Success at NAJYRC

Success at young riders
I had the privilege again this year to be a coach at the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships in Lexington, Ky. Every year this is always so much fun, not only watching riders I have developed challenge themselves in a major championships, but also to reflect on my own journey through the program. It is also great fun to see many of the peers I competed with, coaching their students, and so we pass on the torch!
This year, Kaitlin Blythe, my working student for the last year and a half competed her horse, Daverden ( Dylan). Kaitlin has been training Dylan for most of his life, buying him when he was 5 years old. Through many MANY hardships, this kid carried on the belief she could make him a champion. He was to say the least, quite a bit naughty. She has fallen off over 100 times, been seriously hospitalized with a broken jaw, and has many hilarious stories of how she has hit the dirt. We have talked about how she made it through that fear of knowing the misbehavior was coming and how she kept a clear mind and learned to prevent it. (I have always found sport psychology fascinating). Through it all, she kept on keeping on. She made it to Gladstone a number of times, and just continued to believe in him and ride her pants off.
This year was Kaitlin’s last year as a young rider. She qualified as the anchor rider for Region 1. I remember the pressure I put on myself when it was my last year and was a top qualifier coming into the championships. Oh the want to succeed, how it drives us! All I wanted was to win a medal and have ” my big break!” Well it didn’t happen for me exactly how I wanted it to ( but did lead the team to a silver medal) and I remember how disappointed I was in myself. What made me so very proud of Kaitlin was her focus (something we have worked on) and cool competitive edge. Her composure blew me away. Let me give you a little background.
Dylan is a handsome Han gelding, but has a very strong feral instinct. Our biggest challenge of the last year and a half has been to ” tame him and put him on the bit!” As some of you may know, putting horses on the bit is a major part of my training program. Sounds pretty funny, but you would be surprised how many people out there are attempting to show the FEI with horses not through or “on the bit” as I say. Anyway, he not only has a terrific spin and bolt, he was also very afraid of horses coming at him, can’t catch him in the paddock sometimes, and is just very quick to move sideways. No major rearing or bucking, but man is he quick, and he pretty much does everything else under the sun to dislodge the rider. I mean now he is much better ( I’m sure age has something to do with it as well as perseverance from Kaitlin) so the rogue behavior is very far and few between NOW, but he was a handful. The moral of Dylan’s story, is even a very normal moving, sometimes very naughty, horse can become every bit as great as the fancy easy straight forward horses out there. It comes down to RIDING! A little quote from my mentor, Charles de Kunffy, ” this is a riding sport, not a horse-ing sport. We must learn how to ride!” This talented kid took this horse with short front legs, kind of a U necked, an old suspensory strain, fairly rank horse and rode so beautifully in balance and harmony she ended up 5 & 6 th in North America!!! This is what this program is all about. It’s not about price tag, it is about riding talent, focus, preparation, doing your homework, putting your time in, health management of your horse, HARD WORK, sweat, tears, laughs, belief, and clarity.
I cannot even hardly express how proud I am of Kaitlin. She wanted a medal more than anyone, but she never let her focus wander from just riding her ride. When I was younger, my mom ( best show mom ever) would tell me right before I went in, “just ride your ride” and let me tell you, that is REALLY hard to do! 🙂 Kaitlin never over rode, she didn’t push too much, or try to push her horse in to being something he wasn’t. She focused and concentrated on riding every moment to the best of her ability. She took the time to think about her half halts, his frame, his best way Dylan should be presented in the test. What a wonderful example of maturity. I always say to my students, ” you are excellent every day because we work hard at that, so at this show, you do not need to be any more special than you are every day. Just go in and ride how you ride every day. When you can get a 7 on every movement, you can get a 70%. Just focus and ride how you know how to ride.” So to all of you out there, I wish for you to work on your daily excellence, because why not just be great! Happy riding!

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