I’ve been at Capital Challenge all week every year and I’ve always sat and watched the WCHR Professional Finals class. I’ve even been involved as a presenter of awards because I’m on the WCHR board. Every year, I think ‘Wow, wouldn’t it be great if I could do that class.’ But I don’t think that I ever thought it could be a reality.
But I’ve been plugging away at trying to improve my riding and improve the quality of horses that I ride. A big challenge for me is working with my nerves and trying to keep all that under control at big horse shows.
Then on Aug. 1, Lisa Arena texted me a picture of the national standings, and I was leading the national standings. I went from so excited to so nauseous and nervous in 30 seconds.
I ended up coming into Capital Challenge in second, because John French moved up above me. I was slightly relieved about that because everybody says that armband that you have to wear as the leading rider is a total curse. So I can’t say I was disappointed when I slipped to second. But I am so thrilled to have qualified for the Pro Finals.
I started to think of “How did this happen?” I’ve watched this class for so long, and I’ve watched Scott and Liza and Peter and John and Louise and all of those top riders. They’re all people I’ve looked up to and respected and wanted to emulate. It’s still not totally sunk in for me that I’m doing that class with them. Even though I’ve won a lot of things, I still feel like I’m climbing the ladder.
It’s made me really think about the whole process. I wasn’t a famous junior rider who showed in Florida every winter and had a string of horses that went to indoors and Devon. I’m the daughter of a professional [Mitch Steege], so that certainly came along with some advantages, but I never owned my own horse.
I just keep looking back and thanking my parents for showing me all different side of the sport. We trail rode our ponies and went to hunter paces and rode on the beach. We didn’t ride a lot in the winter; we did more school activities. They helped me get all the opportunities I could as a junior. Then I start to think of all the customers who helped me in the beginning.
I was lucky enough that one of my dad’s customers, Cindy Hendelman, who owned One In A Million, or Spanky. She let me show him my last few junior years, so I was able to do the junior hunters and the equitation. I did him in both, and I did Devon and Harrisburg and the National Horse Show and all of that on my one horse, pretty much with just my dad’s help. Bill Cooney and Peter Wylde helped me a little, but I wasn’t riding at some barn where I was having all kinds of different lessons and showing a string of horses. I catch-rode here and there, but I wasn’t Kelley Farmer or Nick Shahinian.
After my last junior year, I went to Boston College. I really didn’t ride much; I had one customer, Kate Hunt, who used to pick me up from college at the end of the week. She had a really nice young horse and I’d ride and show him for the weekend and then she’d bring me back to college. She paid for me to have dressage lessons and did so much for me.
I feel thankful to all the people who believed in me, helped me and supported me along the way. I just want to try and convey to other young professionals that it takes a lot of hard work and determination, with trying not to get down on yourself on the bad days, but that it is possible to get to this level and to do these classes. Especially now that they have the Emerging Professional classes, it’s going to be even better and easier for those people to get to showcase their talents and attract customers. It’s certainly not the easiest business in the world, but it can be done.
I’m looking forward to the whole thing. It seems like there’s a lot of camaraderie between the riders who do the class and I’m already feeling that. As much as we’re competing against each other, it’s almost like we’re on a team. I love to ride horses, I love to show horses, and I think it will be challenging for me, but exciting too.
It’s a little bit of a different format this year. It’s the top six from the national standings; we each draw a donated horse for the first round, and then we draw another horse for the second round. Those are horses we’ve never ridden. Then, the third round is a handy, but you bring your own horse for that round.
I’m going to ride Susan Darragh’s Zidane, who I competed in the derbies and the high performance division. I have a lot of experience doing handies on him and he’s very good at them. I think he will handle the atmosphere of the class well. It’s going to be late at night, so I had to sort through my head “which horse is going to be able to come out of their stall at 9 at night and school under lights, walk down that ramp and into this ring with a lot more action and activity that night.” I showed him at derby finals this year and he handled that and I feel confident on him in the handies. That part I feel good about. So it’s a little bit luck of the draw—who’s going to get two horses that suit their style the best? I’m more relaxed than nervous now, and can’t wait.
A trainer specializing in hunters, jumpers and equitation, Amanda Steege operates Ashmeadow Farm  out of Far Hills, N.J.
Read Amanda's blog from after the class , too!