Monday, May. 20, 2024

Jennifer Huber Has Never Stopped Learning

She's leading the USDF amateur rankings in two categories, after training with some of the biggest names in the sport.

She’ll humbly tell you that she’s not a talented rider, but Jennifer Huber leads the U.S. Dressage Federation adult amateur standings at Grand Prix and at second level.

“It’s just amazing to me that I can be No. 1 for this moment in the country,” she said.

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She’s leading the USDF amateur rankings in two categories, after training with some of the biggest names in the sport.

She’ll humbly tell you that she’s not a talented rider, but Jennifer Huber leads the U.S. Dressage Federation adult amateur standings at Grand Prix and at second level.

“It’s just amazing to me that I can be No. 1 for this moment in the country,” she said.

Dressage has been nearly a lifelong pursuit for Huber, 40, of Freeport, Maine, although a bucking pony nearly sidelined her equestrian career as a child.

“Giving [that pony] the aid to canter was like giving the aid to do a bucking bronc,” she said. “I was bucked off in every single lesson, and he scared me. I still can’t ride a bucking horse.”

But Huber stuck with horses once she’d moved on to a more suitable mount. As a teenager, she became a working student for Kathy Connelly, then trained with Jane Savoie for about seven years, traveling back and forth to Florida with her. After graduating from Connecticut College with a degree in botany, Huber went to Europe with Savoie in search of a horse.

“I ended up with two horses—a schoolmaster named Zanyo and a 6-year-old Dutch horse named Fleetwood,” she said. “I’d never ridden above first level at that time. I was just a backyard rider from Maine.”

Fleetwood became the first horse Huber trained to Grand Prix. “I just wanted to increase my depth and education,” she said. “It was a very slow process, but I did get Fleetwood to Grand Prix.”

Along the way she had help from Sue Blinks, as well as Susan Jaccoma. Zanyo was eventually sold to a young rider, and with Jaccoma’s help, about seven years ago, Huber moved on to her next project: Al Pacino.

Developing A Partnership

About Jennifer Huber

Home: Freeport, Maine

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Family: Horses Al Pacino and Vito; Corgis Tyler and Kipling.

Personal Goal: To volunteer for literacy. “I hope to organize several hours every afternoon when I go to Florida,” she said.

Indoor Use During Winter: Her sister, Megan, uses the facility with her dog agility group while Jennifer is in Florida.

Huber struggled her first year with Al Pacino, a Hanoverian by Achenbach out of an Azur mare. “I tried to sell him, but it never happened,” she said. “My stubborn side from my pony years came out, and I said I’d just keep him and keep trying.”

The pair, who now top the USDF Grand Prix adult amateur rankings, has also earned the GAIG/USDF Region 8 championship titles at fourth level, Prix St. Georges, Intermediaire I and Intermediaire II. “We’re creeping up on the Grand Prix championship,” said Huber. “We’ve been fourth and fifth—it’s a slow road. I’m so proud because we’ve really developed a partnership, and he’s not an easy horse.”

Competing against her coach Chris Hickey and other top professionals, Huber didn’t pin at the regional
championship this year. “I look at it as a challenge—Al was fourth out of nine, and I believe I was the only
adult amateur [in the class],” she said.

Huber said Al Pacino can get emotional, becoming anxious when he’s under pressure. “I hum to him, and he comes back. I can feel him take a deep breath,” she said. “He’s not a people horse, and when he first came, he was a little wary. Now he trusts me, which makes me happy. I’ve had awesome help, and he has a really good temperament for
training.”

Huber credited Tina Konyot for helping her improve Al’s piaffe. “He understands that really well; he has an awesome little piaffe,” she said. “The passage is hard for him. Now that he knows the piaffe, we’re trying to teach him cadence at the trot, to put more airtime in his trot.

“We’ve taken an ordinary horse, and he’s correct in his basics,” she added. “He’s not a great mover. I don’t think he’s brilliant enough to be an international horse, but I’m learning a ton and getting a ton of experience. It’s slowly getting better, and that’s his only job.”

Her second level standings front-runner is Vito, a 6-year-old Dutch horse. They also rank sixth in the third level standings.

Hickey helped her purchase and train Vito, who had only two months under saddle when she bought him two years ago.

“Chris did a lot of riding the first winter in Florida, and we’ve transitioned to me riding him,” she said. “We did first level last summer and second and third levels this summer.”

Although she said Vito is as sweet as he can be, Huber is also wary of Vito’s youthful athleticism. “I’ve come off him a few times, and I don’t like to fall,” she said. “Last year I’d say, ‘Chris, you ride him.’ This year, I say I’m going to make this happen. I never thought a year ago that I’d be working on pirouettes, that we’d be this far along.”

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A Team Player

Hickey said that Huber has really put her time in as she’s worked her way up the FEI levels. “She’s been able to educate herself very well,” he said. “She’s spent many years riding with good trainers, which has enabled her
to have a well-rounded education.”

When wintering with Hickey’s stable in Florida, Huber enjoys being part of a team atmosphere and pitches in around the barn in any way she can.

“She’s an incredibly hard worker,” said Hickey. “She’s the kind of person who, when she’s at the barn and sees something that needs to be done, she pitches in and helps the staff. She goes above and beyond what she needs to do to help.”

Huber impresses Hickey with her devotion to her horses, which she cares for, from feeding to mucking to night check. When she’s not in Florida, they live with her at her 20-acre farm in Freeport, Maine.

“She knows every hair on their bodies,” he said. “Her horses are her life and her passion. She doesn’t take short cuts, and she gives the horses what they need. She takes her horses very seriously.”

Hickey said Huber plays a big role in making the shows more fun for all of his clients.

“For many amateurs, people enjoy the shows more when everyone feels part of a group, not me against you. When someone needs help, she’s very much there, very supportive of her friends and my clients,” he said. “They like that camaraderie and team effort. It should be fun; it’s an expensive sport, and you spend a lot of time doing it. When everyone’s having fun, when they’re successful and enjoying the journey and path of whatever their goals are, then it’s good for the trainers, the amateurs and [the sport].”

Huber is happy with her niche as an amateur and hopes her rise to the top levels can inspire others.

“Amateurs are sometimes given a shrug because we are amateurs, but we can do well and score well,” she said. “Over the years, if you watch the scores, we are getting better and better. I’m glad to be a part of that. We’re all working so hard and are determined to do as well as the professionals who ride many more horses.

“I really love it. To compete and be in the 60 percentile and right in the pack is thrilling to me,” she added. “I really want to inspire other amateurs to strive for it, because it is possible. I’m not a talented rider by nature; it’s been through learning and doing that it’s happened for me. If I can inspire someone to try again when they’re frustrated, that’s what I’d like to do. When I see someone struggle, I know what that’s like. I remember my roots very clearly and am very happy to have the two horses and be where I am.” 

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