At the conclusion of the USHJA Emerging Athletes Program National Level Clinic, two riders, Richard Neal and Carly Anthony, were named the winners after displaying exceptional leadership, horsemanship and natural talent over the weekend.
“Ricky and Carly are both very natural riders—very soft and fluid, and horses like them,” said Melanie Smith Taylor. “They’re fighters, but they’re quiet fighters. They handle the pressure with a cool head, and they ride beautifully and effectively.”
Neal, Pasadena, Calif., hopes to make the Zone 10 Young Rider team this year and move up to grand prix. He said that participating in this clinic meant a lot for him and offered him a chance to learn and grow towards becoming a professional.
“Ricky was one of my favorites from the very beginning as he possessed such natural talent, but I wasn’t sure how much of a horseman he was or wanted to be,” said Taylor. “As I watched him throughout the three levels I saw huge changes in his desire to become a complete horseman, and that was what was most important to me. He came up to me after the awards ceremony and told me that this program changed the direction of his career.”
Anthony, Redmond, Wash., is a freshman at the University of Georgia where she competes on the school’s varsity equestrian team. She felt that her experience in the EAP helped her to realize how much she still needs to learn.
“Being a talented rider is only 1/10th of what makes you a great rider and a great horseman,” she said. “The EAP has motivated me to try harder.”
“As Carly progressed, I saw changes she was willing to make to help her become a better rider,” said Taylor. “She also developed the curiosity and motivation to learn more about horse care and horse management.”
The participants were put into three teams of four today, Jan. 10, and contested a Nations Cup style competition that allowed the riders to showcase their skills and what they learned this weekend. Team Sapphire—Alexa Anthony, Arden Cone, Molly Osier and Neal—emerged the winners after two rounds, the only team to end the competition on zero faults. Team Authentic—Amelia McArdle, Elizabeth Kenny, Nelson Bierwith and Hayley Barnhill—finished second with 8 faults, and Team Fein Cera—Nick Gegen, Matt Wildung, Kathryn Haley and Carly Anthony—were third with 15 faults.
At the press conference following the awards ceremony, many of the riders expressed how much being part of a team meant to them, and that the competition today was the highlight of the weekend.
“A lot of people lose sight that when you get to this level it’s not an individual sport anymore,” said Carly, Redmond, Wash. “It was a challenge to find the team mentality, but we all came together and supported each other. I’m very proud of the rest of my peers for riding the best they could today.”
“I really wanted them to feel the camaraderie, yet pressure, of riding on a team in a Nations Cup format,” added Taylor. “I was thrilled to hear them say it was one of their most memorable moments of the weekend, having that level of team spirit.”
Other riders pinned working with Mindy Bower on Friday, Jan. 8, as their favorite session.
“Working with Mindy on the exercise we did with lowering the horse’s head [really impacted me],” said Neal. “My horse was nervous, and with such a simple motion, her eyes softened and her neck muscles relaxed. Watching the change in my horse was really a change I’m going to remember and something I’m going to definitely use.”
“I wanted to get these riders to know what really is acceptable and what isn’t,” said Bower. “I want these people to have a little more independent thought and think about what really is good for the horse. The goal is to try and change things a little bit.”
“I decided to bring in Mindy Bower, who I believe is one of the best horsemen I know, because she really cares about what’s important to the horse and its welfare and is able to translate that information to others,” said Taylor. “It’s more about making a difference in the horse and helping him perform in a relaxed and happy manner. I was most pleased that all of the riders loved working with Mindy and realized that this is information they rarely have a chance to learn.”
With education being the main focus of the clinic, it was no surprise that all of the riders ended the weekend with new tools in their toolboxes, and some of them noticed that the clinicians themselves might have picked up a few new tricks as well.
“One moment during Mindy’s session, I looked over and saw Peter taking notes,” said Arden Cone, Landrum, S.C. “He’s such an incredible rider, and knowing that he’s going back to the groundwork and still learning truly made an impact on me.”
“[I hope these riders realize] how much there is to learn, and how you will spend your lifetime learning as much as you can, and you won’t even know half of it,” said Julie Winkel, who volunteered her own Maplewood Stables and organized the horses for the clinic. “At the end of it all, it’s the journey, and it’s such a fabulous life with horses.”
For Taylor, the success of the weekend was a dream realized, and she is hopeful that the participating riders will not only ride onward to success, but that they will share what they have learned and encourage other riders to participate.”
“In life, we want to give back in some way. To give back to a sport we love and the horses we have a passion for,” Taylor advised the riders. “Give back to the riders and the people in your life, and give back to the horses.”
“If they can make this world better for the horses, then we’ve done our job to help out as much as we can,” said Winkel with a smile. “They are our future in this industry, and we are responsible for shaping them.”
The two winners of the Emerging Athletes Program will receive 30 days of training from a professional who is yet to be determined. Dates for the 2010 Emerging Athletes Program clinics will be released in the near future. For more information about the EAP, please visit www.ushja.org.