A few years ago, Isabel “Izzy” Baker took a tumble that sidelined her from the saddle for five months. Doctors weren’t sure what was wrong with her at first—eventually she was diagnosed with several herniated discs—so she didn’t advertise details of her injury. She simply told friends she was taking a break.
Baker started hearing rumors and unkind comments. One parent of a friend posted on social media about how ungrateful Baker was to take a break when she had so many opportunities.
“I just thought that if this is happening to me, this is happening to other people,” said Baker, Portland, Oregon. “In the scheme of things I’m a nobody. Can you imagine how much worse this is for other people?”
Baker’s experience prompted her to found The Kindness Movement, an organization to support all riders and encourage civility throughout the horse show world. She reached out to several professionals to build support, and Hope Glynn and Sami Milo were among the first on board.
“I’d never met them before,” said Baker. “They were like, ‘As a professional, this happens to me all the time.’ That’s insane that no matter what level you are in the sport there’s bullying and so much unkindness. We need to do something to stop it.”
Since founding The Kindness Movement two years ago, Baker has attracted professionals like Glynn, Milo, Brianne Goutal-Marteau and Traci Barmen Brooks. People have made encouraging videos for Baker to share on The Kindness Movement’s social media platforms. Baker has recruited 30 ambassadors from across the country who range from Interscholastic Equestrian Association participants to regulars at the Winter Equestrian Festival (Florida). The group sponsored sportsmanship awards at USEF Pony Finals in person in 2019 and virtually this year, and members write “kind cards,” encouraging notes that they leave on random tack trunks. They also award monthly “individual of the month” honors, highlighting equestrians who demonstrate good sportsmanship. Companies like HorseScents, Mane Jane and American Equus have gotten on board to support The Kindness Movement’s efforts.
“It’s been really fun and a great way to connect with so many people,” said Baker, 18.
And this year Baker has been connecting with more people than ever as she’s stepped up her game in the show ring, moving up to the 3’6” equitation and setting her sights on the ASPCA Maclay Final at the National Horse Show in Lexington, Kentucky. It started after she sold her jumper, who dabbled in the equitation.
They called Jim Hagman in search of an experienced equitation horse, and he sent them to Frank Madden in Florida. That’s where Baker first rode Dzsingisz Kan (pronounced “Genghis Khan”), a 14-year-old Mecklenburg (Grandino—Sardane De Peu AA).
“He’s more than I ever wanted and more than I ever dreamed of,” Baker said. “He’s honest and taught me everything I know. He’s the sweetest horse when he’s going around the ring; he wants to please you so bad. He’s got a funky personality on the ground, and he’s a little quirky, but a heart of gold every time he walks into the arena. He’s the most amazing horse.”
After Dzsingisz Kan’s lease was arranged, the horse traveled to the West Coast, enjoying a few weeks of downtime at Molly Brock’s farm before heading to the Desert Circuit with Hagman’s Elvenstar. Baker spent a month in Thermal, California, with the gelding, showing in the 3’3” equitation classes. She was set to move up to 3’6” the final week of competition when the show was canceled for weather and concerns over COVID-19.
Baker spent the beginning of the pandemic at home, keeping her legs strong while riding with Kaitlyn Eigner at Charlton Ridge Farm. In the beginning of June, she packed up and moved from Portland to be closer to Elvenstar in Moorpark, California, and in July she stepped up to the 3’6” equitation.
“It’s definitely been a big change to ride at Elvenstar, but it’s been so amazing,” Baker said. “We have a group of 16 or 17 girls who are all around the same age, and it’s been so nice to have such a big support system in that way of other junior riders going through the same thing. [Jim] runs such a fantastic program; it’s so well organized. He pushes you, but it’s tough love, and I needed that. I’m a pretty timid rider, and I like to stay in my comfort zone. He definitely pushed me out of it to be a rider I didn’t even think I could be.”
Baker knows she’s lucky to have a supportive family that encourages her equestrian pursuits. In the past, she’s groomed and made bows for pony riders to contribute toward her expenses. Her latest venture is called Hipster’s Horse Treats, selling custom-designed treats.
Baker is on a gap year, but she’s taking a calculus class at the University of Southern California, which she plans to attend next fall. Until then she’ll be focusing on wrapping up her junior years with a good showing in Lexington.
“My goal is to be consistent in the ring [at the Maclay Final], which I’ve been working on a lot with this horse,” said Baker. “He’s an interesting ride because he goes the best when he goes kind of slow, but I can’t let him fall behind my leg. So I’ve been working with that balance a lot.
“Getting ready for the Maclay Final has been a whirlwind of emotions,” she continued. “I’m super excited because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. It’s kind of the peak of junior riding in a way. There’s that goal, and it’s also my last horse show on this horse, so that’s sad—and I’m aging out. It’s bittersweet.”