One junior’s take on being a competitive junior rider…

Guest post by Naya Shim of The Upward Transition. Check out my post about competing as an Amateur on her blog!

As I slowly creep up to the age 18, it’s starting to hit me that I will no longer be a Junior rider anymore. With two years under my belt, I periodically think about what it’d be like to ride and show after aging out. I have a handful of Amateur riders at my barn who I can watch at shows, and all I can think about is, “Is that what I’ll be like?”

Whether you’re chilling out in Hunterland, still turning and burning in the Jumper ring, or even riding for leisure and taking a break from the show ring, even though you might be on the younger side of the Amateur status, I feel like it still makes a lot of riders feel old. Why? Because the door with all of those opportunities open to you as a Junior rider has now closed behind you.

I can say I’ve only been a competitive Junior rider for a little less than two years now. But before that, my riding days as a Junior had been spent at lesson barns with lesson horses/ponies, in-house schooling shows, and camp. Riding once a week, wearing my animal-print gloves, and schooling tights (Absolutely no-shame in this phase though. I had a ton of fun!).

I started “pretty late” in my riding career. I never got the chance to do any pony divisions, wear the braids and bows, and follow that “Pony Finals Dream.” Though once I started competitively riding, I realized that opportunities are basically endless for Juniors.

From riding 5 times a week, to leasing, to buying one’s own horse after a year, owning multiple horses or one, catch-riding, being a working student; there are plenty of directions to go as a Junior. I’ve seen riders that have started later than I, who look flawless in the 1.25m Jumpers or getting started in the Big Eq after just doing the 2’6-3’ divisions for a year. I’ve also seen riders that have been riding ever since they were at the age of 5 who are competitive in the 3’ divisions. Everyone progressed at a different pace.

As a Junior in the showing world, though, it’s competitive. Like, very competitive. The equestrian sport is unique because most of your career is already built up during your youngest years. I’m not too familiar with the Western disciplines or Dressage, but in terms of the Hunter, Eq, and Jumpers, you have anything from Pony Finals, the Big Eq Finals, THIS Medal Finals, M&S Finals, Junior Hunter Finals, USHJA Derby Finals, Zone Finals, NAJYRC (Young Riders).. there are so many different goals you can set for yourself. But after you age out, that’s it. Most of these get crossed off the list.

In terms of training, I personally feel that Juniors have it the “roughest.” In other words, the business and competition within the Junior riders itself is at the max. From no-stirrup lessons, intense flat-work training, to different over fences exercises, it’s all about the practice. Time is something that is limited for most adults, which is something that us younger riders have a little more of.

But don’t we all wish we had a little more time?

Lesson Recap: August 23, 2015

Monte after our lesson and an EcoLicious Bath on Sunday!

Monte after our lesson and an EcoLicious Bath on Sunday!

Sunday’s lesson began with the usual walk/trot/canter warm-up. We did serpentines at the trot, again working on straightness which involved me keeping Monte out in front of my leg. A straight horse is a forward horse. After doing serpentines, we also did spiraling in and out on a circle in both directions, which was much improve from last time. After those warm-ups at the trot, we cantered in both directions and then got to work jumping.

First, I cantered a small cavaletti to warm up. Monte sometimes tends to over jump when he first begins jumping, and he was “wild” when my trainer rode him the day before, so we started small and simple. He was great for the first time, so we added another element. Going off the left we jumping the cavaletti and then went to a crossrail. He was perfect for both. My only issue was that I allowed him to open a bit too much to the crossrail so he got a little “quick.” However, I realized my mistake, which I tend to be very good at.

After that exercise, I picked up another cavaletti going off the right. Monte tends to pick up the wrong lead going off the right (we are still working on lead changes), so I started with an opening rein over the jump to help give him the idea that he needed to pick up the right lead coming off the jump. This got the message across and most of our jumps were good. He picked up the right lead, and we had good distances. One thing I have to say is that he was extremely quiet, so it was definitely a huge leg workout.

Finally, after taking a walk break to allow him and me to get a breather, we started the exercise we worked on last week which was the six stride line, trotting in and cantering out. This time, we worked on straightness, which was a slight issue last week. However, I am happy to say I was much straight this week, and we didn’t have any problems breaking to the trot in the middle.  First we took it off the left, and then we took it off the right. The right is Monte’s hard direction coming to this particular element because there are chickens that live in the upper corner of the ring by the back barn. He tends to get distracted by them (all baby stuff that will be worked out eventually), so I had to really work on keeping his attention. Although at one point, I did get 7 strides in the 6 stride line, my trainer said she was okay with that because the 7 strides was organized. Our last jump of the day, Monte was again a bit distracted because there were people walking around the ring while he was jumping, but we got the 6 strides and chose to end on that jump because I was able to get the job done despite his lack of being focused.

In an effort to remain positive, I am going to highlight what I did correct during my lesson.

  • My trainer has been extremely complimentary of how straight my upper body has been. I used to ride like a hunchback and with crotch hands. While it is not perfect, she continuously says every lesson how much better I’ve gotten since I started riding with her, which was only 4 months ago.
  • My trainer told me I had a beautiful trot, hack-winning trot at all times. Monte was really moving off my leg, staying straight, and lengthening/shortening when I asked him to. Additionally, he was really seeking the bit and coming into contact, which was fantastic.
  • I am finally not afraid to “ride at” my horse, which is a great thing, especially when I have a quiet, sometimes lazy, horse like Monte. I used to be afraid to really put my leg on and ride at my horse, but as time has gone on, and as Monte and I have become a team, we’ve begun to understand each other. Yes, we have work to do, but I feel us improving every time I ride.
  • One of my biggest issues is riding my best when I have an audience, which is hard especially because I show. However, at this particular lesson, I had a lot of on-lookers. Instead of staying focused outside the ring on who was watching me, I stayed focused on my job in the ring and on my horse. I did not have nerves or anxiety, and I rode my best, which is a personal best for me. One of my biggest reasons for never showing was because I had “stage fright,” and I really have begun to get over that problem.

Overall, I had a great lesson. Monte and I are really growing as a team, and I am extremely happy with the progress we made. We will be showing at a fair in Pennsylvania Labor Day weekend, and I am super excited to do both equitation and hunter classes on him! As always, I will keep you posted on our progress and how the show goes.

Five things a green horse has taught me

Guest post by Christa Myers.

Five years ago, I was first told “green and green, make black and blue.” Skip forward about 5 years and that statement never came to fruition, but I have learned lessons from training Ashira that are just important. Firstly I just want to say, a green rider and a green horse often times do not work out like my journey, and I highly recommend working with a trainer or your coach if you do have a green horse.

Ashira's first day trying to load to go home.

Ashira’s first day trying to load to go home.

Patience. Above all my mare has taught me patience. The first three days of owning her consisted of attempting to get her on a trailer. If there is one thing a chestnut mare can do is be stubborn. All. The. Time. When I first got Ashira , I planned to be showing the next year; however our training went slower than anticipated, and it was a couple years till we were ready.

Doing something right is better than doing something quick. Luckily I went into training Ashira thinking to take things slowly and that I needed to teach her something correctly before moving on. When doing anything in life, you need to finish something before moving onto the next step. (See mom and dad, horses did teach me something) Life is like Legos: You need a block underneath you before putting a new one on-top.

Third PhotoFood is the way to the heart. My mare loooooooves food. Put food in front of Ash, and she magically becomes the worlds best horse.

Need to give a shot? Give Food.

Want to get on the trailer? Food.

Wish to have cute photos? Hold food in hand while attempting to hide it from the camera.

Ultimately: when there is food, there is a way.

Fourth PhotoHard work pays off. While trying to teach something new to Ashira was always hard, when it finally clicked, the feeling was amazing. All the hours spent working hard is always rewarding, so never be afraid to work hard for what you want.

Fifth PhotoTraining is not a linear process. You may be thinking you teach walk, trot, and then canter, but that’s not how it goes. Often times when Ashira and I would try something new (like being in frame), something I taught before went out the window. Literally.. it went out the arena windows at the speed of sound. When I first asked Ash to be collected around a course, her leads disappeared for a while because she was so focused on using her body, she obviously couldn’t change leads too! Once she was using her body, she had to learn how to get her leads again while using body correctly.

Sixth PhotoTrust goes a long way. I whole-heartedly believe Ashira and I would be nowhere near where we are if we didn’t trust each other as much as we do. And I don’t mean putting her hoof on my head trust. I mean believing when I ask her to do something she will because I wouldn’t ask her to do something that could hurt trust. So take time to go brush your horse, walk around and love on them. It will totally reflect on your undersaddle work.

I absolutely loved training Ashira, and I wouldn’t trade that experience for a show-ready horse anyday. However there were days I came home from the barn in tears because I was so frustrated with myself. But the days that everything clicked were worth those days two times over.

Barn drama: 4 tips to help you deal with the inevitable

Barn drama. We’ve all had it, and we’ve all (well most of us) have been in the middle of it. From jealousy, to broken friendships, to being irritated at the girl that’s always considered “the favorite,” it’s usually inevitable that you’ll be caught in it.  Unfortunately i’ve been caught in a lot of drama in the past, and yes, I will be man enough to say that I may have caused some of it. But I was young and very immature. I’ve grown a decent amount since then, so I would like to share some advice now that I’m old and wise (Okay.. I’m only 17.. don’t take me too seriously) on how to cope and push past roadblocks with your fellow saddle club members.

  1. Confront the issue. Sometimes silence is worse than noise. If you have an issue with someone you need to tell them. Now, this doesn’t mean going up to a girl that you don’t get along with and saying “hey I just wanted to let you know your eq sucks and I hate you.” (PLEASE DO NOT DO THIS.) What I mean by “confronting the issue” is sharing how you feel about situation. For example, someone borrows your tack and doesn’t clean it. Instead of gossiping to your barn friends about how rude it was, confront the person saying something along the lines of “hey, I know you’re busy and it probably slipped your mind but next time you borrow my tack can you please wipe it down?” (Or.. “hey, can you not use my tack?“) Politely confronting the issue will keep the peace at the barn and keep your mind at ease.
  2. Talk to your trainer. This may be difficult and pretty intimidating but talking to your trainer can solve a lot of the issues, especially if you’re shy or nervous about directly confronting someone. Also, sometimes situations are bigger than your Tailored Sportsman Breeches and need to be handled through professionals. I have a well-being rule; if a horse, or person is put in danger or their well being is at stake go to your trainer. (Editor’s Note: Of course, if your trainer is causing the drama (this does happen), then refer to #1)
  3. Stay out of it. I have a very bad habit of letting people drag me into situations I don’t want to be involved in. If you feel yourself being put in an uncomfortable position, walk away. Don’t give negative opinions, whether you were asked. It’s really hard to tell one of your close friends to stop involving you in drama so if you feel like that’s happening look busy. Seriously! Pick up manure in the ring, brush your horse, sweep the aisle, etc. Make yourself distant to the situation so you won’t be involved.
  4. Coping with rude comments. Here’s where I get personal: I’ve had a lot said about me in the past, and sometimes I would feel so extremely hated that I didn’t want to ride anymore (Editor’s Note: This has happened to me, too – and probably most of us). A lot of it was lies, and a lot of it was me being myself which was too strong for some people. I will admit I was young and definitely said some stuff I shouldn’t have, but no one deserves to feel like they’re nothing. I was basically pushed out of my last barn, and it really hurt considering I spent four really awesome years there. I was heartbroken, but I picked myself up, dusted myself off, found a new barn and a new situation, and moved on. Sure there were tears and strong feelings toward people but after a while you get over it and you realize that no ones negative attitude toward you should matter.


When being an adult gets in the way of being an Amateur rider

Written by Nicole Lootsma.

An unfortunate reality of being an adult Amateur is the inevitable fact that sometimes life gets in the way of riding.

As a young adult, I’ve become pretty good at managing my time to juggle multiple demands including a full time job, apartment, boyfriend, dog and of course my horse! I’m fortunate that I have a very supportive partner that is able to step in and help out with cooking, cleaning, and walking the dog so that I have time to fit in my riding and lessons after work.

I have recently been working hard with my coach to prepare for an upcoming dressage show. I did not show last summer due to Riley’s back injury and decided not to show my regular circuit this year to allow for a boost in my savings account (another adult amateur problem – budgets!! Ugh.) so I was very excited about the prospect of getting back in the ring this August. Leading up to the show I was confident in the progress that Riley and I have been making, and we were finally prepared to conquer First Level, Test 3 – a test that involves canter loops which we’ve been struggling with as Riley was previous trained as a hunter and was very eager to show off his flying changes! It had taken me several weeks to physically and mentally prepare for this show, but we had put in a lot of work, and I was feeling great!

No sooner had I sent the e-mail to the show coordinator with my entries when my boyfriend called me over and indicated that something had come up which would require us to be out of town the weekend of the show. Although disappointed, I understood the importance of the conflicting priority and called the show coordinator to cancel my entry – thankfully I didn’t have to forfeit any fees. Initially I was quite frustrated that I had put so much time and effort into my preparations for “nothing,” but I was quickly able to take a step back and appreciate how far we had actually come in our training while preparing for the show. Although we lost out on the opportunity to receive feedback at the show, I couldn’t deny the fact that Riley and I had shown some tangible progress in the past several months which was a direct result of our hard work and something to of which to be very proud. We are now in a great place schooling Second Level and looking forward to new opportunities to show again next summer.

Despite every effort to plan ahead, life is always going to throw you curve balls. The best thing I can recommend is to try to treat each obstacle as a learning opportunity and search for the silver lining of the situation as best you can. I’m extremely grateful that I have a job that allows me to support my riding, but I also recognize that riding as an Amateur means that sometimes I will have to put riding on the back burner for a moment in order to address other priorities. Everything in life requires balance, and it’s easy to become discouraged or feel guilty when things come up that distract you from your passion. Don’t feel bad and don’t give up!

Life is a journey, and certainly never boring – enjoy the ride!