The Puzzle Pieces of a Junior Career

BY TPH MEDIA CHAIR ESTELLE KRAFT

My childhood winters consisted of a few things – American Idol on Wednesday nights, sledding in the backyard and puzzles when it was just too cold to go outside. Now in my senior year of high school I look at my life as a puzzle. Questions of “Where are you planning to attend school next year?” regularly pop up amongst family and friends like pieces of my puzzles that I haven’t found yet. I have been riding for 11 years, and the journey that I have taken is similar to my current position in life. As I begin my last junior year, I look back at my initial riding career as a puzzle that has slowly been solved. Each piece has been found with the help of someone (or something) that has made me the equestrian that I am today, through the many obstacles that I have overcome.

Setting warm up fences for Leah von Henkle at the Del Mar Horse Park.

The piece that started it all was found by, well, my best friend, Honor Pickus. We used to spend our afternoons riding bikes over fallen broomsticks pretending we were jumping a course on our play-pretend ponies.  Honor inspired me to begin riding because I could see the joy that it brought her, and I wanted that as well. I started with lessons and eventually half-leased a medium flea-bitten grey named Fiesty. With every missed distance on one of the pickiest ponies I’ve ever ridden, Feisty taught me how hard the ground actually was. I will never forget the endless summer days we spent at barn camp, finger painting the white school horses.

From left to right – Honor Pickus, Fiesty and myself. My first schooling horse show at Fields and Fences in Illinois.

I started at a local barn half-leasing a well fed cross rail pony — the next piece in my puzzle. Lil’ Joe taught me that at horse shows the ribbon color did not matter, as long as you learned something after weekly lessons full of smiles and laughter. I may have spent most of those lessons endlessly kicking against his side trying to pick up any forward gait, let alone getting over a cross rail, but the positive support made it so the failed efforts didn’t matter.

Lil’ Joe carrying me around Showplace’s pony rings.

After about a year I moved to an ‘A’ show barn Lorrie Canady’s Galway Farms and leased a medium super-star pony, Helicon’s Bright n’ Breezy whom I showed in the Children’s Pony division. Between no stirrups and flat patterns, Breezy helped me become the rider that I am today because of our assistant, Jennifer Kruger’s weekday flat lessons. When Jennifer decided to switch disciplines to dressage, I was lucky enough to cross train with her learning Intro I and II dressage, another surprise puzzle piece that I didn’t expect but enjoyed greatly. At this point in my riding career my parents experienced a financial change, and Lorrie kindly gave me a working student position. This is one of the most critical pieces in my puzzle because Lorrie put more trust into me, as a 14 year old, than anyone had before. Her confidence in me has given me the work ethic I have today.

Breezy being champion (yet again) at Showplace with Jennifer and Lorrie.

In the summer of 2014, my world was changed for the better. I moved to California with my family, and since then have met and worked for some of the most incredible horsemen on the West Coast. These pieces of my puzzle quite possibly have been the most surprising to find, but the most rewarding to fit in to that shell of an outline.

The first of these pieces was found at a local horse show jogging ponies for a trainer I had never met who eventually set me up with a working student position at my “home” barn. I worked for Leah von Henkle for roughly three years, and learned the way of the West Coast. My next pieces were found in Coachella Valley where I got the opportunity to help the Sonoma Valley Stables team competing at HITS Coachella for a few weekends. I worked with Jenny Iverson and the Equus Foundation, where I met Kristin Hardin who allowed me to join her team at the Sonoma Horse Park for two weeks of working and showing. So many talented and passionate equestrians have put blind faith into me and given me countless opportunity out of the kindness of their hearts. It’s the reason I have an almost complete puzzle today.

Accepting the Equus Foundation’s championship in the “Woof Cup” alongside Kristin and Jenny.

 

My new-found Northern California family – Tyler, Kristin and Zacko Hardin and Alex Ireland.

As I reflect on my last junior years I think back to the different people who have made my journey here. These trainers and horsemen have set me up for my future as an equestrian, which I am forever thankful for. Looking back at the different pieces that have made up my puzzle of my junior years, I find it incredibly interesting to think about the little things in and outside of the ring that have made me the person I am today. This whole picture makes me extremely grateful for the opportunities that I have been given and the people that I have met.