Kathryn Maynard clearly recalls the moment she broke her hand two years ago, when her horse balked at the second beginner novice cross-country jump at the 2021 USEA American Eventing Championships.
“I felt it break. But I was like, ‘I didn’t drive to Kentucky to jump one jump,’ ” recalled Maynard, who was in her first year of eventing at the time, describing how she finished her round on Reverse The Curse, a then 9-year-old Thoroughbred, with no further issues. She then drove herself to the emergency room, got confirmation of the broken hand, and heeded her doctor’s advice to hang up her helmet for the weekend.
Maynard, 41, Huntersville, North Carolina, is back and out for redemption at this year’s USEA American Eventing Championships in Lexington, Kentucky, this time riding Caballo Oscuro, an 18-year-old Shire-Appaloosa cross, in the novice rider division.
“My expectations are low, but my hopes are high,” Maynard said. “For me, it’s the experience: Who doesn’t want to run around the Kentucky Horse Park and jump into the Head of the Lake?”
The 2023 USEA American Eventing Championships began Tuesday and run through Sunday, with more than 850 horses competing with 670 riders from 45 states and Canada. They’ll compete across 24 divisions, from beginner novice through advanced. Additionally, the USEA Adult Team Championships will be decided as will the $60,000 Adequan USEA Advanced Final, and there’ll be educational activities, including grooming sessions hosted by the USEA Grooms’ Program and open course walks with five-star riders for the beginner novice through preliminary level cross-country throughout the week.
For most of the divisions, participants qualified by finishing first or second in a recognized horse trial. Maynard and “Zi” qualified in April at the FENCE Horse Trials (North Carolina) with a second-placed finish in the novice division. Competing at the AECs this week is the “icing on the cake” for her year.
“For me, it’s the enjoyment of the sport and getting to be with other people who love the sport and their animals,” she said. “I get goosebumps watching the connection that people have with their horses. I’m so excited that I get to be enveloped in that for five days.”
Maynard and her husband have a small farm outside Charlotte, North Carolina, where they keep her horses and several boarders. But her workdays are spent in the classroom, not the barn. She is a special education teacher at Whitewater Middle School in Charlotte.
She has a master’s degree in literacy and has spent her career working with “high needs” students. Her specialty is mathematics, although this year she’s also teaching English language arts.
“I serve a smaller number of kids compared to a general ed teacher, and to me, it’s about building a connection with them and helping them achieve success,” said Maynard, who’s worked for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District for 13 years.
On occasion, she’s even combined her two passions—teaching and horses—by taking her horses to visit the Whitewater students.
She also partners with a close friend to run a pulsed electromagnetic field therapy business that serves the equine community in Charlotte.
She said that while she’s got a full plate that requires excellent time-management skills, as do many amateur riders, her time in the saddle is sacrosanct.
“I’m always prioritizing. And I’ve got three different calendars going three different directions, but it works for me,” she said. “It’s just a matter of making it happen. Riding is non-negotiable for me.”
And it always has been, she said, since she started riding at age 10. She began half-leasing a horse in high school, doing mostly jumper shows, and then got her own horse in college. It wasn’t until 2021, as she was thinking of putting her Thoroughbred “Noki” on the market, that she discovered eventing. She had asked Laura Orlowski, an event rider and trainer who runs McCullough Sport Horse in Gastonia, North Carolina, to ride Noki and prepare him for sale. Afterward, Orlowski instead told Maynard she needed to keep Noki and try eventing with him.
“I told her she was absolutely out of her mind, and there’s no way I would ever run fast at solid jumps,” Maynard said. However, Orlowski eventually convinced Maynard to compete in the starter division at one of the horse trials in the War Horse Event Series at Carolina Horse Park (North Carolina). It was chaos, she said, as Noki threw a shoe and then her zipper broke on her cross-country safety vest, but she found herself hooked on the sport and its participants.
“It’s the community. I think that, for me, sealed the deal,” Maynard said. “These people are amazing. They’re all just so kind and then seeing their connection with their horses. It’s wonderful to be surrounded by those kinds of people.”
The rest is history, and Maynard went on to qualify, compete—and break her hand—at AECs later that year.
Orlowski, who’s competed at the AECs three times and has several horses that she’s bringing up the levels, will be on hand to train, and cheer on, Maynard and another of her students, Cord Flora, 37. He’ll compete with Parfair, a 6-year-old Westphalian gelding, in the beginner novice division. Orlowski said the AECs are a chance for riders, many of whom are amateurs and don’t make their living in the saddle, to experience the thrill of competing on the national stage against the best and brightest in their divisions.
“It gives people a goal marker that’s a really big deal,” said Orlowski, 41, who started riding as a little girl and whose mother was an eventer. She’s an A-level Pony Clubber who has competed through the intermediate level with horses she’s brought along.
“The fanfare of being there and competing in a really big (setting) has all the right feels to celebrate all the right things,” she said, adding that chief among those things is the idea of putting in your time at a level and prevailing before moving to the next one.
“There’s so much of a move-up mindset in the show world. People ask, ‘What level are you at?’ And it’s not meant in a negative way, but it adds to people chasing levels rather than looking for mastery of the level they’re currently at,” Orlowski said, adding that the AECs help riders celebrate where they are. “An experience like being in a pool with the most competitive people at that level, in the country … It’s just a nice way of getting people into a mindset of being super strong at a level.”
Maynard, who plans to move Zi up to the training level at the Stable View (South Carolina) Oktoberfest next month, said she’s eager to continue building their partnership as they make their way in the sport she so quickly grew to love.
“The eventing community is like none other,” Maynard said. “I truly (have) found my people and have never looked back. I literally cry when I explain to people how much I love this horse and this sport.”
Read more on how to follow this week’s AECs here.