Life is Not Over When You Become an Amateur

By Ashley Shaw


Many riders seem to count down the days of their last junior year and dread becoming an amateur. We juniors associate the switch to amateur rider with being old, going off to college, and the general decline of our riding careers. While I used to believe all of this to be true, I began to notice that I am surrounded by amateurs that not only like their status, but seem even happier and more relaxed than the surrounding junior riders.


To discover the secret of amateur tranquility, I interviewed amateur riders Amanda Shaw and Tory Van Uithoven. Shaw competes in the 3’3” and 3’6” Amateur Owner Hunters and will attend the University of Kentucky as a freshman this fall. With her undergrad complete, Van Uithoven competes in the Medium Amateur Owner Jumpers and the Adult Jumpers. In addition to the amateurs, junior rider Emma Dubinsky answered a few questions about her final year as a junior and explained her apprehensions regarding her amateur transition this fall. Dubinsky primarily rides in the Big Equitation classes and will be a freshman at Carleton College in coming months.


For Shaw and Van Uithoven, riding in the competitive equitation divisions is what they miss the most about being junior riders. Shaw, “enjoyed the extra challenge the equitation courses presented,” as the “preciseness and control and the pressure,” was a nice change of pace from the Junior Hunters. At the same time, Van Ulthoven articulates the ability “to ride in my own style and not what judges want or expect” as an aspect of the amateur divisions that is appreciated by both riders.

Tory Van Uithoven and her horse Cricket competing in the Medium A/O Jumpers during Summer in the Rockies at The Colorado Horse Park. This pair was champion Week II. Photo courtesy of Shaw Sisters Photography.

When asked what she will miss the most about being a junior, Dubinsky stated that she will miss the intensity created by the constant showing as she, “wouldn’t have traded it for any other type of high school life.” The high pressure of being in the junior ranks can be exhilarating, but the fact that many amateurs are “competing simply for fun and because they enjoy it” is a notion that Shaw thinks some of the participants in junior divisions could learn from. Van Uithoven is of the same opinion, claiming that she likes being an amateur better because “as a junior there is so much pressure on you and as an amateur I don’t really feel it anymore.”


Dubinsky anticipates the biggest difference in being an amateur will be the decrease in equitation classes, but she gives it a positive spin and plans to “use this as an opportunity to branch out and try some new things.” The hardest part of being an amateur, according to Van Uithoven, is “trying to juggle limited time off work with all the horse shows,” but so far has been able to make it work. Although Shaw and Van Uithoven state that their goals have not changed much as amateurs, Dubinsky’s goals will be different because they will no longer focus on qualifying for year-end shows. She hopes that one day she will be able to ride and show regularly enough that she can qualify again. Similarly, Shaw wishes she had been able to show at Indoors more and Van Uithoven regrets not doing equitation finals. But, they are still moving towards competing in International Hunter Derbies and Grand Prixs, respectively.


A rider’s last junior year is frequently the time to go all out with showing, and Shaw did exactly this. Attending every national show possible for her, she “had two of the best rounds of my life at Devon and Maclay Regionals,” moments that will never be forgotten.


Dubinsky has followed suit, thrilled with the experience of competing alongside the some of the best young riders in the nation as she states, “I’ve had some amazing experiences this year that will give me memories for a lifetime.”

Emma Dubinsky competing in last year’s ASPCA Maclay Equitation Finals at the CP National Horse Show on her horse VDL Zingaro H. This pair took eighth at the 2016 Maclay Regionals in St. Louis. Photo courtesy of Shaw SIsters Photography.

To lend some advice to riders becoming amateurs this year, Van Uithoven wants to remind riders that “There is life beyond the junior ranks!” and as Shaw puts it, “Your amateur career is as amazing or as disappointing as you want it to be.”


For the many riders that begin their last junior year this fall, Dubinsky leaves these words of wisdom: “Have fun and live in the moment…I spent so much of my junior career worrying about qualifying for this or that, or simply feeling the pressure to win that I didn’t take much time to step back and appreciate the uniqueness of what we get to do.” When the intensity of showing gets too high, remember why we are in this sport: our love of horses.


Our years as junior riders are fun and hectic and pressure-filled, but the excitement doesn’t have to end on December 1st. Riding as an amateur may not be easy with college and work, but that has never stopped any determined rider from getting out to the barn. In fact, the decreased stress of the amateur divisions can do wonders for one’s riding, as simply taking a breath and relaxing improves thought process and can benefit your horse’s mood as well. Have the most fun possible your last junior year, but don’t fear becoming an amateur. There are still many goals to be accomplished.

About the Author: Ashley Shaw is a senior at Lafayette High School in St. Louis, MO. She trains with Shannon Hicks and competes in the Junior Hunters and Junior Jumpers, and her goal is to qualify for the Devon Horse Show next year. Outside of riding, she enjoys photography, cooking, and hanging out with her retired horses.

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