Friday, Mar. 1, 2024

Our Top Riders Inspire The Rest Of Us

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But every level is important for a robust and healthy sport.

We hear a lot about the top of our sport, and there’s no question that the top is critical. We have to support this small group to the very best of our ability and in any way we can. They represent us in all divisions across this continent, Europe and the world.

The first group that comes to mind when we talk about the top of our sport is the jumper riders, the people and horses who represent us in Nations Cups, the World Cup, the World Championships, and of course the Olympic Games.

However, each division has their own “top.” In the hunters, those are the people winning the international hunter derbies, the World Champion Hunter Rider awards, and championships at the most prestigious shows like Devon (Pa.), Capital Challenge (Md.), the Pennsylvania National, Washington International (D.C.), and the National Horse Show (Ky.). These are professionals, amateurs and juniors.

In the equitation division we have the ribbon winners in all the national championships such as the Pessoa/USEF Medal Finals, the ASPCA Maclay Finals, the USEF Talent Search Finals, and countless other events. Even in the ponies there are top riders who win the coveted pony championships at all the qualifying shows as well as at the USEF Pony Finals and the USEF Pony Medal Finals.

Most of us who started out in this great sport as young children dreamed of winning the finals, being champion at one of the major shows in this country, and, of course, we were all secretly sure we would represent the United States at the Olympics. These dreams kept our interest and passion alive.

We Need Role Models

And, more importantly, it was the riders at the top of our sport whom we watched, studied, idolized and learned from. We dreamed of being as good as they were some day, and we studied their riding and followed their careers in order to do just that.

I watched George Morris, Rodney Jenkins, Joe Fargis, Michael Matz, Melanie Smith Taylor and Katie Prudent every chance I could and for countless hours. These were just a few of the people I watched and studied when I was young and starting out. I also remember watching Cynthia Hankins in the equitation, Charlie Weaver in the junior hunters and Marianne Steiert in the ponies—again, just to name a few.

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My point is that the top of our sport is absolutely critical to help us maintain certain levels and to provide examples for all of us. We cannot and should not ever lose this level of excellence, and we have to do whatever we can, whenever we can, to ensure that the top continues to exist and that it maintains absolutely the highest level of quality.

A Level For Everyone

But there’s another side to this story. We’re all active in an incredible sport. We have the privilege to work with horses in such a way that we truly learn to understand how they think and behave and how we can live and work with them. We’re lucky enough to learn from this experience any time we ride, compete or just spend time around our horses.

It’s up to us, as a group and as a sport, to make sure we make this opportunity available to as many people as we can. This means we have to reach out to people of all ages, abilities and financial means.

We hear a lot today about the problem of “watering down” our sport. There’s no question this is a real issue, but it’s not an easy problem to solve. It’s very important that we get together and talk about how to best take care of all levels of our sport. We need to provide the highest level of competition possible to help our top riders continue to excel and teach us by example. We also have to be sure we’re keeping the level of competition high enough that we are keeping up with the rest of the world. The level of our riding and our understanding of the horse has to continue to rise.

That being said, it’s equally important that we create and maintain a level of competition that allows as many people as possible the opportunity to come into our sport. Our largest group involved in this sport by far will probably never make this top tier of riders or this high level of excellence. Most of us are limited in what we can attain for many reasons. We may have limited talent, limited time or limited resources. Many people in this day and age come to the sport late in life and just don’t have the time to catch up. Some of us may not have the competitive drive necessary to make it to the top. Fear itself can be a stumbling block on the way to reaching the higher levels.

What’s important, however, is that we’re all out there taking part and learning and enjoying ourselves as we do.

Build The Sport

As a teacher, and more importantly as a competitor, I truly enjoy being part of the sport at the lower levels, in the easier divisions, and especially over the lower fences. I take great pleasure in being able to train and ride in interesting classes over lower jumps at nice horse shows if and when it fits into everyone’s schedule. I don’t miss the feeling of having to move up, having to go to particular shows, or especially having to qualify for certain finals. I appreciate the new sections and special classes at horse shows that allow me to be part of the action at a level that I enjoy and also over jumps set at a height where I’m comfortable.

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These new opportunities are pushing me to continue in the sport and allowing me to start nice young horses as well. This is a good trend for our sport, and one that I’m enjoying. I don’t think I’m alone. If we’re introducing people to horse showing or allowing them to continue with their horse showing, then I don’t think we’re doing it wrong.

Along with this comes a responsibility, and I think this responsibility belongs to all of us. We need to start at the top and work our way down. As teachers, if we have students who are talented, then we need to push them beyond their comfort level. We need to stress to the highest degree possible of excellence and discipline. If and when our students outgrow our expertise, then we need to push them on to the appropriate next steps.

In our governance, we need to create opportunities that push the appropriate people to the top. These opportunities need to include as many talented people as possible, regardless of means. We need to supply the highest level of competition possible, as often as we can, to push those with the necessary talent.

As individuals, we need to support people and horses who have the talent, drive and opportunity to reach the top. Together, we need to push as many people as possible to the top, and to support those who are already there.

Once we have the best of the best achieving their goals, working at their highest capacity and representing us well all over the world, and we have supported them to the best of our ability, then we can continue our dreams and show at the level we are comfortable with.

At the same time, we’ll be able to offer new people opportunities to get started in our great sport. And when the next real talent appears at this level, we can help them start their push to the top.


Geoff Teall, of Wellington, Fla., trains in the hunter, jumper and equitation divisions—with an emphasis on amateur and junior riders—and shows in the professional hunter divisions. An R-rated USEF judge, he has presided over the Pessoa/USEF Medal Finals, USEF Pony Finals, USEF Pony Medal Finals and prestigious shows such as the Washington International (D.C.) and National Horse Show. Teall also co-founded the American Hunter-Jumper Foundation and serves on the Board of Directors of the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association.

If you’re a Chronicle subscriber, you can log into www.coth.com and read all of the Between Rounds columns that were printed from 2010 to present.

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