With USDF dressage regional season getting underway, the Chronicle caught up with one of the Great American/USDF Region 2 championship winners, Pam Heglund. Between a demanding full-time job as the president of Mill Steel Co., and a new family, Heglund, 36, still finds the time to compete Letizia in the Prix St. Georges and Intermediare I.
At the GAIG/USDF Region 2 Dressage Championships, held on Sept. 14-17 in Batavia, Ohio, the pair took the win in the adult amateur Prix St. Georges with a 65.72 percent. Heglund, who is from Ada, Mich., and trains with Laurie Moore, has been riding “Lizzy,” a 14-year-old bay Westphalian mare (Laomedon—Pagena) bred by Wilfried Stute, for five years.
COTH: Tell us more about Lizzy. Did you two click right away?
Heglund: I started riding Lizzy right when I bought her—I was able to take her to a few shows at the end of 2012. We started at third level—it was a disaster.
She’s a very hot mare. I was not used to such power and excitement, I’d say, at the show. She’s a performer, and she shows off. She gets very powerful in the arena—in a good way—and I just wasn’t accustomed to that. She knew she was in the show ring, and she wanted to go down centerline at extended trot, and I just had to hang on. And steering was always an issue. She was always very big gaited. That was new to me.
It was a different ride at the show ring than it was at home. I had to get used to that, and it took me a year to two years to really understand the ride in the show ring and how she was wired. And now I love every minute of it and expect her to be really hot and showing off because I need that in the FEI ring.
COTH: Tell us about your family.
Heglund: [My husband Jake and I have] been together since we were 16. We just had our first baby in January. I rode my entire pregnancy up until the day I delivered him. I rode the day I delivered him.
I was doing one-tempis on Lizzy when I was very, very pregnant. People at my barn were just astounded. I had a wonderful pregnancy. I trusted Lizzy. She’s a doll. We just have a great partnership. She was sweet, and it was awesome. It was fun to go out and ride her while I was pregnant.
Then I had Finn, and I was back on Lizzy within a week and back in the show ring in six weeks. I think I came back so quickly because I rode throughout my entire pregnancy and stayed in pretty good shape. And it helped the delivery and labor and all of that.
COTH: How were you introduced to horses?
Heglund: My mom rode horses and had a tack shop. I grew up with horses. We had horses at our house, and I learned to ride when I learned to walk I think. So I’ve riding my entire life and made that transition to dressage when I was 27.
COTH: Why did you choose to focus on dressage?
Heglund: I had historically been a hunter/jumper rider. And I had done the equitation and had been involved in the hunter/jumper world my entire life, so Lizzy’s my first real dressage horse.
I just fell in love with the sport. I have always loved dressage when I was in the hunter/jumper world, and when I started taking lessons from Laurie and clinicing with high level dressage riders and Olympians, I became addicted. And when I got Lizzy, that was my path going forward, and I wanted to continue our journey and continue moving Lizzy up the levels—and also educating myself and us as a team. I think today we’re a very solid team of me and Lizzy and also Laurie.
COTH: What do you do professionally?
Heglund: I started as an intern at Mill Steel Co. and worked my way up. I was in outside sales for many, many years. I became sales manager and then went on to be vice president of sales and was just recently appointed president. I’ve been at the company 15 years—it’s a family business.
We are one of the largest service centers in the country. And I believe I’m one of the first female presidents of a national steel service center of that size. I’ve done it my whole life, and it’s kind of in my blood now—and it is who I am—and I don’t think of it that way. But I’m humbled by that. I’ve worked with men my entire life—I have an amazing team of people around me at Mill Steel.
COTH: How do you balance it all?
Heglund: We do this as a team. We get up in the morning. We tag-team Finn—his full name is Finnegan. And on Mondays he goes to Bubbe’s house, who is my mom—that’s what Finn calls her. Then the rest of the week we have a nanny come to the house, and she’s there by 7:30, 8 o’clock.
I get out the door, and I go to work. I try to find at least four to five days a week, if I’m in town, to get to the barn. Sometimes I put Finn to bed when I get home, and I might be out at the barn at 10 o’clock at night riding Lizzy.
I just juggle it all, and the most important thing is that I’m there for Jake and Finn. And if I’ve got time at the end of the day, and energy, I will go out and ride Lizzy at night. It’s peaceful and I love it. It’s my outlet and my stress reliever. Lizzy is kind of the last thing of my day, and I can look back and think. And it’s quiet because nobody’s out there at that time.
But then when I’m on her back, the only thing I think about is our relationship and dressage and riding and focusing on that. When I’m in the saddle, I don’t think about anything else. But when I get there and I’m tacking up, that’s when I do reflect on the day.
COTH: Who helps you at shows?
Heglund: My mom has been a huge part of my horses. She’s been an inspiration as well. We do this all together. When I go to shows, it’s me and my mom. She’s always there at ringside.
COTH: What does this win mean to you?
Heglund: I cherish life, and I cherish the opportunity that life has presented me. And I just try to make the most out of it and have so much gratitude for everybody around me.
I guess I’m so thankful for the life that I was blessed with. I work hard at being successful and being driven and all of those things. Obviously I have drive, but I also am humbled by it all. I work really, hard but I didn’t ever expect this to be the life I led.
I am happy with everything—most importantly my son and my husband, and Lizzy is the icing on the cake. That’s my fun part, and that’s my outlet. This is fun. A lot of people take it so seriously. It’s a hobby. It’s not my profession.
Like this story? We’re featuring lots of GAIG/USEF Regional winners on www.coth.com—including a neurosurgeon amateur’s bittersweet win, how North Forks Cardi helped his amateur rider overcome nerves, and more. Read about them all!