Friday, May. 26, 2023

Ringside Chat: ‘Soul-Searching’ Leads To Career Change For Former 5* Eventer



Ashlynn Meuchel once dreamed of competing at the world’s biggest five-star events, but this year her goals have shifted. Now she hopes to compete in a Saturday night grand prix, and she’s aiming to do it with her former five-star eventer Emporium.

Meuchel and the 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Cartano—Upana, Opan) got their first five-star completion at the 2021 Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill, where they picked up two stops. Meuchel hoped to better their performance at Land Rover Kentucky the following spring, but their day ended early when they had a fall at the Head of the Lake. The fall resulted in the gelding getting his foot caught in his tack, and veterinary intervention was needed to safely remove him from the course. While “Theo” suffered no major injury, the incident did make Meuchel question whether her heart was still in eventing.

“After Kentucky I had to do some soul-searching and really decide what I wanted to do,” she said.

At the same time, her client Peter Berk had expressed interest in getting into the jumpers and purchased her Zhardas Kil, an 11-year-old Swedish Warmblood (Chacco Blue—Charis Q) to compete.

“With that horse being brought in, I kind of thought, ‘Theo’s always been a very good show jumper,’ so I just thought, ‘OK maybe I could have two at a very high level, and that would be pretty fun.’ ”

While Meuchel, 28, took Theo to two events after their fall at Kentucky, she ultimately decided to leave upper-level eventing behind. The pair competed in their first regional standard grand prix at Fox Lea Farm (Florida) in October and have shown up to 1.45 meters so far. Though her personal competition goals have shifted, Meuchel hasn’t left the eventing world entirely. Her clients at Ashlynn Meuchel Equestrian in Anthony, Florida, are primarily eventers, and she’s competed a young horse up to novice.

“I still have a foot in it, but for my own competitive goals, I’ve changed,” she said. “But I still like helping people event. I still like teaching baby horses their first few things, that kind of stuff.”

Ashlynn Meuchel and Emporium competing in their first regional standard grand prix at Fox Lea Farm (Fla.). Forever Photo Company Photo

Can you talk about that decision to step away from upper-level eventing and move to show jumping?

After Kentucky I felt so lucky just to have Theo still, because it was quite scary there. We didn’t know what was going to happen. I felt like I was given a gift a little bit to still have him and to have him hardly need any recovery as it turned out. I turned him out for a bit, and he was like, “All right, let’s go back to work.”

I actually did go back to eventing. I went out to Montana for the four-star [at The Event At Rebecca Farm] last summer. Again, he was not super at the water and did a big ol’ heel grab, and for the first time I wasn’t able to trot up on Sunday.


After that trip, the wind was a little bit out of my sails, I think. After Kentucky, there was a big accident at Badminton [England], and the whole summer I just observed a lot of accidents still happening. I was in a position to have two nice, going, sort of upper-level show jumpers, and I thought maybe that was something I wanted to pursue.

It just seemed like that made a lot of sense to me. I had to do some soul-searching. I spoke to a sports psychologist and all of those kinds of things after it, and I had to look at what I really wanted to do. And I still love eventing, but it’s with a little bit more experience I guess.

I couldn’t accept the risk level for my horse anymore [was] kind of what it boiled down to. Having had him walk away and be OK, I feel a little bit like I’d been given a gift; let’s not squander it.

Having not lost him that day, I was like all right, what do I really want to do here? It’s easy when you’re kind of wrapped up in it and on the hunt. You’re all in in that way. Being forced to take a step back was an interesting way to gain a lot of perspective.

What’s switching to show jumping been like?

It’s been interesting for sure. I’ve learned a lot so far. In the fall we kind of got right going and jumped a national grand prix down in Venice [Florida] back in October. [We] had some poles down obviously, but we still got it done, which was exciting. As far as the winter circuit, it was interesting trying to figure out how to get him to peak for the show jumping, because I had to figure out how to prep him and how to get him really good. It was kind of a different ball game than what I did with the eventing. I jumped some 1.30 [meters] and a couple 1.35s and a couple 1.40s over the winter with him, so it’s been fun.

The courses are quite a bit more technical obviously, and it’s a different sort of mindset and different fitness level, and all those kinds of things have been interesting to learn about on the go.

Can you tell me about your other show jumper, Zardas Kil?

He got here from Ireland in the end of July. He had jumped a lot of 1.40s in Europe. He’s been great. He really knows his job, and it’s been fun to learn from him and gain from his experience. [He’s] jumping at the same level: 1.30, 1.35, 1.40. And it’s cool having two obviously—you get good twice as fast.

Are there specific things you’ve learned throughout this process?


Obviously show jumpers are much more accurate. They have to be for show jumping bigger jumps, so I’ve definitely learned a lot about being more accurate and a lot about the differences that it requires to be more technical and how to jump better. The repetitions in the ring are so much higher when you go to show jumping because you go to a show for a week, and you’re in the ring probably three or four times, so you get a lot more repetitions. Just learning how to be in the ring and use the ring and that kind of thing has been interesting as well. And then how to prep a horse and how to condition it and all of those things have been interesting, educational pieces too.

I’ve had show jumping lessons with quite a few people now, and [they say the] same thing: They want to see my position quite a bit different than it would be for eventing. In the eventing show jumping, they kind of want me to sit in a different place, and [show jumpers] go with the horse a little bit more.

Are there specific people you’ve been working with in show jumping?

I’m sort of looking around to see who I want to have help me. I’ve worked with Kirk Webby for years. He’s a New Zealand show jumper. He’s down here in Ocala as well, and he helps a lot of eventers. I was lucky enough to go ride with Anne Kursinski down in Wellington [Florida] for a weekend. That was really cool. I kind of float around a little bit. There’s so many people. My coach from eventing, Clayton Fredericks, he’s switched a little bit into the show jumping too now. I had a lesson with him the other day to get his thoughts on doing more show jumping as well.

Ashlynn Meuchel and Emporium at their five-star debut at the 2021 Maryland 5 Star. Kimberly Loushin Photo

What differences have you noticed in training for pure show jumping versus eventing?

The biggest thing I’ve noticed is that our event horses that go cross-country and gallop, when you send them forward, at least in my experience, their stride gets huge to go cover the ground. And the show jumpers, when you send them forward they accelerate—their step doesn’t get bigger, it stays much more the same, which obviously makes sense for the show jumping. But [now I’m] trying to educate the one who’s been trained to, when I put my leg on, go flatten out and go gallop, to kind of stay together a bit more for the show jumping. That’s probably one of the biggest things I’ve noticed.

For me, a big piece of my education was learning to ride forward to an accurate distance, instead of just, a little bit on cross-country we just ride forward and get it done. Kind of erasing the distance that you see when you’re galloping at them and having to figure out see the still riding forward one, but not the gallopy cross-country one, has been a tricky thing to learn, but it’s been interesting.

What are your goals looking forward?

I want to keep trying to move up the levels in show jumping as well. The big goal is to jump the [World Equestrian Center—Ocala] grand prix classes on Saturday night. But the more I learn, the more I learn I have a lot more to learn. The summer circuit is coming up here at WEC, so I’d love to keep going in the 1.40s and kind of see where we end up.

Coming from the top levels of eventing, it’s interesting to relearn and see where the top level of the show jumping sport truly is.



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