October 2020 - Classics Eventing: Megan Sykes
Written by by Kim F Miller
Thursday, 01 October 2020 16:37
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Young professional is making her mark as a competitor and trainer with a budding sales business.

by Kim F Miller

Young eventing professional Megan Noelle Sykes entered 2020 with an impressive head of steam. The previous year, she and the horse she’s brought along for the last six years, Classic’s Mojah, earned two CCI3*-L top 10 finishes, at two of North American’s most challenging competitions: Rebecca Farms and Fair Hill International. Newly named to the United States Equestrian Federation’s Eventing 25 Emerging Athletes that fall, she and “Mo” completed their first Advanced level finish at Twin Rivers this past February.

 


And then COVID happened. Then a bad riding accident happened, followed by bed rest, two months of limited mobility and lots of physical therapy. Embodying the grit and grace typical of eventers, Megan didn’t let any of that dampen her enthusiasm for her budding career as a top-level competitor, trainer, sales agent and coach.

 

Her response to the riding accident that fractured her pelvis and shoulder speaks volumes about her character. On the way to the hospital, she briefly worried that everything she’d been building for in her career would go down the drain. Instead, she found a way to turn the down time into a positive. As she wrote for Jumper Nation in July, she used it to examine her horse’s training foundation and where there might be holes. She framed the accident as a way to build mental toughness and took her own physical rehabilitation as seriously as she’d take it for one of her horses.

Megan was back in the saddle faster than her doctors had predicted, and with new mental skills and horsemanship tools to tackle her big goals. Megan’s new business partners Brian and Kailynn Wallace weren’t surprised, and not because they’re long-time horse people: they’re not. Brian was Army Infantry for 10 years and both have backgrounds that enable quick recognition of “a person willing to do what it takes to be as successful as they say they want to be.”
    

Megan Sykes, head trainer and owner of Classics Eventing,riding Classics Mojah at Twin Rivers.Photo: Marcus Greene Outdoor Photography. https://marcusgreene.smugmug.com/. Follow us - Facebook: MGO Photography; Instagram: @_mgo_photography

Putting In The Work

They had witnessed Megan’s devotion to the horses at home in Texas and seeing it translate to competitive success was inspiring.  Shortly after seeing her compete at Fair Hill last fall, the Wallaces realized that Megan’s character and approach warranted an investment in her career as business partners.

“I know what hard work looks like,” Brian explains. “She’s been boot strapping herself up from a young age and we understand that philosophy.” The business is developing horses and its success will be measured in financial terms and in the Wallaces’ ability to enjoy the horses, their development and the sport itself.

As newcomers to the horse world, they don’t plan to become eventers themselves. Brian and Kailynn met Megan while learning to ride only a few years ago with her husband, Reed Sykes, a natural horsemanship trainer.

The Wallaces foresee enjoying that path themselves while delving fully into eventing as Megan’s partners. Like all equestrian sports, eventing seeks growth by getting new people interested. Megan’s role in inspiring the Wallaces to get involved is a model that any sport advocate would love to see widely replicated.

The qualities that inspired the Wallaces to support Megan have also helped her build a strong base of sponsors. They include Deco Pony, MDC Stirrups, EquiClean, The Hangry Mare, Professionals Choice and Halter Ego.    

Photo: MGO PhotograpHy

The Right Stuff

Although she’s from and is based in Midland, Texas, Megan and her business, Classics Eventing, are well known throughout the West Coast. The most formative years of Megan’s equestrian career were spent as a student of and working student for, first, Heather Morris, then Tamie Smith, at Next Level Eventing. Over the years, she has groomed for the 4* competitors and been a contender herself. First, with her NAYC horse, Ghypsy, a former broodmare Megan brought to CCI1* success, then with “Mo,” an Oldenburg who started out as a dressage horse and needed a better outlet for his athletic ability.

Megan describes Tamie and Heather as the best role models, past, present and future. These partners in Next Level Eventing in Temecula set highest standards for hard work and dedication. Like the Wallaces, they recognized the right stuff in Megan’s riding abilities and work ethic and have allowed her to earn opportunities and supported her in making the most of them.

“She has some big things coming her way,” says Tamie. “She is kind of the silent, deadly one: the one that you don’t really notice, then all of the sudden, you say, ‘Who’s that girl?’ She never stops trying and learning and she is a super hard worker and very humble.

“It’s no small feat to pick up from your home,” Tamie continues. “To travel to go learn and be away from home for weeks and months at a time. That’s the difference between somebody who is going to make it in the sport and someone that is just going to skate along.”

Megan started on a hunter/jumper path and switched to eventing at 14. She began riding at Mike Huber’s Gold Chip Stables, where she also groomed for Heather. That bond led her to Southern California when Heather returned to Temecula to partner with Tamie in Next Level Eventing.

“They have been the best influence for me with their coaching and support, and they are both bad ass women who I adore,” Megan explains. “They are prime examples that hard work will get you there.” Neither had opportunities handed to them on silver platters, and both have willed their way through professional and personal obstacles to success in the sport.

Megan has made the 18-hour drive from Texas to Southern California at least twice a year for a while now. She’s currently on the East Coast, where she had hoped to contend the American Eventing Championships. When those were cancelled due to COVID, Megan re-routed for the chance to work with Leslie Law, USEF’s Young Rider coach and run Chattahoochee Hills and other events. The plan is to conclude the season with CCI4*-L at Tyron, North Carolina in November.

Long drives are old hat for Megan, but travelling with four horses is new and a reflection of Classic’s Eventing’s growth. Now instead of “Mo” and a client or sale horse, it’s Mo; her new personal horse, the 6-year-old mare, Tennessee Whiskey, and two sale horses. It’s a new challenge in travel and horse management logistics, but one Megan welcomes as inherent to fulfilling her goals of becoming better known on the national eventing circuit and building up a sales horse business.

“My favorite part of being a professional rider is riding,” she says. “But I’ve always known that if you’re going to be in eventing or any equestrian sport, you have to have your toe in everything. Having a little sales business is a good way to sit on a ton of different horses and build things up.”
    

A Passion for Development

Developing horses is a passion she shares with her husband, natural horseman Reed Sykes.  “He brings a different awareness. As english riders, we are used to either buying a horse that’s already going under saddle or one that’s been handled by someone else for its first 60 or 90 days. Witnessing the process of how the horse gets to that point has been a big learning experience.”

That, in turn, affects her thinking on how to supplement that start in later phases of the horse’s training. “Even when a horse gets out of ‘cowboy training,’ there is still a lot of work to do, and it’s great to be able to work with the person who started the horse.” It’s a partnership that helps maintain relaxation in the horse and patience in the handler throughout all steps of training.

“In the competition world, it’s easy to get thinking that we can forget about this or that because we have a show in two weeks and we need to get something else done,” Megan reflects. “Reed’s approach has opened my eyes to the benefits of going slow: to the reality that there will always be another competition and it’s most important to get things right so it’s always a positive experience for the horse.”

Along with developing, campaigning and selling horses, Megan enjoys giving clinics whenever her schedule allows. Her frequent travels lend themselves to side trips for sessions across the country. She welcomes the chance to pass along all that she’s learning through coaching from the best and her own growing base of experience with horses and competition at all levels.
    
For more information on Megan Sykes and Classics Eventing, visit www.classicseventing.com.