BY HELENA GLOVER WEISS
The arduous life of a junior rider requires extreme commitment, but the transition from a junior to an amateur needs much more. Taylor St Jacques, the 2017 winner of the Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunt Seat Medal Finals, shared her experience at a panel at Ohana Equestrian Preserve in Aldie, Virginia, along with a pool of other freshman amateur owners, Makayla Benjamin and Abby Grabowski. Their insight on the junior to amateur transition, college equestrian teams and managing school with riding proved helpful to the hundreds watching via live stream and their quietly curious audience.
Taylor attends Auburn University, a school well known for their equestrian team and rides with their National Collegiate Equestrian Association (NCEA) program. While she was committed to Auburn as an equestrian, Taylor received admission due to her studious habits and time management. She noted that “Managing time needs to be something that’s in your head always, starting young, because it gets harder as you get older”. Taylor also stressed the important theme that when it comes to riding and school, schoolwork always comes first, as horses will be there forever, but school is only temporary. Mackayla, who attends Sweet Briar College, pointed out that in college and high school “academics are what keep you in that sport”.
She suggests thinking of riding as an incentive, that when homework is done, the horses will be there waiting for you as a reward. As an online student at the University of Maryland, Abby noted that school deadlines require ones attention as a priority, so that you have the time to give 100% in the ring.
On the transition from junior to amateur, Taylor compared it the process of pony jockey to equation star. “You start up here, then your at the bottom again.” Laughing she noted that, “My last horse show as a junior I was up here on my high horse, then I go to the amateurs and now I’m a nobody!” She taught that you are at level one again, but you have to remember the momentum that you had, and to continue working just as hard.
Each rider also chimed in about their own search for their perfect school and college riding. When looking for one, Taylor stressed the importance of a college’s seasonal camps in order to feel the atmosphere of the school and help one’s decision process. Mackayla highlighted the importance of looking to see if your college has the degree you want before taking the scholarship, and Abby chose online school in order to successfully manage academics as a working student. And when translating each riders’ fervor as a junior to college riding, Taylor warns that “If you’re not 110% invested in the team, nobody is going to want you there.”
These riders’ dedication to the sport shows to be of relentless and abiding material that hopes to instill an aide for others following the same route. Whether it be riding as an amateur, junior, or pony jockey, they all suggest learning to laugh at your mistakes and to work with diligence. Taylor encourages that “It’s not talent, it’s how hard you work, how much you want it.”