still in," Haley remembers with a laugh. Fortunately, the trailer ride to Thermal in January seemed to have a calming effect and he unloaded at the show grounds "like an old schoolmaster."
Haley and Wakyra.
Photo by Tass Jones Photography
"There was a bit of a learning curve in my ability to ride him," Haley says of their Thermal debut. That quickly leveled out to several clear rounds in the medium height amateur classes and "he really hasn't put a foot wrong all year." Noise and equipment at shows can still set off the tall, long-legged horse, but Haley and Macella found the right philosophy for keeping him happy and staying safe while handling him. "We tell him he is a good boy until he acts like a good boy," Haley says. "We never get aggressive in response to aggression from the horses."
The mare Wakyra was Haley's other top mount throughout this past year. The pair helped earn a Young Riders Championship team silver medal this past summer and they were a force all year in the High Amateur jumper divisions. Wakyra is flat-out fun to ride. "She has a ton of personality and is just a spectacular horse," says Haley.
Rainbows & Butterflies
Haley deferred her enrollment in the University of Chicago to concentrate on riding and, so far, it's been all she'd hoped for. "I've always really liked school, but it did get in the way of my riding. This year has been rainbows and butterflies for me. It's a total dream come true to get up in the morning, ride all day and do the things that come along with riding." Talking with vets and farriers is one of many activities contributing to her hands-on horsemanship education. She spends many nights in a spare room at Macella and Charles' home and enjoys being part of their everyday discussions. "It's fun for me to be part of the team, to talk and discuss and offer my input."
The admiration between Haley and her trainers is mutual. "She's a phenomenal asset to the barn," Macella notes. "She has a tremendous sense of camaraderie. She watches everybody ride and encourages everybody and it's genuine. It's not an act."
Left to right: Charlie (18), Sydney (18), Haley (19) and Samantha (18) Schwab .
Having top horses and being at the barn 24/7 are big contributors to Haley's great year, but there's more to it. "In 2012, I really pushed hard on myself and my horses," Haley reflects. "Looking back, I had so much failure, in all sorts of classes, that I am amazed I still enjoy riding." Falls, stop-outs, high-fault rounds, nerves and fear: Haley rode through it all. "It never occurred to me that I was in over my head. I just thought, 'Oh, that's too bad' and went back and tried again. The only way you can learn is by doing it wrong and then trying to do it correctly."
Her improvement has drawn notice. "I have rarely seen anybody make such amazing improvement," notes Macella. "Lots of people have commented to me about it and it's been super fun to be part of." The horses have helped. "Nothing teaches you to ride better than a good horse," Macella notes, but Haley's success also reflects a unique mix of ability, desire, effort and heart.
New California Girl
Haley is a relative newcomer to the West Coast. She moved to San Francisco from her native Indiana before her junior year of high school and that's when she began riding full time at Diamond Mountain. Her parents introduced their children to riding as a way to get exercise during the snowbound winter months in Indiana, where Haley grew up. Now 15-year-old triplet siblings went on to other sports, but Haley was hooked. She attributes some of that to early childhood visits to her aunt Liza Cotter, who lives in Santa Rosa and lessoned with Macella.
Liza was the first to put Haley on a horse and exposed her to breeding and starting young horses and taking trail rides through herds of giant-horned Watusi cattle. "My aunt is that person you want to grow up to be," says Haley of Liza's adventurous lifestyle. Visits with Liza also meant lessons at Diamond Mountain, which planted the seed of Haley's desire for high-level show jumping success. While still living and riding in Indiana, she competed at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, FL, then was grateful to start training fulltime with Macella and Charles when she and her father moved to San Francisco.
She describes her trainers as "incredibly bright" and raves about Macella's ability to articulate riding and horsemanship concepts. "She uses a lot of analogies, tailoring each to whoever she's coaching. Certain words and phrases she uses with me are so effective that I'll ask her to keep using them." To counter a too-stiff upper body position while riding through a jumping combination, Macella instructed her student to tuck in her tailbone. "That automatically made me soften my upper body and pushed my shoulders back," Haley explains. When a looser elbow was sought, Macella told Haley to stiffen her wrists, knowing that tension in one body part creates softness in another. "I have to have active things to do," Haley says. "If you hear 'Don't drop your right arm,' for example, you try too hard to not do that. Whatever the problem is, wording the solution in a positive way is more effective."
The New Year's excitement is tempered somewhat by having to sell Wakyra and Rye. "It is sad," she admits. "Yet I've always known having these horses was a temporary thing. I've never had a single horse for very long, and that's always been part of the game. It's also really exciting to me to find both horses new homes where they'll be successful."
Whatever adventures await Haley across the pond, she is on track to begin her freshman year at University of Chicago next fall. "I want to go to college to see if there is anything I will love to do more than riding and being around horses," she explains. Active and academically successful in high school, Haley chose the small, prestigious private school partly because of its new Institute of Politics, headed by former Obama strategist David Axelrod. "I am interested in politics in a theoretical and philosophical way."
Looking ahead, Macella predicts that Haley's biggest challenge in adulthood will be choosing between many good options. "I wouldn't even guess where she will wind up," says the trainer. "She's enormously talented and was accepted at every school, including Stanford. She's not just a good student, she enjoys school. There's nothing she would do that would surprise me, including not riding. When you have these kind of gifts, talents and passions, it's not hard to find things that seem exciting and interesting and to be successful at them."