BY RENNIE DYBALL
Equitation fans everywhere tuned in to the Maclay Finals live feed on Sunday to watch the best of the discipline tackle an impressive course at the Kentucky Horse Park.
In addition to the stunning rounds of champion Dominic Gibbs and reserve champion Taylor Griffiths-Madden, among other top equitation riders, viewers were impressed by the commentary by last year’s Maclay finals winner, Ava Stearns.
Stearns, 19, who rides for the Auburn equestrian team, joined professional show announcer Brian Lookabill and course designer Steve Stephens at the microphones, and the Internet was abuzz for the entire 12-plus hour class about her insightful, positive commentary.
“I’m a big believer in kindness and the fact that you can learn as much from a round with mistakes as you can from a winning round,” she told The Plaid Horse on Monday. “I know from experience that it is really easy to feel discouraged walking out of the Alltech if your round didn’t go the way you planned, but I really wanted everyone to be able to see the parts that they did well.”
Fans took notice—many pointing out on Facebook and among the message boards that Stearns brought a refreshing level of kindness to the commentary.
“As a rider, it can be hard to look back at a round you didn’t love and pick out the parts that you did do well, so I tried to point out those pieces and make it a little easier for them to see. Everyone works so hard to make it to an event like that, and I really wanted it to be both a positive and a learning experience for everyone competing,” Stearns said.
“I think that kindness is so important in both this sport and in life. This is a sport that can be unforgiving at times.”
Last year’s Maclay champion added that it was her own experience in her junior years that taught her to focus on both the positives of any round, and what a rider can learn from their mistakes.
“I was super lucky that I got to train with Missy Clark and John Brennan and North Run during my junior career,” she said. “The staff, as well as my peers, were always there to point out the pieces that I was doing well and encourage me, but especially Maggie Gampfer, who is the assistant trainer at North Run. I think that was a super important component of my riding, and I really wanted to bring a little bit of that to my commentary.”
“It was such a fun experience to be able to watch a class like that and be able to give a little bit of my feedback and talk about what goes through my mind in a championship,” Stearns added. “The riders definitely made my job easy this year—it was a very difficult course and we saw so many riders rise to the challenge. Even if things didn’t go perfectly, I loved getting to watch the riders learn and navigate different questions on course.”
About the Author: Rennie Dyball is the author of several books, including The Plaid Horse’s middle grade novel series, Show Strides. She’s also a contributing writer for TPH and a ghostwriter for celebrity books. Rennie lives in Maryland and competes in hunters and equitation.
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