My First Equitation Finals

Campbell Hudkins. Photo © Anne Gittins

BY RENNIE DYBALL

Three junior riders tell us how they made it this far – and how they plan to finish strong.

Fall is a special time for riders. It’s that sweet spot in between fly spray and blankets. A fresh new season, a time of promise and change. But for top junior riders, Fall is also punctuated by a major horse show milestone: equitation finals.

The Plaid Horse spoke with three juniors who are all preparing for their debuts this fall. Despite forging different paths to get there, they all share the same, admirable goal: To put in the best round they can and enjoy the ride.

Campbell Hudkins. Photo © The Book LLC

Campbell Hudkins, Age: 12

Trainers: Stonehenge Stables, Beacon Hill, and Windsor Show Stables 

Equitation horse: Canterbury, a 12-year-old, 18-hand warmblood leased from Maverick Helmer whose barn name is Fruit (though his nickname is “Dinosaur”). Says Campbell: “He’s the largest horse in the barn but he’s so gentle and takes great care of me.” 

Other horses: “I lease a jumper, Andretti, from Madison Goetzmann. He’s just awesome. He took me from the .85-meter at the start of WEF to the high children’s by the end of WEF. I’m so grateful for him. He’s a big confidence-builder.” 

How long have you been riding?

“Since I was two. My aunt [Christine McCrea] would lead around a pony with all the retirees and I would just hold on for the ride. There was no looking back!”

What’s the transition been like from ponies to horses?

“I’ve always been tall for my age. I did the small ponies for a year and mediums for a year and a half. I never did the larges. I just went to horses, because at 5’7″ I was too tall. The transition from ponies was a lot easier than I expected it to be. The first horse I leased, Margot, was the sweetest. She would never hold a mistake against me. I started doing the low children’s hunters with her.”

Which final(s) will be your first this fall?

Campbell Hudkins. Photo © Anne Gittins

“I’ll be doing the Taylor Harris medal final at Capital Challenge. I also qualified for the USHJA Jumping Seat East medal at Capital Challenge and the NHS 3’3″ medal in Kentucky.”  

What do you like about the equitation?

“You always have to prepare properly to do your best. It’s based on you. And honestly, it’s just fun. The pressure makes me work harder.”

How have you been preparing for the finals?

“We hired a really great woman, Lindsey Bailey, to help with all of the training when I’m home in Connecticut. Lindsey coordinates with Krista Freundlich to make a plan each week. I have focused a lot on lateral work with Fruit. Haunches in, shoulder in, those help him loosen up and get ready for jumping. At least once a week, little cavalettis and cross-rails. Then we do one day of 3′ or 3’3″ courses.”

What are you most excited about for your first finals?

“I’m just excited to experience it. I’ve never been to Indoors. I’m excited to meet new people and I trust in Fruit that he’ll take care of me, so I’m really just looking forward to having fun.” 

What are you nervous about?

“The jumping seat medal because it has a lot of components – flat, gymnastics, and jumping. I get stiff while flatting sometimes, so I’ve been working with Lindsey on loosening up.”

Campbell Hudkins. Photo © The Book LLC

How do you control show nerves?

“For me, the nerves come from always wanting to have a good round. So, before I get on, I always go by myself in the stands, no trainer and no parents. I go over the course in my head. I say it out loud, and then I close my eyes and imagine myself doing it. Helps every time.” 

Do you hope to do more equitation finals after this year?

“I just did my first 3’6″class in Kentucky with Fruit. He was amazing. Long-term, I’m looking forward to competing at a 3’6″ final.”

What are your thoughts on competing in equitation finals at such a young age?

“To me it seems like an achievement to do the 3’3″ medal finals at such a young age. Really it just seems like a great honor and experience to get to do it as a 12-year-old.”

Any specific goals for finals?

“I’m just looking to have smooth rounds. Good position, flow with the horse.”  

Have you given any thought to how riding will fit into your life beyond your junior years?

“I actually think I want to be a professional. I want to follow my aunt and uncle’s footsteps and have this as a career.”

Ashley Scofield. Photo © The Book LLC

Ashley Scofield, Age: 17

Trainers: Tina Judge-Boyle and Lori Hollands of Judgement Farm; occasionally Don Stewart as well

Equitation horse: Watermark, a 10-year-old, 17.1-hand Oldenburg gelding. “He’s the sweetest guy in the world. So cuddly—he’s just awesome,” says Ashley. “He was in the big eq for a few years. He’s been teaching me a lot about how I should be riding up to the fences and different turns I should be making.”

Other horses: Her own 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood, Maker’s Mark, who she’s shown in the children’s and junior hunters.

How long have you been riding?

“Ten years. I showed in the pony ring for two years before moving to horses. Then I did the children’s, 3’3″ juniors, and about 5 months ago I got Watermark, my first equitation horse.”

Ashley Scofield. Photo © The Book LLC

Which final(s) will be your first this fall?

“It will be my first time doing Maclay regionals and the USEF/Dover Medal Finals. Last year was my first year doing the equitation and I did the IHJA Junior Medal Finals and I was second at the NCEA Medal Final.”

What do you like about the equitation?

“I love the equitation because it prepares you to move up into the big jumper ring. Coming off a hunter into the big eq teaches you how to be super accurate and know where your track should be to each and every fence.”

How have you been preparing for the finals?

“At home I’ve mostly been preparing with a lot of no stirrup work and flat work. Just making everything accurate, super smooth and quiet. We don’t jump that big at home. It’s mostly working on strengthening myself.”

What are you most excited about for your
first finals?

“For the Maclay, I’m just super excited to experience everything at a big medal final. For all the prep to get to this point, and have it shine at the end.”

What are you nervous about?

“I’m most nervous about going in there and getting it done. Trying to not let my nerves get in the way and trying to stay calm and cool. I’m trying to remind myself that it’s my first year and I’ve already accomplished so much.” 

How do you control show nerves?

“Before I go in the ring, I take a deep breath, hold it for three seconds, and let it out. Then I whisper to myself, ‘It’s okay, I got this!’”

Any specific goals for the finals?

“Not necessarily. I’m just hoping to lay down best round I possibly can. To learn from the whole experience and come back next year even better. I’m hoping all my prep and hard work can really shine at regionals to make it through to the finals.” 

Other goals for the remainder of your junior career?

“Right now it’s mostly just the equitation, but I hope to be doing the junior jumpers pretty soon. I’d love to eventually do a Grand Prix.”

Have you given any thought to how riding will fit into your life beyond your junior years? 

“I hope to continue riding at the college level – I’m super excited about that. Beyond that, I do hope to do this professionally.”

Maranda McCarthy. Photo © Andrew Ryback Photography

Maranda McCarthy, Age: 17

Trainer: Gretchen Anderson of Apple Knoll Farm

Equitation horse: Stand By Me (barn name: Brady), a 16-year-old, 17-hand Hanoverian gelding she leases from one of Anderson’s clients. “I’ve only recently been riding him and he’s a very good boy,” says Maranda. “He knows his job.”

Other horses: “If Gretchen has extras, I ride them, and I help around the barn. Gretchen is 90 minutes away and I’m very lucky my parents drive me that far.”

How long have you been riding?

“About 12 years. I started when I was 5. I really liked horses but it wasn’t something my family was into. A friend took me for a pony ride and as soon as that happened, it stuck!”

What did you show in before the equitation?

“This year, I did a bit of the children’s hunters. I rode in my first big derby in March. It was so much fun and something I always wanted to do. I wasn’t always able to do a lot of shows. I never did the pony divisions, but I do a lot of riding at the barn to make up for not showing. I always wanted to be in the saddle, so I ended up on a lot of green ponies. I really liked to see their transformation from beginning to end, and to watch them figure out what they’re doing. It’s nice to see a horse before it’s that special, made horse. Riding the green ones also taught me that you can’t be perfect all the time.”

Is it ever difficult to see other juniors who get to show more often?

“I’m surrounded by a lot of great people at my barn, and they all have a different path. Some have a horse, some don’t, and some have a couple horses. You just have to realize that other people’s paths aren’t yours. You have to take your own path, and sometimes it might take longer to get to the same destination. I had to learn to stop trying to do what everyone else is doing and focus on myself. I only really learned to do that recently, but it’s made things so much easier.” 

That’s a great lesson for all riders. What else have you learned from following your own riding path so far?

“I don’t think this is a sport you can do alone. I couldn’t do any of this without my parents being so willing to do whatever they can to make this happen. And my friends who let me stay at their houses and give me rides so I can get more time in the saddle. All the people who let me ride their horses. And Gretchen, who not only lets me help around the barn to be able to ride, but also helps me achieve my goals. I’m so grateful for all of those people.”

Which final(s) will be your first this fall?

“It’s my first year at the New England finals.” 

What do you like about the equitation?

“I really like how it’s challenging. It makes you think. You have to think on your feet and tell that to your horse before you make it happen. Plus it needs to look effortless!” 

Maranda McCarthy. Photo © Jill Exner Photography

How have you been preparing for the finals?

“Lots of riding, lots of no stirrup, lots of getting my head in the right mindset. After I finish my lessons, I go through and ask Gretchen all my questions. She will walk me through what was correct, what had to be fixed, and what we changed. That really helps.”

What are you most excited about for your first finals?

“I’m really excited because it’s always been something I looked at as nearly impossible. Four years ago I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do it, but it’s become a reality. That’s really cool.”

What are you nervous about?

“I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I don’t like to let people down. So, I’m working on not being nervous and just enjoying the experience.” 

How do you control show nerves?

“I still struggle with this, but I get a lot of help from Gretchen, my friends and my parents. I tell myself it is okay to not have a good day. I always want to go in there and be the best I can because I don’t know when a big show will happen next for me. It takes a lot to make yourself think, ‘Let’s just focus on what’s happening right now.’”

Any specific goals for the finals?

“To make it around. To do what I know how to do, and not get in my own way!” 

Do you hope to do more equitation finals after this year?

“I have one more year after this. We’d like to get to junior hunter finals and Maclay regionals if we can for next year.”

Have you given any thought to how riding will fit into your life beyond your junior years?

“I definitely want to keep riding and do as much as I can. I’d like to show in the Amateur-Owner hunters. Maybe try the jumper ring out. I know I love riding and I always want it to be part of my life. One step at a time!”


About the Author: Rennie Dyball is a freelance writer, editor, and the author of several books. She currently leases the world’s cutest OTTB and competes in the low adult hunters and equitation.

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