Though this is a little late, I interviewed two individuals that competed at Medal Finals this year: Megan Griffin-Romeo from New York, and Sara Green.
Both of them were experiencing Medal Finals for the first time, and both were nervous but managed to put aside the nerves and perform the very best they could.
When Megan, 18, found out she qualified for Medal Finals, she was “relieved” to find out that all her hard work and dedication had paid off.
After finding out she qualified, it was on to preparing for Medal Finals.
“It [preparing] was definitely a challenge for me as I left home and my horse behind to begin my freshman year at college. I worked the hardest I ever had over the past summer to help prepare,” Megan said. “Riding without my stirrups has always been part of my daily routine. I knew however that I would have to practice even more. I knew that if I increased the amount of time I rode without them it would help my leg to stay solid and strong.”
Additiaonally, Megan and her trainer set up courses that were similar to past Medal Final rounds. That way, Megan and her horse would be prepared, hopefully, no matter what was thrown at them.
“I also tried to come home whenever I could once it was closer to finals, even if it was just to flat,” she said.
Megan rode her 10 year old Irish Sport Horse mare who has taken her from the 3’ to the Big Eq.
“Of course I think it’s a given for everyone to say that they have the best horse in the world, but I believe I truly do,” Megan said. “She’s brave, confident, and always wants to get the job done. She’s definitely one in a million! This was also her first time at a big final, so I’m so happy we were able to experience it together!”
Megan said she was nervous for “about the four seconds it takes to walk into the arena.”
“Walking in and seeing it for the first time was a little intimidating. I just took a breath, did my opening circle, and instantly felt at home,” she said.
Megan said that she was riding a horse she knew she could always trust, so she was not particularly worried about having a stop or a run out on course. For her, it was more about her horse’s striding.
“The outside three after the one stride caused me to be a little nervous. My horse has a huge stride, so I worried that if I had found a much too forward jump into the three that the line would get tight,” she explained. “Luckily I found a nice quiet spot and it worked to my favor.”
As for what she was most confident about? Megan said she was least worried about the hedge jump since she and her horse had done a lot of hunter derbies in the past.
Obviously, Megan was competing against “bigger name” riders like Kelli Cruciotti, T.J. O’Mara, and Tori Colvin. Megan said while she was intimidated; she also always learns something new watching them ride.
“They make it look so easy and so graceful, and I always find myself taking away a technique that I saw them use or even a slick inside turn that helped them,” she said. “They are all great riders, so it was more intimidating I guess because I was competing against my rider role models.”
Megan had this advice for those who wanted to qualify for Big Eq Finals one day.
My advice would be to never give up. I mean especially coming from my point of view, you’re going to have shows were (sic) you win, and some when you loose (sic),” she said. “The most important thing to remember is that your hard work is going to pay off. I had dreams of going to a major final within my first year of doing the big equitation. I told myself that if it happens, then that’s fantastic, but if it doesn’t, then it’s still okay. No matter what, anyone that makes it to a final got there because they love this sport, but more importantly they got there because they worked for it.”
Like Megan, this was Sara’s first experience at a Big Eq Medal Final. Sara, 17, is from St. Louis, Missouri, and rides with Sarah Mechlin-Duhon of Mechlin Farm.
Sara has only been competing in the Big Eq for a little under two years, and she was unable to qualify last year because of trainer issues. This year, she also had a late start and an eight month break from showing, so she began chasing points to qualify in May.
“At our last show of the season I got the remaining points I needed to qualify. I was so relived and proud of myself for accomplishing what I had first deemed impossible,” she said.
To prepare, Sarah did a lot of “technically challenging courses at home,” a ton of flat work, and “no stirrups.”
Sara said she was nervous – or maybe it was the double shot of espresso she had at 5 am – the morning of Finals. Additionally, she said she made one other big mistake while waiting for her turn to go.
After walking the course and hacking my horse, I watched about 150 rounds. Again, not a good idea,” she said. “It helped to get a good idea of how the course rode, but after 50 or so I should have stopped watching. I could not stop thinking about every little thing that could possibly go wrong.”
Sara said she had an “excellent warm-up,” but while approaching the in-gate, she felt like she had the wind knocked out of her.
“Afterwards, my trainer told me my face was green while I was walking into the arena and she thought I was going to puke,” Sara said.
Sara didn’t really have a specific concern about the course as it was “extremely challenging … but nothing [she] hadn’t seen before.”
She did said the trickiest part for her was the three stride because it was after a long two stride. Her horse, Starsky, had to have his stride reined in a balanced in order to fit that three strides in. Sara said although she was a little concerned about striding, she was most confident in the last combination.
“I have a nice position and it was perfect place to show it off,” she said. “Plus it was last part of the course so it meant I was home free!”
Speaking of her horse, who did Sara ride at Medal Finals? Sara was on Starsky an 11 year old Selle Francais gelding that she was leasing.
“Absolutely nothing phases him and he is an amazing horse,” she said.
Because Sara is still a junior, she will be trying to qualify for Medal Finals again this year. She said that this upcoming year, she plans on becoming more confident.
“The mental aspect is such a huge part of the sport and it is definitely something I need to work on,” she said.
Sara found it intimidating to be riding against bigger name riders, especially because she went in right after Hunter Holloway. Not only was competing against them nerve-wracking, but warming up in the same schooling ring was nerve-wracking for Sara, too.
Sara had this advice for someone trying to qualify for Big Eq Finals.
“Work hard and always be open to learning to new things. If you really want something, you can find a way,” she said.
Sara said she would change just one thing about Medal Finals and the Big Eq in general.
“Experience levels greatly vary in the [B]ig [E]q,” she said. “Age is not necessarily an indication of experience, so it would be nice to have additional equitation competitions for less experienced riders so they can gain confidence and mileage without the pressure of competing against big name riders.”