When Marisa Metzger was a junior rider, she wasn’t making trips across the country to compete in things like USEF Pony Finals or the indoor championship shows. The Los Angeles native had to wait until she was 30 to show in her first major championship, but when she got there, she did it in a big way: Metzger took six horses to Lexington, Kentucky, last month—four for the Platinum Performance/USHJA Green Hunter Incentive Championships and two for the Platinum Performance/USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship.
“For 10 years, derby finals has been my riding career goal,” she said before the championship. “I was supposed to come last year, and then it got canceled with COVID. Then I sold that derby horse that I had, so I wasn’t sure if I would have a horse to compete this year.”
She ended up having two to ride in the derby: her own Cavito 2, a 12-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Clarimo Ask—Victoria II) and Ashley Rheingold’s Caville, a 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Lux—Trista). They were 14th and 25th in the derby challenge class, respectively.
With one goal completed, Metzger now hopes to qualify some of her horses for the indoor season and, after that, the 2022 derby championships.
We caught up with the young professional, who is based out of Laurie Jueneman’s Snowfield Farm in Parker, Colorado, to learn more.
Tell us a bit about your junior riding career and how you got started with horses.
When I was 9 years old, I started riding in three-day eventing at Cory Walkey’s Mill Creek Equestrian Center in Topanga, California. It was a huge riding school with 30-plus horses and miles of trails to ride on. I rode through training level successfully before I decided that I wanted to try hunters and equitation. When I was 14 years old, I started riding with Leslie Steele and competed in the equitation and children’s hunters. I had horses until I was about 15, and then I showed borrowed horses.
Why did you decide to become a professional rider and trainer?
When I aged out of the junior ranks, I wasn’t planning on being a pro. I didn’t have much financial support the last couple years as a junior. For those challenging last two years of my junior career, I was blessed to ride at Jim Hagman’s Elvenstar, in Moorpark, California. He really took me under his wing. After I graduated from high school, I groomed for that summer and then decided that I was probably done riding. I went to college in the middle of nowhere and discovered I missed riding. I found a barn near school and started commuting there. One thing led to another, and I ended up pursuing this. Now I cannot imagine doing anything else!
Who’s been instrumental in helping you become a professional?
I’ve been really fortunate. From 2009-2016, I worked with Sue Lightner at Lightacres Stable in Modesto, California. She put a lot of time and energy into me, and she taught me everything she knew. In 2016-2017, I worked for top hunter rider Havens Schatt in Lexington, Kentucky, and I learned about operating at the top level of this sport. I also got to horse show, which was amazing. Now I’ve landed at Snowfield Farm, and Laurie and I have an amazing partnership. I’m so lucky.
How many horses do you have at Snowfield Farm?
Snowfield’s owner, Laurie, is a professional, too. At home, we have 45 horses. We [had] 17 horses competing in Kentucky [during the Bluegrass Festival], and we had six ponies competing in the U.S. Equestrian Federation Pony Finals. We’re busy. We have a great group of clients at Snowfield. We couldn’t do this without our owners, and I am eternally grateful to them.
What’s your favorite part of being a professional?
I love to teach and help people (kids/adults) learn how to ride. I get more nervous for my clients to show than when I show! My favorite part of my job is developing young horses. I’ve been importing young horses for the last seven years, but I’ve pursued it heavily the past two years. At Snowfield, we have a great group of young horses that we’re developing at the farm now, and I’m excited about their futures.
What’s the hardest part of being a professional?
For sure, the amount of hours you put in. You have to love it; people have told me that my whole career. It wears on you sometimes, but then something good happens, and it makes it all worth it. Then the lack of sleep and hours you put in feel worthwhile, and you repeat the process. It’s a humbling sport, but that’s what we all love and hate about it. No day is ever the same. Sometimes even the same day can become a completely new day or adventure.
Do you have any advice for riders who want to become professionals?
Just keep knocking on the door—I remind myself of that every day. Patience is the No. 1 asset for any rider. Nothing happens overnight.
Do you spend a lot of time showing on the West Coast, or do you come east a bit for different circuits or Florida/indoor finals?
Where we show depends on the horses, their goals, and our clients’ goals. Snowfield gets to do a little bit of everything—[Desert Circuit in Thermal, California], local shows in Colorado, and then we also come to the East Coast. That’s the beauty of Colorado—it’s close to everything and the same amount of far to everything else! I’ve gotten very good at 20-hour drives—that’s how long it takes to reach shows in California, Kentucky and Texas. Eight hours of traveling is nothing now!