Advice for Young Riders Who Want to Pursue a Career With Horses


Ellison is a professional horse trainer and riding instructor. She runs a summer camp program and offers kids a safe introduction to horses.

Dreaming of Working With Horses?

I know that many horse-crazy young riders dream of growing up and finding a career with horses. I certainly did, and that dream is what got my program going and has kept it going for almost 20 years.

A Job Is Much More Than Just the Perks

We all know the good stuff about working with horses—being outside, riding, getting to interact with lots of different horses—maybe some of you have big dreams of becoming a professional rider in one discipline or another. We all know what comes to mind when we think about making horses our career choice, and it is probably mostly positive. The purpose of this article is not to discourage you, but to just give you a realistic view of what it is like to work in the horse business.

The High-Level Professional Riders Are the Minority

The famous names in all the different disciplines we hear are the minority when it comes to professional horse people. These are the people with not only the dedication to do whatever it takes but also the ones willing to work the hardest and longest to get opportunities for themselves. They had to earn their way to their place in the industry. They had to build a name for themselves because, without that, access to the superior quality of horses that compete at this level wouldn't be available to them.

It takes time and hard work, and it doesn't come overnight. To many, it never comes at all, and they learn along the way and then find the niche they fall into in the horse industry in the process.

Is Your Heart Set on Big Riding Goals?

If your heart is set on a big competitive riding goal, my suggestion to you is that you use your local trainer contacts to try and put you in touch with someone that is looking for a working student.

I strongly believe the best way to learn the horse industry is to immerse yourself in it, and being a working student is going to show you many aspects of the horse world and you will learn many things that you would not get anywhere besides in the barn.

Even though I never really had much interest in competing, I was a working student at an eventing facility for a very long time. I credit my experience there for my ability to have developed my own program, and become my own individual as far as my teaching and horse training style. Being a working student can be a way to get you a break in the competitive world if that is what you are looking for if you can find a job in the right barn.

There are many different working student arrangements, some include a place to live, others don't. Some get small salaries and others strictly work for their horse's board and lessons. The important word I emphasize here is work because being a working student is hard work. Long hours, probably not many days off, and lots of physical hard work.

Being a working student is not for everyone, but it most definitely is a great experience for many with the dedication and work ethic for it.

College Equine Studies Programs

Many colleges have equine studies programs. I was enrolled in one briefly after high school. It wasn't for me, and I came home and jumped right into a working student position where I stayed for six years. I feel I came out of that experience worlds beyond what I would have learned in an equine studies program.

The thing that I did not get from my working student experience was learning the business aspect of the industry. I learned all the hands-on stuff and had more riding opportunities than I could have ever imagined, but there is a hole in my skill set when it comes to business.

There is definitely a value in going to college in an Equine Studies program for those who are interested in that. Especially in the world we live in where it seems the bachelor's degree is the new high school diploma.

Having a degree is always of benefit. I think if someone asked me my recommendation if they should go attend an equine program in a college or not, I would tell them they should. A four-year degree means a lot in today's world.

If an Equine Studies degree isn't something you think you want to do, I would maybe suggest going to a local college and getting a degree in business or marketing. While hopefully at the same time finding a working student position where you can keep growing in your horsemanship.

Want to Be a Vet or Farrier?

Vet school is hard to get into. Not impossible, but tough if you don't have a great academic history. It is also very expensive, so you will have to consider if it is affordable for you or not.

Farrier schools are available throughout the country. There is everything from very basic short courses to long programs for those who want to become professional farriers.

Horses will always need vets and farriers, so that is a good option. Just keep in mind they are both physically taxing jobs, with a high risk of injury. Also, both of those jobs can have demanding hours. Leaving not much time for your family or personal life.

Riding Instructor or Camp Director?

Again, this is a job where you will have to have the knowledge base and skill set to teach kids, as well as to plan fun and engaging activities for them. Learning these skills are all reasonable goals. Just consider where you will teach? On what horses? Who will cover your liability insurance? Can you teach enough to afford to pay for your liability insurance?

When you are teaching lessons you are typically working when kids are out of school and adults are off work. Again, going back to that theme of not having the best hours and that you will be working when a lot of your non-horse employed friends are off.

Indirect Jobs in the Industry

Meaning jobs that don't work hands-on with horses, but provide services that keep the industry going. Jobs like working for a feed company, or a tack shop. Writing for an equine publication, these are all still in the horse industry, just won't have you in a barn all day every day, which some people might prefer.

You Have to Have Health Insurance

Whether you end up self-employed in the horse world or are hired by someone else, you have to have health insurance when working with thousand-pound animals daily. So make your when planning your future career that you have making sure that your employer is either going to provide you with insurance coverage or that you make enough to afford it!

Working With Horses Is Hard Work

For those of us who know that we want a life with horses and a life in the horse industry, I know from personal experience that nobody will change our minds once we have decided that it is the life we want. It's just when you are young and on the outside looking in, it seems like it's so fun and easy, almost not like a job.

In reality, that is not the case. Working with horses is hard work, physically and also mentally sometimes too when dealing with problem horses or customers.

Working with horses for your job will take time away from your own horses and riding. Some people who aren't so competitive aren't bothered by this, others who have big plans of riding and showing can find themselves spread thin making time for it all.

The horses will need you 365 days a year if an emergency comes up, it doesn't matter if you are off that day or had plans, the horses will always come first.

It is hard for working with horses to be "just a job" it is more like a lifestyle. For those of us that love it, we wouldn't have it any other way. I would definitely caution that it is not for everyone.

Find a Professional in the Industry to Shadow

If you like me are convinced that working with horses is the only job for you. I would suggest that you find someone who is doing what you want to do professionally. A vet, instructor, show rider, whichever direction you would like to see yourself going. Pick their brain about how they got to that point. What advice do they have? What would they have done differently if given the chance?

I think you will find that many horse people are happy to discuss with young people their questions about working in the industry. Don't be afraid to ask as many questions and make as many local contacts with horse professionals as you can.

If you chose a life with horses and are hardworking and dedicated, the horses will give you the life you want. Someone very special to me once told me " stick with the farm and the horses, they gave me a life and if you stick with them they will give you a life too".

I have had my share of rough patches where I want to give up, but I always remember that advice, and I'm grateful for the guidance I had when I was younger and trying to figure out how to make my way into this business.

If you really want to do it, are not afraid to ask for help, and are a hard worker, you will make it happen! Happy Horse Life!

© 2018 Ellison Hartley


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Hometown: Harrodsburg, KY
Time at MM: 1996 - 1997
Program: Riding Master II
Certifications:
Riding Instructor Certification
Favorite Class: Riding Theory
First Job After Graduation: I took a break in my government career to attend Meredith Manor and pursue my passion for horses and my certifications, so I returned to giving lessons and training part-time until my retirement in 2010. At that time, I spent a couple of years managing a 1300-acre horse ranch in northern California prior to purchasing my own facility.

Current Job:
I currently run a lesson and training program at my farm, Serenity Stables, just outside of Lexington, KY. I also demonstrate and speak as a clinician on various topics at national expos, to include Equitana, Rocky Mountain Horse Expo and Equine Affaire.

Using the classical principles that I learned at Meredith Manor as a foundation for all riding, I teach and train multiple disciplines and have helped countless riders enhance their skills since acquiring my certifications. I have successfully prepared horses and riders in disciplines as diverse as dressage, eventing, reining, pleasure, driving, and long-distance trail. I work with both serious competitors and recreational riders just looking to be safer on the trails. I have started young riders who have gone on to be top national competitors in dressage and eventing, and I have worked with older riders who are fulfilling their dream of owning their first horse.

While teaching is what I love the most, I have found it is important to be well-versed in all aspects of the equine world (training, care, purchasing) to be a successful instructor or run your own facility. It would be difficult to run my lesson program without also having some skills as a trainer, as I must be able to keep my school horses trained, and many times my students’ horses are in need of retraining. Also, clients rely on me to advise on and assist with the purchase of suitable horses for themselves and/or their children.

I chose not to focus on just one discipline because my own riding background is varied, and I have enjoyed working with and owning numerous breeds over the years and competing in many different events. I have been involved in training and certifying mounted police units, I developed a horse badge program that is recognized and endorsed by the Girl Scout Councils, and I am a certified 4-H horse leader for my county. I take a whole horsemanship approach to teaching - safety is the first priority but I also want everyone to learn how to care for and understand their horses.

I have been immersed in the equine world for over 40 years, from fox hunting to packing into the mountains, and my passion is simply to help horses and their riders communicate better in whatever discipline they choose to pursue. My education and certifications from Meredith Manor have been invaluable in pursuing my dream and being recognized as a professional in the horse industry.

What is your favorite takeaway from MM?
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Meredith Manor and absorbed all of the riding and teaching theory that I possibly could… one takeaway that I have since found amusing was how good a rider I thought I already was when I arrived (having ridden for over 20 years) and how much my riding changed and improved in that year and how much I learned!

In what ways have your experiences at Meredith Manor impacted your career and who you are today?
My education and certifications from Meredith Manor have been invaluable in pursuing my dream and being recognized as a professional in the horse industry. The riding sessions greatly improved upon and enhanced the many years of experience I already had when I arrived and the coursework taught me how to teach others effectively. I have no doubt that my certifications helped to make me more credible as a national clinician and with the Girl Scout and 4-H organizations.

Any advice for students attending Meredith Manor?
Absorb all that you can. Have an open mind – you’re maybe not as good as you think you are. Pursue continuing education in horse husbandry and business management and develop good customer service skills.


Strategies for Succeeding in Intercollegiate Dressage

Credit: Courtesy, Casual Creations Photography The 2015 IDA National Champions from Emory and Henry College (from left) Coach Lisa Moosmueller-Terry, Nicholas Martino, Bailey Halverson, Karissa Donohue, Elijah Worth-Jones, Morgan Sollenberger, Amanda Snow and Emma Baltuskoknis

For many collegiate dressage riders, the challenge of academics is often coupled with another challenge: adjusting to a new dressage-show system based on catch riding. Catch riding, although more popular in the hunter/jumper show circuits, has gained traction in the dressage world, particularly among colleges whose teams participate in the Intercollegiate Dressage Association (IDA). IDA offers the opportunity for riders to continue, or even begin, their riding careers in college. Over the past several years, IDA has become immensely popular as an educational and fun, yet challenging, way for riders to continue their equestrian careers in college without owning a horse or making a huge financial commitment.

A Brief History

Credit: Courtesy, Kate Randall Founded in 1995, the Intercollegiate Dressage Association (IDA) now has more than 55 member schools across the United States and approximately 700 riders competing at regional and national shows yearly. Pictured, Sophia Rocco rides for the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Founded in 1995, IDA began as an informal competition between a small group of colleges in the northeastern United States. However, it quickly grew into more than that. Today the organization has more than 55 member schools across the United States and approximately 700 riders competing at regional and national shows yearly.

Beth Beukema, president of IDA, has been involved since the organization’s beginnings, when a student designed the basic structure of the competition and the point system, much of which is still in use today. Beukema praises the organization’s ability to introduce new students to dressage as well as provide a cost-effective opportunity for riders with previous experience. Because the IDA show system is designed specifically for collegiate equestrians, many of whom don’t own a horse, it eliminates the challenges of ownership by featuring a catch-riding system. At a show, riders are randomly assigned a horse from the host university’s stable and given 10 minutes to develop a basic understanding of the horse before the official test. Catch riding is one of the unique challenges that IDA poses, and even riders who have participated in Young Riders at Prix St. Georges may find riding in IDA challenging, says Beukema.

Although an IDA team may have upwards of 30 riders, only four members are allowed to compete during an individual show. For larger universities, this results in some members being able to compete only a few times during the season, whereas members on small teams may be able to compete at every show. The tests and judging are just like those at any other dressage show—but the benefits, and certainly the challenges, are found in the catch-riding component of the organization.

Benefits and Value

For many IDA riders who are hoping to pursue a career in the equine industry, the benefits of riding in IDA are tremendous. Kari Briggs, coach for Otterbein University’s IDA team, business manager of the university’s equine center as well as an IDA regional representative, says that as an equine professional she draws on her previous experiences from riding a variety of horses.

Even riders who are following career paths outside the industry can find many benefits from an IDA experience. Take Sophia Rocco, a recent graduate of University of California, Santa Cruz. A physics major, Rocco showed IDA all four years of college. She says not only did she learn to be a more flexible and adaptable rider, but she also credits IDA for keeping her mentally balanced and happy while facing academic pressures. “Riding is what keeps me happy and sane when school gets stressful,” she says. “So riding was less of a luxury than a necessity.”

Of course, for riders pursuing equestrian careers, the opportunity to show and ride frequently is one of the greatest benefits. Kelsie Bricker graduated in 2015 from Otterbein University and she notes the organization’s impact on her becoming more comfortable in the show ring. She expects this confidence to serve her well in any future equestrian endeavor.

Lisa Moosmueller-Terry, vice president of IDA and IDA coach for Emory and Henry University in Emory, Virginia, echoes the importance of being an adaptable rider. “A well-rounded rider who has the ability for adaptation is going to be a far better rider,” she says. Moosmueller-Terry has achieved great success in the IDA show ring with a victory at the 2015 IDA Nationals in addition to several past Nationals wins with Virginia Intermont College.

Finally, IDA offers a unique aspect of dressage that is not often found in the traditional show system: team spirit. Beukema says that the team feeling is one of the greatest advantages of IDA and one of the many reasons that IDA riders love the program. Each rider on the team, whether they are riding First Level or Introductory Level, contributes to the school’s overall team placement, resulting in a feeling of camaraderie. Rocco says she enjoyed the team aspect: “[It] was a very positive and supportive experience. Dressage is usually such a solitary and personal sport, so I didn’t quite know at first how it would translate to a team sport. Turns out, it’s a really good feeling to have that team.”

Before the Test

Credit: Courtesy, Otterbein University After a 10-minute warm-up, the IDA rider is led into the arena for the official test. Because riders don’t have enough time to truly know the horse, it can be challenging to head into the ring while still learning.

Preparation is one of the most crucial elements to a successful IDA ride and that preparation begins long before the 10-minute warm-up. When a team arrives at the host university, riders observe each available horse in the “parade of horses,” which serves as a great opportunity to analyze the horse from the ground. Briggs recommends looking at the quality of the horse, his gaits and his general behavior in the ring.

When analyzing the horses from the ground, Moosmueller-Terry says that riders must develop a good eye. For many riders, this is best done with the help of a trainer or a more experienced peer. “Watching a lot of horses with someone who is educated will help you know what to look for,” she says. She teaches her riders to look at the overall connection and impulsion of the horse before formulating a plan for the ride. “Then we observe the horse as he performs parts of the test and decide what we need to work on in our warm-up. We may need to work to get the horse in front of the leg or utilize transitions to get a better response to the half halt.”

In addition to the parade, each host university compiles a cheat sheet for all IDA riders to use on the available horses. It typically offers tidbits of information, such as “Mac can be heavy on the forehand,” or “Chocolate doesn’t like spurs.” Although some of the information is useful, Jec Ballou, FEI-level trainer and IDA coach for University of California, Santa Cruz, warns against relying on it too heavily. “Many riders read these notes as the gospel,” she says. “It can be a real disservice to enter the show ring with assumptions about a horse.”

Ballou also recommends knowing what the directive ideas and collective marks are per USEF standards. Like any dressage test, reading the test objectives is important. If there is a coefficient component, it is good to be aware of that element and perhaps devote some extra time to it during the warm-up if other aspects are going well.

Helpful Skills

To achieve a partnership and create a harmonious ride, there are a variety of skills that can be developed. Often college coaches are instrumental to a rider’s success. In addition, many college riding programs offer great opportunities for riders to improve their skills by riding with a variety of accomplished trainers.

One of the most important things is the opportunity to ride a variety of horses on a regular basis. For schools with large equestrian programs, this doesn’t pose as much of a challenge, but for schools with small programs, this can be more difficult.

When training at Otterbein University, Briggs says her team rides a variety of horses, which serves them well in the show ring. “Riders who have the ability to catch-ride well or riders who are successful in IDA have a larger tool bag to draw from,” she says. “They have skills and knowledge developed from riding a variety of horses and can react appropriately to the type of horse they are mounted on.”

As far as particular rider skills, adaptability is essential and perhaps one of the most important skills for success. Briggs says, “If you are accustomed to riding a lazy horse or a horse who is dull to the aids, and you draw a hotter, tense horse, you need to be able to adjust your aids to suit the needs of the horse.”

Moosmueller-Terry emphasizes the development of feel in her young riders. “Some people are born with a natural feel,” she says. “Others have to work hard to develop this.” Working with a coach or trainer is instrumental in this process. “Feel is about understanding what is going on in the horse’s body while you are riding, being able to tell where he feels stiff or tense.”

Credit: Courtesy, Otterbein University The tests and judging at an IDA show are just like any other dressage show—but the benefits and challenges are found in the catch-riding component. Here, the Otterbein University dressage team celebrates a successful weekend.

“The purpose of catch riding is getting quality movement,” Ballou says. In her riders’ warm-ups, she places a large emphasis on finding quality gaits. “Many young dressage riders are obsessed with getting the horse on the bit,” she says. “But it’s often much more effective to start with transitions. Get a sense of how the horse responds to the leg and don’t worry about being on the bit right from the start.”

Ballou also suggests using the first 60 seconds of the warm-up to determine how responsive the horse is. Test out the gaits and determine what intensity of the cues is necessary for a 100 percent response, she advises. “Be comfortable experimenting with aids of different strengths,” she says.

Both recognizing the necessary intensity of an aid and giving a well-timed aid are essential, Briggs says. “Some horses are dull and will need stronger or louder aids, some horses are sensitive and will need very subtle, quiet aids, and it is the rider’s job to recognize the type of horse she is riding and adapt appropriately.”

Although IDA riding may depart slightly from traditional dressage in format, Moosmueller-Terry maintains focus by relying on the training scale during her riders’ warm-ups. She says she looks for rhythm and relaxation first and then builds upward from there. “If the horse is tense, part of our warm-up will be working on stretching to relax and get the horse more through the back. If the connection is lacking, we might do some more transitions or some lateral work.”

Finally, Moosmueller-Terry says it is worth remembering that each warm-up is different since a rider has only 10 minutes. “You have to decide where your time will be most wisely spent,” she says. “If you see an issue in your horse, your warm-up may be working to see how you will ride that horse to maximize quality and find harmony. You are not going to train a horse in 10 minutes, so you need to establish a working relationship. You might help a horse to relax or help improve transition quality, but ultimately, you are looking to develop a mutual understanding and develop a ride that the horse will be happy to perform for you.”

Riding the Test

After the 10-minute warm-up is complete, the rider is led into the arena for the official test. Because riders don’t have enough time to truly learn the horse, Moosmueller-Terry says it can be challenging to head into the ring while still learning. But she always advises her riders: “If you discover something during the test, act on it and make the second half of the test better.”

Generally, Moosmueller-Terry tells her riders to focus on elements of the test that are in their control—especially if they run into any challenges with an unwilling horse. “Ride what you can control,” she says. Focus on accuracy of the geometry, steady contact and correct rider position. There will always be variables with riding, but by focusing on what is controllable, the end result can almost always be improved.

Sometimes horses enter the arena and become completely different than what they were in the warm-up. “This is especially difficult for me as a coach because I can no longer help,” says Moosmueller-Terry. She simply says that by then she hopes the rider has developed a strong enough foundation to approach the challenges without a trainer’s assistance.

Perhaps the most important aspect of being in the ring is mental focus and preparation (see sidebar at left, “Mental Preparation for Catch Riding”). Ballou says, “A rider has no time to get flaky or talk to her friends on the sideline. Being in the zone is essential.” Briggs agrees: “All riding requires a mental component. IDA adds a whole new dimension, but it’s important to remember that riding is about the partnership between horse and rider. The brief warm-up time limits one’s ability to build that partnership. Therefore, it’s important to keep an open mind.”

Staying positive and present is important as well, says Briggs. “Riders often struggle in IDA with the fact that a 10-minute warm-up is not long enough to change anything. Frustration will lead to a poor ride and instead, riders need to find alternative ways to deal with the problem.” Briggs stresses the benefits
of drawing from past riding experiences in order to connect better to an unfamiliar horse. “By building on what’s familiar, you’re going to be a step ahead of your competitors.”

A Judge’s Perspective

Credit: Courtesy, High Time Photography IDA offers a unique aspect of dressage that is not often found in the traditional show system: team spirit. The camaraderie of IDA is one of the many reasons that riders love the unique program.

Sarah Geikie, an FEI-level judge based in Connecticut, has judged IDA Nationals three times. When asked about the differences in judging FEI shows in comparison to IDA shows, Geikie says, that like all judges, she uses the universal scale of training to evaluate the horse and rider. “Each time, I am extremely impressed with the quality of the riders,” she says. “I judge the IDA riders to the same standard as riders in any other show.”

Geikie also notes that just because the format of IDA shows is challenging doesn’t mean that the tests are mediocre. “I have had riders perform 70 percent tests that would win in open competition.” In fact, she credits IDA riders for riding clean and accurate tests. “They do not throw any points away for sloppy, inaccurate riding,” she says. “Many open riders could learn from IDA riders in the art of accuracy.”

As for any tips to ensure a quality test, Geikie recommends riding as accurately as possible with correct figures, using the corners and riding quality transitions. Performing these aspects of a test will result in better scores overall. The biggest challenge Geikie sees is that some riders are conservative or hesitant in the show ring. “I feel the biggest issue is for riders to really go for it,” she says.

Other Opportunities

For college students who attend schools without an IDA team but still have an interest, Briggs encourages them to start one. “You won’t be disappointed,” she says. “The camaraderie among the riders and the opportunities these students receive is second to none. There is no need to put your riding goals on hold.Experience IDA.”

For noncollege riders who want the opportunity to ride and show different horses, Briggs recommends reaching out to local boarding stables for additional riding opportunities or even working-student positions. Many owners may have a horse who needs extra exercise a few times a week, and some riders may be able to work out a part-time lease.

The future of IDA and collegiate riding is certainly expanding and thriving. Beukema says that the organization is adding dressage-seat equitation classes for the 2015–2016 show season. This is especially beneficial for schools that don’t have horses capable of upper-level movements in addition to allowing more riders from large teams to compete.

For many riders, IDA serves as a great opportunity to jump in and explore the world of dressage. And for continuing dressage enthusiasts, the association is a challenge but also an incredibly enjoyable way to spend a weekend. Many riders agree that the atmosphere and energy of riding for IDA are special. The catch-riding component and the feeling of team spirit set apart this show system from other standard dressage competitions.

Mental Preparation for Catch Riding

The art of the catch ride is being able to process multiple pieces of information at the same time and keep your wits about you in order to be effective. This skill set is one that can be developed by anyone, but the key is figuring out how to practice and prepare.

Simulating a catch-riding scenario at home during training is important, but can be challenging. Visualization of a successful ride is also a tool I would use extensively to prepare for these situations. The biggest mental mistake in this type of situation is losing focus or becoming hyperfocused. It is important as a rider, especially a catch rider, to be aware of circumstances that can create problems or dangerous situations, however being hyperfocused on these circumstances can sap your energy and decrease your focus on the end goal. Balancing your focus between the task at hand and the preparation you have already done is powerful. You need to be able to rely on your preparation, referring to it as you choose your next move, while still keeping the end goal in mind to help you figure out the path there. Focus is a muscle, so build more muscle! Most athletes and competitors miss great opportunities daily to practice flexing and building their focus muscle.

Create a plan for your rides—it is fun to hang out and chat while riding, especially during warm-up and cool-down, but for a catch rider, the warm-up is the most crucial part. Even during your everyday training, use the warm-up time to focus, evaluate the horse and decide what tools you need to successfully impact your ride. A great question to ask yourself over and over as you are developing this muscle is, What am I focusing on now? This will anchor you in the exercise and make that muscle strong. For riders who may become anxious or fearful before heading into the ring, breathing is your most powerful tool. It sounds so simple that we often dismiss the impact that deep breathing can have on performance. When we become anxious, our bodies become infused with blood and energy because it triggers our fight-or-flight mechanism, preparing us for survival. Our brains actually lose blood flow, thus dramatically reducing our cognitive capacity. When we worry excessively, we lose our ability to think our way out of a situation and, like a horse, we end up reacting instead of responding. Making great decisions requires great mental acuity and breathing is the fastest and easiest way to restore our brain to full function.


Sunday, January 10, 2010
Posted by Bonnie

FEI NORTH AMERICAN YOUTH CHAMPIONSHIPS

Jenkins continued to pursue her passion for horses at Lazy J Farm at a mere seven- year-old, riding Western as well as English. She recalls the exciting day when she got her first horse. “My parents bought me my first horse for my eighth birthday. He was a very large barreled 15.2 hand quarter horse. I looked like I was doing the splits across the saddle on him,” Jenkins laughed. It was with her quarter horse that McKenzie rode in her first dressage show at the Intro level. Little did McKenzie know back then that she would eventually be competing at international dressage competitions with some of the top young riders in North America.

Jenkins recalls becoming interested in Dressage after a family friend sent McKenzie and her parents to Michelle Deel in Conyers, GA. That was the weekend that Jenkins fell in love with Dressage. “I will never forget that weekend. Michele had a horse named Money Train. He was absolutely gorgeous. I watched Michele ride him, and watched him half pass across the arena, looked at my mom and said, "I want to do THAT."

Deel found McKenzie George, a Welsh pony with a jumping background. With Tami’s help Jenkins trained George to second level, and then sold him after she outgrew him.

Jenkins’ first Wellington experience was with Tsarina at the Palm Beach Derby riding 3rd level. Jenkins remembers being a little intimidated by all of the big names in Wellington, but excited by the idea of warming up in the same arena with dressage ‘celebrities’. “There were no other juniors at third level, so I was in an open class. I was in a class with Shelley Frances, Caesar Parra, and George Williams. I was so nervous, but so excited.”

Despite her achievements, Jenkins is humble and is quick to add that she owes much of her success to her trainer, Tami, her parents, and her horse Tsarina. “Tami Crawford is the reason I have had so many opportunities,” Jenkins said.

Recently though, McKenzie sold Tsarina to Amy Borner, which was a difficult decision for all involved. However, this story has a happy ending. Jenkins said, “When Amy came to try Tsarina, I think it was love at first sight. It made the sale easier and I am so happy for Amy. She sends me updates and pictures every week, which I love! I miss her very much, but am so happy Tsarina is making someone else as happy as she made me. ” For Jenkins and her trainer Crawford the importance of developing successful Young Rider horses is an important aspect to the program.

In between working her two new horses, Jenkins continues to show great dedication to dressage as she has recently taken on working for Tami Crawford as a full-time student. Jenkins, however, is excited by all of her new endeavors. “It has been a goal of mine to work for Tami since I started training with her eight years ago,” Jenkins said. Jenkins drives an hour each way to Traveler’s Rest Farm she emphasizes how it is worth it, and how it is both beneficial to her and her horses. “Traveler's Rest is a beautiful place with top notch facilities. Both of my horses will be in full training with Tami.”

Tami Crawford has obviously made a large impact on her life. “If I could give any advice to any junior/young rider it would be to find a great trainer that you click with,” Jenkins said, “Tami is always looking out for me even when she cannot be there. She is always positive, always smiling, always pushing me to meet my goals, and always looking out for what is best for me in and out of the saddle.”

Crawford, herself, has two upcoming superstar horses Wise Guy owned by Sue Ann Wells, and Roncali who is her own. “Both of them are fabulous 6 year olds who have the potential to be international stars,” said Jenkins.

Many Young Riders struggle balancing high school and college with their horseback riding careers. Jenkins, though, is thankful that she has been homeschooled most of her life. “There would be no way to be as involved with the horses without homeschooling. Homeschooling has made it possible to go to Wellington and now to be at Tami's more.”

As far as her social life goes, Jenkins admits that she’d rather be riding. “My mom likes me to have a day a week with no horse stuff, but honestly, I prefer to be at the barn far above doing anything else. One great thing about dressage and especially being involved in the Young Rider program is that I have friends of all different ages all over the country.”

As such a talented and experienced young rider, Jenkins is surely one to look out for on the ‘emerging Young Rider superstars’ list. Jenkins looks to the future in hopes to have a career in the horse world, but still remains focused on the present. “Right now, I'm just focusing on my new horses, my new job, and finishing high school, she said. “I'm not sure about college, but the place my family calls ‘Tami Crawford University’ is a great place to be.”


College Equestrian Teams: What’s The Best Fit For You? NCAA vs. IHSA

The end of May marks a new adventure for high school students across America: it is officially time to begin contemplating your college options. This task is particularly tedious for young equestrians, who often balance training and showing schedules in addition to their search for perspective colleges and the riding opportunities those colleges offer, so if you don`t have time for studying and riding on the horse our professional writers from Writemypaper.today can help you with writing your paper, dissertations in your future college, so you will have time to balance between boring studying and exciting riding. I had the opportunity to interview two young riders who have “survived” this process, and they have insight that I hope will help to answer some of your questions!

Grace Hickey
Grace Hickey is a finance major at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Originally from Bay Shore, New York, Grace has trained with Stephanie Proffe of FTF Equine Services LLC. for the past 7 years competing at all levels from schooling shows to the AA Circuit with ribbons from HITS Saugerties, HITS Ocala, The Garden State Horse Show, The Hampton Classic, and many more. Grace began attending James Madison University (JMU) as a freshman in the fall of 2016 and joined the schools IHSA (Intercollegiate Horse Show Association) team shortly after.

Grace Hickey riding Iamwhatiam, aka “Toby.” Photo Courtesy of Shannon Bower

Kennedy Knapic
Kennedy Knapic is a junior at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama. Originally from Smithtown, New York, Kennedy rides with James Benedetto out of Northport, New York as well as her family’s own Knapic Stables. Kennedy has ridden for almost all of her life, with multiple Low Junior Jumper Classics at shows like HITS Saugerties, and in her final junior year qualified for all major equitation finals, including a Top 25 finish at Medal Finals on her children’s hunter turned big equitation horse, Zedulon. Kennedy was recruited for the Auburn University NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Equestrian Team in 2014, and began attending the university in the fall of 2015.

Kennedy Knapic riding Duell. Photo Courtesy of Mackenzie Michaels

1) What is the difference between IHSA and NCAA?
The most notable difference between IHSA and NCAA is the format of the horse shows. Both organizations offer a total of 4 events as well as both Western and English teams, and all competitors draw horses randomly. The format differs in that NCAA is a more “head to head” competition.
“In the NCAA format there are 5 horses to draw from and 5 riders riding to represent their school. This means that Rider from School A and Rider from School B would both be riding the same horse. They also draw their order (which girl warms up and rides the horse in competition first). If School A has 3 girls riding first in Event 1, they will have 2 girls riding first in Event 2. This lets the judge give scores for each ride that let them score two different riders handling the same challenges a horse presents to them over the same course or pattern,” says Knapic.
“IHSA format is more similar to a regular horse show with over fences classes and normal flat classes,” says Hickey. Multiple teams from each region will compete in an array of divisions, such as walk-trot, walk-trot-canter, novice, intermediate, and open. Hickey explains, “One rider in each class for each team is the designated point rider and the points they get (7 for first, 5 for second, 3, 4, 2, 1) will go towards the team’s total score at that competition. At the end of the day, the team with the highest score wins.” Additionally, riders can compete individually for points to try to qualify for regionals, and from there riders with enough points can attend Zones and then Nationals. Jump heights at IHSA shows are typically not as high as those at NCAA competitions and riders receive no warm-up at all before entering the show ring. Hickey also explains that many IHSA teams are even considered varsity teams and therefore receive more funding and support from the college.

2) Which organization recruits more of the “Top Level” riders?
NCAA is known to recruit more “top level riders”, considering they are offered at larger schools such as Stanford University, Auburn University, University of Georgia, and more.
“The NCAA’s ability to give out scholarships gives more incentive for top equestrians to go to college, therefore allowing them to recruit top levels of riders who may have had the opportunity to forgo college altogether to pursue professional careers after their junior years. It helps those riders with top talent have the resources to get an education, however in return you have to commit yourself to the school and the program. This only allows the recruitment of riders who have competed successfully at a certain level, which is often the big equitation,” Knapic explains.
Hickey also notes, however, that IHSA has also recruited some big-name riders (Whitney Roper and Emily Williams have won IHSA Finals in the past). Sometimes the decision on where to go just comes down to the amount of time the two teams require. “There is only one lesson required a week [for IHSA] versus practice 5-6 days a week for the NCAA. [And so] the people who are looking to participate in NCAA and IHSA usually are very different in their goals and the time they have available to commit to an extra curricular,” which is why many equestrians who plan on continuing to show on the circuit in addition to a school team choose to ride IHSA.

3) What quality are the horses your respective program?
While the quality of horses varies by school, both girls agree that the horses they get to ride are all of a high caliber. The James Madison University IHSA team competes out of Jason Berry Stables in Verona, Virginia which is a show barn that houses the program. Because of this, the team practices on “excellent horses,” because many of the team’s horses were competitive on the circuit before being donated to the program. At shows the team travels to, many of the horses at the other teams’ locations are of similar caliber because so many local teams are labeled as “varsity.”
Knapic feels the same about the horses in the NCAA program, stating that the team is “very blessed to have talented horses to work with,” because, “a lot of the horses we get are [in the program] because they were too difficult to compete on or have a quirky disposition, [however] given the talent of our riders and the program the horses are in they usually acclimate extremely well. We often receive horses that are getting older and have competed extensively and successfully throughout the circuit but are reaching a point in life where they need to jump smaller jumps, and so our program comes in handy to give those horses a purpose that keeps them fit and comfortable. Other times we get horses from people that would prefer them to go to the school and in return receive a tax write off, instead of the trouble that goes into advertising and selling them, or because they have a quality that makes them more difficult for sale.”.

4) What was your background in riding before joining your college team?
Both riders grew up around horses, and so continuing to be competitive in college was a no-brainer.
Grace Hickey began riding when she was 6, and later joined the FTF Equine Services, LLC. team and has ridden there with Stephanie Proffe for the last 7 years. She has competed at the 2’6” to 3’ level at shows such as HITS Saugerties and Ocala, the Hampton Classic, the Garden State Horse Show, and more. Hickey says, “Throughout my riding career, I have ridden many different types of horses and I enjoy learning how to quickly adapt to each one and tending to their specific needs while under saddle.”
Kennedy Knapic has ridden since she was 4 years old, and started to become more competitive around age 13. “I was lucky to be able to take my children’s hunter, Zedulon, and move up to the Big Equitation, qualifying for all the major finals and highlighting my time in the big equitation finishing in the Top 25 at Medal Finals in 2014 (my first and only year in the big eq). From there, I competed in the low junior jumpers and won a couple of classics at HITS Saugerties. Between my winters at Stonyhill Equestrian Center, my horses spent the summers in my backyard barn where I, with the help of my sister and parents, cared for our horses. We do everything from scheduling hay deliveries to mucking to riding. Because of this, I was really well rounded in not only the competition aspect, but the horse management aspect of being an equestrian.

5) Did the level of the riding team affect your college decision? If so, how?
Hickey and Knapic differ on their approaches regarding the riding teams at the colleges they were considering.
Hickey states, “during my college search, my main focus was to find a school where I would feel comfortable and happy while away from home. My other focus was to find a school where there was an excellent and competitive environment for me to excel academically. The idea was that if there was a riding team at the schools I was interested in, that’s great, but my main focus was academics first.”
On the other hand, Knapic says that, “the level of riding really did affect my decision. I only wanted to go to school as far away from Auburn if I was on the team, because being a ‘barn rat’ I didn’t know what I would do or how I would cope not having my horses and barn to get away to, especially since I was used to seeing my horses from my bedroom window. I was ready to take on the commitment that came with the NCAA program and was looking for the challenge. I also knew that for me, riding once or twice a week wasn’t going to be enough to keep me happy, and that I wanted to maintain a certain level of riding and fitness that the program would require of me.”.

6) How does your school handle the tryout process?
At James Madison, as with most other IHSA teams, tryouts are held two weeks after the first semester begins. Then, every rider trying out is assigned a random horse at the barn and has to complete one over fences course and a flat class of about 4-5 people. Hickey refers to the tryout process as, “simple and straightforward, because as a freshman trying out, there’s so much stuff going on [those first few weeks] that something super complicated might have actually melted my brain. The tryouts are laid back and definitely encouraging because we want people to come try out for the team.”
On the other hand, NCAA teams do not even hold tryouts, they only recruit riders. This means that every year, it is generally determined by the November before the school year begins which equestrians will be joining the school’s team, although occasionally they will add a few more riders at the last minute. “Our coaches often go to the big horse shows and finals like Devon, Maclay Finals and Medal Finals to watch large quantities of equitation riders and their performances, and then reach out to them afterwards depending on their age.” Additionally, many schools with NCAA teams offer camps and clinics for riders not attending the bigger finals. “This allows the coaches to watch you ride in an environment based on the format [of NCAA] because you are not riding your own horse, and they can get more of a feel of your talent as a rider.”.

7) Would you recommend riding on a college team to young riders in the process of selecting a college?
Both girls recommend joining a riding team in college, regardless of the level. Hickey reflects, “going into college I was apprehensive about joining the team because of the commitment and the amount of work I would have to put into it, but I can’t imagine myself without it now. Since joining the team, girls I never knew before became my best friends because of our love and passion for riding. I definitely recommend joining any type of team for a social aspect and to be surrounded by people with similar interests as you!”
Knapic agrees, stating “YES. A thousand times yes I recommend this program,” however, she warns that she would only recommend the program to young riders who truly understand that this is an NCAA team. This is because joining an NCAA riding team entails early morning workouts, GPA’s that must be maintained, and practices for multiple hours every day. “You will learn a lot about time management between the schedules we have for equestrian and for academics, but it’s worth every minute of it. It doesn’t matter if we’re at practice, workouts at 5:45 AM, or on a bus traveling to other schools meets you can bet we’re having the greatest time and making memories like no other. Isn’t that what college is about anyway?”

Overall, whether it’s IHSA or NCAA, both Grace Hickey and Kennedy Knapic can agree that riding on a college team is extremely beneficial to becoming not just a more well-rounded equestrian but person as well. Hopefully their insight is helpful to any young equestrian making college decisions!

About the Author: Annie Birmingham is an 18 year old equestrian from Long Island, New York. A freshman at Long Island University studying equine management, Annie can usually be found spending time at the barn and grooming at horse shows up and down the East Coast.


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