Jan 19, 2024

A Young Rider National Championship Boosts Duda to the Revitavet USEA Young Rider of the Year Title

By Lindsay Berreth - USEA Staff
Molly Duda and Carlingford's He's A Clover. USEA/Lindsay Berreth photo

Molly Duda picked up eventing just five years ago, and when she did, she never would have expected to have the 2023 she had.

Duda, 19, moved up to Intermediate and won two Open Intermediate divisions plus CCI3*-S divisions at Twin Rivers Spring International (Paso Robles, California) and Aspen Farms (Yelm, Washington). She also finished eighth in the Rebecca Farm CCI3*-L (Kalispell, Montana) and second in the Galway Downs CCI3*-L (Temecula, California) which earned her the U.S. Equestrian Federation Eventing Young Rider National Three-Star Championship.

With top results on Disco Traveler, Carlingford’s He’s A Clover, and Lilly, Duda was named the Revitavet USEA Young Rider of the Year. She also won the Intermediate Young Rider and Preliminary Young Adult Rider year-end awards.

Duda’s biggest successes in 2023 came from her own Disco Traveler, a 14-year-old U.S.-bred Oldenburg gelding (Donatelli x Cadence).

“When I started eventing, my big goal was to make it to Training level,” said Duda. “I thought it was really scary, and anything above that was terrifying. I was very wrong. The more I kept going, the more I realized I loved it and just wanted to continue. Disco has definitely played a huge role in making all my dreams come true. I’ve been able to do things with him especially that I never thought I’d do.”

She first met Disco at her trainer Mickayla Howard’s barn about four years ago. Bred by Stacie Beilin, Disco had been in training with Howard, but wasn’t working out with his owner/rider. His unconventional jumping style and difficulty on the ground meant he was overlooked in the barn.

Molly Duda and Disco Traveler. USEA/Lindsay Berreth photo

“Nobody really wanted to ride him," said Duda. "He had some issues with his first owner, and she stopped riding him, and he really just sat around in the barn. The only reason I started to ride him was because Lilly got injured. It was a coincidence I ended up with him—I didn’t go out and choose him, but I feel like he chose me. We realized pretty quickly that we were a good match.

"What makes our partnership special is our communication and trust in each other," she continued. "Disco would jump the moon if I asked him to, and I would do anything for him. He may not be the most fancy or eye-catching, but he has the biggest heart of any horse I have ever known, and he exemplifies the idea of hard work and grit over talent and flashiness. I never would have chosen Disco if the universe hadn't handed him to me. I'm not superstitious, but finding him felt like fate."

Duda’s big goal was an Intermediate move-up in 2023. She and Disco won their first start at the level at Galway Downs in March and then three more events in a row.

“I was just amazed that he took such good care of me in all three phases as he always does,” she said. “Honestly, it went better than expected, and he continued to show up at every event. We won our first four Intermediates. I was super impressed by him. Our partnership has come such a long way in the two years that I’ve owned him. Last year was just a testament to that.”

Disco went on to help Duda earned individual gold in the CCI3*-L at the USEF Eventing Young Rider Championships presented by USEA at Galway Downs.

Carlingford’s He’s A Clover, a 12-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Polanski x Four Leaf Clover) came to Duda in December 2022 after competing to the Advanced level with British young rider Lizzie Baugh.

“He turned out to be quite a tricky horse—quite quirky and spooky,” said Duda. “When he arrived in the States from England, we knew he’d have to be one we’d take our time with and build that confidence and trust on both sides. He’s been super this winter, and I feel like we’re finally clicking and feeling ready to do some bigger things this year.”

With “Tommy,” Duda finished second in the USEF CCI2*-L Eventing National Championships at Galway Downs.

Molly Duda rides Lilly at the EA21 West regional clinic. USEA/Atalya Boytner photo

Lilly, a 15-year-old Oldenburg mare (Check In x Contender) has been with Duda the longest, but has had a few injuries in recent years. She competed a handful of times but picked up another injury over the summer, and Duda’s hoping she’ll be back out this year.

Duda is a freshman at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles where she’s studying microbiology, immunology, and molecular genetics.

She’s been working with Tamie Smith and Robyn Fisher and was excited to participate in the USEA’s EA21 National Camp this month with David O’Connor to kick off her 2024.

Molly Duda won the USEF Eventing Young Rider CCI3*-L National Championship. USEA/Lindsay Berreth photo

“It honestly exceeded my expectations,” she said. “I felt that David had quite a wealth of knowledge to share with us, and it was just very inspiring being surrounded by so many motivated peers. There was really a sense of community that I wasn’t expecting. Everyone was very supportive.”

Balancing school and horses is never easy, but Duda’s enjoying the challenge.

“I’m loving it,” she said. “It’s been super busy, but I think I’ve gotten very good at time management. I like to map out my week hour by hour and make sure I’m really staying on task and leaving time for the barn but I’m also making sure I’m getting my homework and classes done, so at the end of the week and the weekend I can have a little bit of social time as well. I’m really looking forward to be working with Robyn and Tamie. I’m just excited to see where this year goes.”

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