January 2015 - Parade of Champions ~ Part II

More stars of this year’s hunter/jumper circuit.

produced by Kim F. Miller & Alicia Anthony

Welcome to our second installment of spotlighting stars of the equitation ring from 2014. As with the first eight riders featured in our December issue, these winners offer a range of responses regarding good advice, effective exercises, future goals and fun stuff they’ve done with their steeds.

Don’t be afraid to make a mistake, jump crazy jumps at home and “just breathe” are among the tips that worked for these equestrians. Fun stuff ran the gamut from a beach ride in San Diego to the simple joy of riding a horse who’d been sidelined for some time by injury. Beezie Madden and McLain Ward got the most mentions as admired professionals and George Morris receives several call-outs, too.

As with last month’s feature, we asked eight medal final champions the following questions:

  1. What riding exercise and/or advice has been most helpful so far?
  2. What aspect of your riding improved the most in the past year?
  3. What do you most want to improve this coming year?
  4. What are your show goals for this year?
  5. The secrets to getting the best performance out of your horse or pony?
  6. Professional riders you most admire and why?
  7. The most fun thing you’ve done with your horse or pony in the last year?

Inland Empire Hunter Jumper Association 2’6” Medal
Age: 16
Trainer: Mailei Bennett, Riding Academy of Orange County in Orange

  1. My trainer has me do an exercise at the trot that has improved my balance significantly. She makes me loosen the reins and keep a raised post for two strides, not unlike how you would change diagonal by standing: sit for one; stand for two. The objective is to be able to balance solely with your leg and core - no reins necessary.
  2. My flatwork has improved tremendously. During flat classes at the beginning of the year, I had trouble staying soft and calm but now both my horse and I have more experience.
  3. I want to improve on my upper body position. I have a tendency to slouch my shoulders and tuck my butt.
  4. I want to be able to advance up to 2’9”, but I guess we will see where we are when the shows start back up again.
  5. Be calm, be collected and remember that you are dealing with an animal. Being soft and easing them into what you want them to do will provide better results than forcing your horse into submission.
  6. I really admire McLain Ward. I love his seat and style of riding, but I also like his perseverance. He had many injuries during his career, but he kept riding. I really like and admire that.
  7. During the summer, we loaded some horses into the trailer and brought them down to the beach. (At Fiesta Bay on San Diego’s Mission Bay). They loved it! Swimming is therapeutic for the horse’s body- especially the legs. Also, it is a great way to desensitize the animals to new conditions.

PCHA Adult Medal
Trainers: Carolyn Biava and Janet McDonald of First Field Farm in Cerritos

  1. I heard George Morris make this comment at a clinic: “If you don’t keep your horse in front of your leg and active to your leg, it’s like trying to drive a golf cart without turning it on.” This was mind blowing!
  2. Bending lines were my nemesis. I had ridden Thoroughbreds most of my life (trust me, it’s a long time) and you simply rode them corner to corner and the bending lines always worked. Now that I ride a Warmblood, there are so many variables that come into play since they are so adjustable. Pace, impulsion, do I need to do a lead change, how/where did he land? I never knew where I was and would always manage to look either hurried or weak. I finally learned to trust that we will get there (as long as he is in front of my leg!).
  3. I am working on not “attacking” a course. I get overly aggressive to complete the task at hand. I am told that from start to finish the ride is a presentation that must appear to be as easy as “a walk in the park.” I have always had young untrained horses since it was all I could afford. So the overly encouraging ride is the only thing I know. I have suddenly realized (and have been told by my trainers on several occasions) that my horse is not green anymore and I don’t have to over ride him to make it work. It is an incredible challenge to ride quietly, don’t hurry and just be patient. Relax. Enjoy the ride. And, most of all. have fun!
  4. My goals are to qualify for my favorite medal finals: the PCHA Adult and the LAHJA. At the finals, my goal is to make the top 10.  I just want to win a cooler (I am a cooler junkie and have been since I was a kid) and these two finals offer coolers to tenth place!
  5. Turnouts! And lots of them. My horse is very athletic and if he does not get a turnout he takes one while I am on him.
  6. While I admire so many professional riders, it is the amateurs who I compete with that really inspire me. I am in awe at their consistency under pressure, their ability to maintain a smile and, most of all, their sportsmanship.
  7. My horse got injured in 2013, so just getting to ride him and compete with him has been a gift.

Onondarka Medal Final
Age: 11
Trainers: Karen Healey, Melissa Jones, Tasha Visokay of Karen Healey Stables in Somis

  1. The most helpful exercises are the Karen Healey Stables flat lessons and cavalettis.
  2. My positioning has improved and so has my release over the jumps.
  3. I would like to improve on the mental preparation before my rounds so I can get more consistent at the shows.
  4. I want to qualify for Taylor Harris Final, Maclay Final, CPHA, CPHA Foundation and PCHA medals.
  5. The most helpful trick for me is to do the same warm-up routine with my trainer and to back my horse up right before we enter the ring.
  6. Beezie Madden. I love her style and she rides all of the horses with precision.
  7. I love taking my horses on trail rides and letting them graze in the grass field at the barn. I also love to groom them after I ride them and spoil them with carrots.

Inland Empire Hunter Jumper Association 2'9" Medal Final
Age: 16
Trainer: Vanessa Voight, Devon Equestrian Academy in San Dimas

  1. My trainer’s advice not to be afraid of making mistakes has been really helpful. At times, I would not adjust my horse to a fence at all, because I did not want to mess up or ride incorrectly. As a result, I was riding inaccurately and therefore incorrectly. It has become clear to me that mistakes are a part of learning to ride better. I learned that we, as riders, must accept our mistakes as a way to improve ourselves and our horses.
  2. During this past year, I have gained more connection with my horse, Jacob. I have improved the fluidity of my legs and hands, which allows me to be smooth yet definite with my aids. Because of this I have been able to ride with more softness and accuracy.
  3. This coming year I want to improve my lateral work and be able to lift my horse’s shoulders as I go through the corners of a course. This will help me make turns that are precise and calculated when competing in medal class work-offs.
  4. During this coming show season, I want to treat every show and course like my last.  I want to improve myself and my horse beyond our current state. I would like to have close-to-perfect rounds every time. I will do this by continuing my hard work and dedication to the sport and my horse. My goals also include participating in jumpers classes as well as hunter classes. This will allow me to prove to myself that my riding is not dependent on a consistent set of variables. For example, I want to have a tight, controlled, swift jumper round, and then step directly into the hunter arena and develop a soft, flowing canter to meet the first fence. By doing this, I can truly create a horse that is ready for any medal work-off.
  5. I believe that a rider’s mental attitude plays a large role in the performance of their horse or pony. When I am laser-focused before a class, I can ride with determination and with style. When I am nervous or distracted, my ride is usually slightly better than a complete disaster. If I am frazzled before a course, I tend to change my mind on the distance to a fence, or panic and make quick decisions. This frazzles my horse and I must work hard to recover the proper ride and balance of my horse. I work hard at being soft yet definite with my aids in the warm-up arena so that my horse is responsive and listening to me. If my horse is not listening to me, I resolve the issue with a level head in the warm-up arena. Do not let small setbacks before a class frazzle you or take away from the ride that you are capable of. A positive attitude with laser focus is the best feeling because you can tell yourself before entering the arena, “We can do this. I can do this!”
  6. George Morris. He is the epitome of a horseman and puts his horse above all other aspects of showing. I admire his drive to still improve himself when he is already considered “the best” by most. I was blessed to ride in one of his clinics last year and his passion for horses and riding is contagious and has rubbed off on me. In addition, my own trainer has pushed me to be the rider and person I am today. I admire both my trainer’s and George Morris’s commitment to the sport.
  7. As far a fun goes, I am delighted to sit on my horse bareback and walk around the ranch property. But, I really enjoyed training and competing in the Hunter Pairs class at the IEJHA Finals. I trained with a barn friend of mine who was also showing. It was a new and exciting experience to jump a course in rhythm with another horse and rider. Overall, riding should be hard if you want to be good, but at the end of each day, it should ultimately be enjoyable and fun.

Los Angles Hunter Jumper Association / LA Saddlery Senior Medal
Trainer: Shauna Pennell of Silver Crest Stables in Simi Valley

  1. As far as exercises go, Shauna has us jumping over the craziest jumps. We have made jumps out of chairs, barrels, cones -- you name it, we have probably jumped it. Those types of crazy jumps, mixed with courses that have crazy turns and rollbacks really helped me prepare. I came into the competition feeling confident that Brando and I have seen just about everything and nothing in the show ring will compare to the forward one-stride two-strides off of a roll back! The best piece of advice I have gotten is to just breathe! Sounds corny, but after every three or four jumps I just take a breath to slow myself down because I have a tendency to get quick throughout the course.
  2. This last year has been a bit tough for me. I started a new full-time job that has eaten up most of my riding time and only allows me to ride on the weekends. I think that my biggest improvement has been my ability to slow myself down and get out of my head. When I stop over-thinking everything on course is when I ride my best.
  3. I am working on improving my body motion in the air. I can get too close to my horse’s neck making the jump not as great as it can be. I really have to think about “body back.”  It has not been that big of an issue so far but for next year and the 3’6” medals I want to make sure that it is better.
  4. This year I focused on only doing a few of the 3’ -  3’3” medal finals because I have only been riding Brando since July and we had only done five horse shows together. For next year I want to focus on some of the 3’6” medals and see how we measure up. I am already qualified for the CPHA Senior Medal and the CPHA Foundation and I also have points toward WCE, so we will see what else I qualify for and go from there. But the big medals are what I am aiming for.
  5. Treats! Lots and lots of treats! But seriously, I really think that the bigger connection and bond I have with a horse the better the rounds are going to be. When they trust you and are confident in the ride you give them, then they are more willing to forgive your mistakes and help you a bit more. Brando is no exception. He is by no means an easy horse but the more we bonded and the stronger the relationship got, the better and more fluid our rounds got. I love to spend time with my horse outside of the ring, despite him being sort of a “land shark.”
  6. There are so many!! I admire anyone who can make this their career. It is not easy and I can only imagine the hard work and dedication that it takes to make it to that next level. Like many other riders, I love watching the Grand Prix riders like Beezie Madden, McLain Ward and Kent Farrington. Of course, I would not be a true equitation rider if I did not read and watch everything that George Morris has ever done. As far as who has influenced my riding career most I would have to give credit to all of my trainers that I have ridden with. All of them have given me certain parts of what make up a great rider. David Josiah and Morning Mist Farms taught me to canter (it was really a rough process!) and let me grow up as a barn rat who fell in love with all things horse. Leslie Steele and Acres West taught me how to ride and compete against the big dogs on horses that were fancy but not always easy. Dick Carvin and Susie Schroer taught me to finesse my skills and challenged me to be a better rider. The Intercollegiate Horse Show Association taught me to ride all different types of horses and adapt my skills quickly. And Shauna has taught me how to be a horseman, which is probably the most important lesson of all. So for that, they are the professionals that I admire the most.
  7. I have to say that winning LAHJA Finals was probably the most fun thing we have done. I mean there is not much that can top getting a score of 90 for me. We do a lot of trail rides which are always fun, but LAHJA third round was a ride of a lifetime. I can only hope that I will be able to have a lot more rides like that!

Horse & Hound Junior/Amateur Medal Finals
Age: 14
Trainers: Jennifer Kallam, Dezraye Choi, Joan Brennan at JK Training in Woodside

  1. I have been working on a lot of no stirrup work lately and that has helped me improve my position. Although all of the advice my trainers give me is helpful.
  2. This year I have probably improved the most in both my position and consistency in my rounds.  I can see such a difference by watching videos of my rounds from the beginning of the year and my rounds this fall.
  3. I want to improve my position and be able to have a good position while still keeping the rideability of my horse.
  4. My show goals for next year are to step up into the 3’6” ring, and do the 3’6” medals like the Pessoa and Maclay.
  5. For me, the secret is having a well-planned warm-up every time I ride him, and sticking to the system that works for my horse.
  6. I most admire McLain Ward because he is an amazing athlete at the top of the sport. I love the way he rides, he seems very soft and he makes it look easy.  I also really admire Brianne Goutal, because she was a top equitation rider winning all four major medal finals.  I was able to watch her at the Sacramento International Horse show Grand Prix.  It was very fun to watch her in person.  She is such a confident rider with a great position, and she seems to have a great connection with the horses she rides.
  7. I have fun whenever I am around the horses, whether that is riding or grooming them or even just hanging out with my friends at the barn.  I always love learning something new about horses.

CPHA/WCE Adult Medal Finals
Age: 25
Trainer: Susan Hutchison in Temecula

  1. “You have to break a few eggs before you make a cake.” – Benson Carroll. I think doing cross training of some sort is very helpful for my riding. With my horses living in Temecula and I live up north in the Bay Area, I find it very important to stay on top of my fitness because I am unable to ride everyday.
  2. Since riding with Susie, which I started in April of 2013, I have really started to learn how to go fast! I primarily show in the jumper ring so this comes in handy. The WCE Medal is a class I have been wanting to clench since I was a young junior. I think my recent training and practice in “jump-off riding” really helped my efficiency to earn proficiency points and differentiate my power rounds versus speed rounds in the WCE Finals.
  3. I really hope to rebuild my riding all together. I am currently selling my very trusty string of horses in hopes of getting a horse for the next level in my riding career. I am not sure I can say what I want to “improve” because I have a lot of changes ahead of me. Hopefully I will be getting a new mount for the big classes and then I will hope to get the mileage and experience to start being competitive within the next year or so. Fingers crossed!
  4. I really want to start riding consistently in the Grand Prixs. Ideally, I would love to step up to the 1.50-1.60M ring in the next year or so – again, depending on the team of horses I have.  A girl can dream!
  5. The team behind Susan Hutchison Stables is phenomenal. Not being at the barn everyday I know my horses are in great hands. From our facility, grooms, training, farrier, vets, haulers, etc., we truly have a great team! Susie, being the core of the team, makes for greatness in itself. Our team recipe is what produces the best performance.
  6. My current trainer, Susan Hutchison. Simply put, she is one of the most amazing people I have ever met, inside and out. Buddy Brown, my first jumper trainer and mentor.  He really helped develop me in the jumper ring. He taught me what it takes to be your best. Benson Carroll was a huge contributor to my successes as a junior.  He is just an amazing teacher. He knows how to put the icing on the cake. He has an eye for the sport. Marcus Ehning: I would kill for his hands and his style is impeccable. McLain Ward: I have never met him but he seems like a true horseman. I have watched interviews and have read articles and he is the definition of what all aspiring equestrian athletes should strive to be. Eric Navet: We are lucky to have him in California and I try and watch him every chance I have. There are so many others…Daniel Deusser, Kent Farrington, Lucy Davis, Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, Ludger Beerbaum, Scott Brash, Patrice Delaveau, Beezie Madden, Rodrigo Pessoa, Katharina Offel, Brianne Goutal… I could go on for a while…
  7. We did a lot of new shows this year. We did Colorado, Thunderbird and Saugerties. All of which were great shows and so much fun. I would definitely do them all again! Finally, getting the “w” in the WCE Finals was the icing on the cake to the 2014 show season.

Inland Empire Hunter Jumper Association 2'3" Medal Final
Age: 13
Trainer: Joy Chapman at Graystone Equestrian Center in Upland

  1. Not dropping your eye over the fence. When you drop your eye, it enables the horse to duck out and take advantage of you.
  2. My sitting trot position and my equitation over fences.
  3. I want to improve my three-point position, by getting out of my old bad habit of keeping my lower back stiff and creating a supple lower back.
  4. My show goals this year are to be giving the most effort I can into my performance!
  5. The secret to getting my horse (Triton) to perform at his best is to not ride in spurs, and to allow his head to get long and stretch, instead of setting it and him carrying his head in a “pretzel position.”
  6. Elizabeth Madden is definitely my riding inspiration because she is an amazing female who has overcome many obstacles to become successful.
  7. The most fun thing I’ve done with my horse in the past year is the IEHJA final show. I had only had my horse for five days and had to compete at the final show! Luckily, we were able to claim many blues and conquer the 2’3” medal! I had a horse (Checkers, aka “Spellcheck”) previously, which enabled me to qualify for the 2’3” medal. I finished off the season with my one-time horse swap, due to Checkers being sold.