Tuesday, Apr. 16, 2024

Lesley Eden Is Using Her Education Well Beyond Young Riders

Her hard work and determination have continued to pay off long after her double gold medals.

Winning double gold medals in dressage at the North American Young Riders Championship will certainly earn you 15 minutes of fame, but life doesn’t end with Young Riders. Lesley Eden accomplished that triumph in 2001, and while her victories gave her a great entry into the professional equestrian world, it was the education she gained along the way that’s proved the most important.
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Her hard work and determination have continued to pay off long after her double gold medals.

Winning double gold medals in dressage at the North American Young Riders Championship will certainly earn you 15 minutes of fame, but life doesn’t end with Young Riders. Lesley Eden accomplished that triumph in 2001, and while her victories gave her a great entry into the professional equestrian world, it was the education she gained along the way that’s proved the most important.

“I can’t ever remember not wanting to ride,” said Eden. “Growing up, there was a stable down the road from my house that offered trail rides, and I always begged my parents to take me riding.”

Eden began taking lessons at age 8 in her hometown of Lake Mary, Fla. Since the stable owner was a dressage rider, that’s what Eden learned. She looked for every opportunity to get in the saddle, and, in addition to her weekly lesson, she worked at the barn on weekends to earn an extra practice ride.

“I was never interested in trying anything other than dressage. I love the precision dressage requires and the process of working up through the levels,” explained Eden.

Her family soon bought a horse, and Eden grew more serious about her riding. At age 14, Eden rode in a clinic with Anne Gribbons, a renowned international judge and Pan American Games silver medalist. Neither Eden nor Gribbons would foresee the long relationship that would result from meeting one another at that fateful clinic.

A year later, Eden had the opportunity to purchase a 4-year-old, Dutch Warmblood gelding (Zuidhorn—Taja) named Picasso. The horse was stabled at the same barn as Eden’s Quarter Horse, and Eden got to know the rangy bay in the months leading up to his sale.

“I wasn’t really looking for a horse at the time; he just sort of fell into my lap. He was a nice mover, and had a good attitude, and he was within our price range,” recalled Eden.

She knew she needed help training her new horse, since he was quite green, and, at the time, she’d never ridden above first level.

“We were both sort of going through that gangly teenage stage. He walked, trotted, cantered and sometimes steered when I got him,” Eden said with a laugh.

Eden turned to Gribbons, who was wintering in Florida. She moved Picasso to Gribbons’ stable, and she and Picasso started working their way up through the levels, working toward Eden’s goal of qualifying for the NAYRC.

“It was an accident of time that enabled Lesley, Picasso, and I to find each other at the right time,” Gribbons said. “We were lucky to find one another; we’ve made a very good team.”

A Difficult Process

Gribbons did confess that in the beginning there were times when she wondered whether the pair would make it to NAYRC. “In the beginning Picasso was difficult and suspicious. He used his athletic body against his rider,” she said.

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Despite her instructor’s concerns, Eden’s faith in her horse never faltered. Because she home schooled, she had time to dedicate to her passion. She and Picasso became regulars at competitions in Ocala, Orlando, Newberry and Wellington as they moved through the levels.

Gribbons said the traits that helped Eden succeed were her dedication and maturity, even at a young age, as well as her natural talent.

“Lesley is so mature and laid back. She keeps working toward goals,” Gribbons said. “She has a wonderful feel for the horses. She gets into their head, and they like to work for her. There are few horses who don’t agree with Lesley.”

LESLEY EDEN

Age: 27

Hometown: Oviedo, Fla.

Competitive Accomplishments:
Team and individual gold medals at the 2001 North American Young Riders Championship; U.S. Dressage Federation Gold Medal; competed in 2002 U.S. Equestrian Federation Intermediaire I Championship.

In 2001, Eden and Picasso earned a spot on the Region 3 team. Just qualifying for the NAYRC at Tempel Farms in Wadsworth, Ill., was an accomplishment for Eden. The thought of winning the team and individual competition hadn’t occurred to her.

“I knew we had a strong team, and we wanted a team medal. I wasn’t even thinking about an individual medal,” said Eden.

Eden and teammates, Gwen Poulin and Courtney Raiser, proved to be a formidable trio, winning team gold despite the fact that both their fourth teammate and their alternate rider couldn’t compete due to injuries. The team had no drop score, yet they turned in performances strong enough to clinch the highest honors.
When Eden won the individual competition a few days later, she was in disbelief.

“Everything just fell into place; all of our hard work paid off,” she said. “The years leading up to the 2001 NAYRC had been full of so many ups and downs as we went through the qualification process; winning was a wonderful surprise.”

A Jumping Off Point

But winning NAYRC was just the beginning for Eden and Picasso. In 2002, the pair went on to compete in the U.S. Equestrian Federation National Intermediaire I Championship in Gladstone, N.J. They continued up the levels and made their Grand Prix debut last year. In their first two outings, Eden earned her U.S. Dressage Federation gold medal.

Gribbons recalled the USDF awards dinner in 2007, where her long-time student was presented with her medal.

“I’ve trained many riders to Grand Prix, but this was one of my proudest moments. What made it special was that Lesley won the gold medal on Picasso, her horse of 12 years, whom she’s ridden from first level to Grand Prix. Because she got her scores and won the medal on him, it made it 10 times better,” Gribbons said.

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Picasso, now 17, has mellowed in the years since the NAYRC, according to Eden. He knows his job, and he’s become more reliable. Eden sees her long relationship with Picasso as an advantage over other competitors. “I’ve had him so long that I know him inside and out,” she said.

In addition to moving up to Grand Prix, Eden spent the past seven years pursuing non-equestrian goals. She graduated from the University of Florida in 2006 with a marketing degree. She was accepted to law school on a full scholarship, but Eden deferred enrollment. As a lawyer, she knew she’d be hard pressed to find time to ride.

Instead, Eden, 27, decided to focus more on riding and training. For the past two years she’s made her living by training horses and teaching amateur riders around central Florida. She lives in Oviedo, Fla., and is looking for a permanent base from which to teach and train.

“I really enjoy teaching because it’s making me a better rider,” said Eden. “It makes me think about what I do in the saddle, and why I’m doing it. It’s fun to teach when you have good students and good horses.”
Eden still rides with Gribbons as often as she can. She tries to coordinate her show schedule with Gribbons so that they attend the same events. That way Eden and Picasso can warm up for their large tour classes under Gribbons’ watchful eye.

“She’s such an amazing teacher,” said Eden. “Anne is very articulate, has a great eye, and she knows how to push you without overdoing it. She always had a plan for where we were going. We always had a sense of direction and goals. Because she’s a judge and a competitor, her students get the best perspective from every point of view.”

The Next Great Thing

Eden also started showing Wenatchi, a 5-year-old, Dutch Warmblood gelding (Idocus—Eclatant). Eden has high hopes for the chestnut gelding, who currently competes at training level. She plans to take him to lots of shows in central Florida to give him more mileage and experience in the ring.

“Wenatchi is such a goofball. He has tons of personality, and he’s very bold under saddle. I think he’s going to progress quickly; dressage is easy for him because he’s built so well,” said Eden.

With Wenatchi, Eden hopes to have her next Grand Prix horse and plans to con-tinue working toward her dream of someday representing the United States on a team. Still eager to continue her education, Eden started taking science courses at a local community college in preparation for her application to chiropractic school.

She first learned about chiropractic medicine as a child suffering from painful migraine headaches. This experience taught her how effectively chiropractic treatments can alleviate pain and improve a variety of conditions. In addition to her interest in health and healing others, Eden also appreciates the independence and flexibility of the chiropractic field.

“I like the idea of owning my own human chiropractic practice,” she said. “Chiropractic medicine can give me the flexibility to ride full time if my equestrian career takes off, but I like the security of having another career to fall back on.”

But horses will always be Eden’s first love, and as long as she can pursue that career path, she will with the help of Gribbons and her supportive family. 

Meredith Woods

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