This year marked a new experience for my daughter, Katie, her horse Rock Star, aka Caspian, and me. Katie’s performance at Regionals qualified her for the 2016 ASPCA Maclay Finals in Kentucky. So many junior riders today dream of qualifying to compete at Finals, whether it is in the USET, Pessoa, Maclay, or Washington, but the road to Finals is long.
Besides the difficulty of qualifying, the decision to go was almost as difficult. So many things were factored in to making our decision: the financial expense, the pressure, whether to take our very green horse, and Katie missing school being just a few of the concerns. Ultimately, we decided to make the trek out to the Kentucky Horse Park to see how things worked at the Maclay Finals.
To say that just getting to compete was the experience of a lifetime would be an understatement. So many kids show all year, trying to qualify for the Finals, and still will never have the opportunity to get there. Katie took her young horse, knowing it would be a learning experience for both of them, rather than leasing a horse that was seasoned and already there. Neither of us regret that choice. Both Katie and Caspian learned a lot. The Finals did not go as well as Katie would have liked, we all learned so many things for the future, making the trip worth every penny we spent.
I took a moment when I returned to highlight just some of the things I learned while I was there, in hopes that we will return next year.
- While every big-name rider/trainer in the business was at this show, they all have to put their pants on one leg at a time. Everyone we met was friendly and professional.
- The Kentucky Horse Park was a fantastic place to horse show. I would go back anytime, but next time I am bringing my own horse to ride around on the show grounds. I was very jealous when the kids got to hack out on the cross-country course.
- I should have been in the race horse business. The thoroughbred industry in Lexington was beyond amazing. The thoroughbred farms and Keeneland Race Track were showplaces. We were lucky enough to get to look at some famous stallions and Hill and Dale. What an amazing experience – I’m so glad we took the time to explore outside of the horse show.
- The riding times for the kids at the Maclay brought back memories of competing at the Stock Show when the schooling times were crazy. Schooling at five in the morning, then riding again at ten or eleven at night is hard for everyone, including the horses.
- The pressure of was tough. I have stood at the in-gate at competitions ranging from schooling shows to IEA and IHSA Nationals. Nothing compared to the intensity of standing there looking at that course as my child walked through the in-gate.
- I think I learned more from hanging out in the warm-up ring and watching other professionals ride and teach than anywhere else I have been. To say we are isolated in Colorado is a true statement. As trainers, we need to work harder for more opportunities to learn. I brought back a plethora of exercises to set at home and told my riders to be prepared! We have set a few already and I am seeing a huge improvement in our work at home.
- We absolutely need to push our equitation riders by challenging them with tougher and more technical courses daily, both at home and at the shows. What we see here locally is not enough to prepare our riders for other opportunities.
Although it took me a few days to recover, I have to say I would do it all over again. I know that Katie is already planning (and hoping) for a trip back for next year, and working on plans for her collegiate riding career. I have come home with a lot of ideas to help improve my program and to push our CHJA riders into the next generation of competition.