BY SUSAN GILSTRAP
When we think about top AA horse shows or prestigious circuits, what are the thoughts that come to mind? Do we imagine a typical, rich junior rider who has tutors and is not willing to ride anything but a 6-figure warmblood? Maybe there are even rumors of them blaming the horse or trainer after an unfortunate ride.
I know I had my preconceived notions of what junior riders were. Unwilling to tack up their own horse. Leaving everything to the groom. Buying anything with Daddy’s money. I pictured them only concerned with weekly nail appointments, or the most fashionable trendy riding attire.
Where does that leave our attitudes towards juniors overall? Are we left to make these same assumptions with all junior riders? Are we to label this generation as lazy, ungrateful and spoiled? There must be some exceptions to the rule.
Being a teenager is tough. They’re constantly changing both emotionally and physically. My teenage years were before we had cell phones and social media dominated our every move. Sure, we were concerned with what our peers thought and how we dressed, but we found solace in our group of friends.
To push past my pre-conceived notions of junior riders, I began paying closer attention. I see a close-knit group of friends who support each other. They help each other get their hair just perfect, record videos of their friend’s rounds and cheer for extra measure. I see them huddled in the cold at shows, laughing at whatever teens talk about these days.
Sure, they wear riding clothes I’d love to own, but they are the most down to earth teens. I’ve never seen one give attitude when the trainer asked for no stirrups. They work on getting their legs getting stronger or working on form. They hold each other’s horses at shows, and help each other get tacked up. They care for their mounts and on a hot summer day, they don’t just jump off and hand the horse to the groom to deal with. They take their time and hose them off, let them graze and still clean all of their tack.
Even with all the privilege, nothing is handed to the successful juniors. They take riding seriously at home and at shows. The juniors I know have great horses that take them to championships on the local circuit, and don’t balk at what their horses can’t do. They jump at the chance to ride different horses, and I can see this makes them such strong, confident riders. They suit up, show up, and want to keep learning.
Yes, I believe they have talent, but it’s hard work and determination that gets them there. These young groups of ladies aren’t afraid to put in the time, because they simple love (and live!) for riding. They love their horses, and it shows.
Sure, their phones are attached to their hips, but I’ve experienced nothing but encouragement and politeness from the juniors I know. I’m a nervous Adult Ammy by nature, and when I’m in a lesson with juniors one of them will cheer me on. You can do it! This means a lot, especially since I admire their perfect equitation and seemingly endless bucket of courage. My own form looks like I’m riding a 3-legged camel.
At my barn, it’s not uncommon for a junior to ask me if I need help putting my bridle into a figure-eight after I’m done cleaning it. When I had an appointment right after my lesson and had to leave early, it was one of the junior riders that untacked and cleaned my horse up for me. When I was their age, I was never as courageous or outgoing as these young riders. I never could think outside my own self to be this helpful towards someone else. I was just too painfully shy.
I think teenagers get a bad reputation, but what I’ve learned from them is contrary to what society has labeled them as. I learn from them both in and outside the ring, and I hope to be a little more like them when I finally “grow up.”
Susan spends her time riding when she can as an Adult Ammy and lives in Dallas, TX.