Mar 16, 2023

Adrenaline-Seeking EA21 Eventers Were Also Competitive Skiers

By Jonathan Horowitz - USEA Staff
Ayden Schain (left) and Sarah Ross at the EA21 National Camp. Mipsy Media photos

Ayden Schain and Sarah Ross were two of the 19 young riders that participated in the first-ever USEA Emerging Athlete U21 (EA21) National Camp in Ocala, Florida, at the start of 2023. Ross came from the West, originally from Nevada and most recently training and competing in California. Schain came from the East, based out of Vermont. Both are now pursuing eventing full-time in Florida with Schain working for Leslie Law and Lesley Grant-Law and Ross with Zachary Brandt.

However, had certain factors in their lives been slightly different, both could just as easily be part of national camps for skiing and be making a name for themselves on the slopes instead of in saddles. Their journeys have been motivated by a pursuit of high-intensity sports at the highest levels and meeting challenges in stride—both literally and figuratively.

Ayden Schain | Killington, Vermont

Schain is one of six siblings in a mixed-family home. All of them participate in high-adrenaline sports.

“It was kind of bred into us,” she said. “My mom was always pushing us to be outside and get out of the house.”

Schain rattled off some of the sports she did growing up in Killington, Vermont: “I downhill mountain biked. I played hockey, soccer, lacrosse. I started the women’s lacrosse team at my school. We would always go for hikes. They were just so big on us not being indoors. We didn’t even have TV growing up. So, it was a huge thing for our family.”

Schain has a step-sister, Hannah Smith, who also events, show jumps, and breezes racehorses. Full-brother Gavin Schain, twin half-sisters Lillian and Tobe Smith, and step-sister Addie Smith all ski.

“I think they love that there’s something we’re all passionate about,” Ayden said about her mom, Dawn Barclay, and stepdad, Tao Smith.

Out of all the sports she did, Schain pursued two of them at an elite level. “I immersed myself in horses and skiing,” she said. “I love to be active. I hated sitting around. I still do. With the horses, I like that it can be a team sport, but most of the time you’re competing for yourself. But, you’re always competing with something else. You always have a partner. It gives you that extra motivation factor—the motivation to be better not only to help your horse but also to make yourself better.”

Although there are many different equestrian disciplines and types of skiing, Schain gravitated toward the ones with “speed,” she said, pursuing downhill and Super G for skiing and eventing for horses.

“I wasn’t huge on the technical aspect,” she said about skiing, and for horses, “I love the cross-country, obviously, which is why I like to event—going fast and jumping crazy stuff. I think it was just doing stuff where I had to go fast.”

Schain attended Killington Mountain School, a ski academy in her hometown where she was one of nine students and the valedictorian in her graduating class from high school. She skied competitively around the United States and internationally. At the same time, she was embarking on an eventing career.

Ayden Schain skiing and with her brother, Gavin, and stepfather, Tao Smith. Photos courtesy of Ayden Schain

Schain started riding horses after receiving lessons as a gift for her 11th birthday. She competed in her first USEA-recognized horse trial five days after her 14th birthday in 2016 on Pyxylated Magic (Pissarro x Winsome Angel), a now-17-year-old Trakehner-Arabian mare that she took up to Preliminary in 2019.

An injury in 2017 while training in Switzerland with the goal of making the under-16 national camp for the United States in skiing changed her trajectory.

“It was on the last-day, last-run, the whole nine yards,” Schain said. “I had a compound tibia fracture and broke my leg. It was an 18-month recovery.”

The combination of two surgeries and ski racing putting too much stress on the fracture caused Schain to focus her competitive athletics on eventing.

In 2020, she started riding Fernhill Hole Shot (Entertainer x Coriander Z), a 10-year-old Zangersheide gelding, that she has moved up to the Intermediate and three-star level. Schain’s journey with “Allen” has been highlighted by a win at Intermediate at the Ocala International Festival of Eventing (Ocala, Florida) with a score of 26.7 in April 2022 and a third-place finish in the CCI3*-S at the GMHA Festival of Eventing (Woodstock, Vermont) in August 2022.

Ayden Schain and Fernhill Hole Shot. Photo courtesy of Ayden Schain

“Holeshot” is a term in drag racing and motocross describing the driver that has the quickest reaction from the start line and gets to the front first. It was bestowed upon Allen because of his ability to get a quick start on the competition in dressage. In 13 events in 2022, Schain and Allen averaged a dressage score of 27.8. They finished in the top-three six times and in the top-five eight times.

Like with skiing, Schain has suffered her share of setbacks riding, most recently breaking five ribs and puncturing a lung during a fall on Jan. 12 just days after the EA21 National Camp. She was back riding a month later and has learned to remain stoic in the face of the extreme moments she’s faced pursuing extreme sports. Much of that is instilled by her mother, who's a trauma surgeon and director of an ICU in New Hampshire. Schain calls her “a pretty awesome person that turned herself completely inside out to give me some pretty cool opportunities.” Because of her mother, Schain said she is interested in becoming a nurse in the future.

After working for Anna Loschiavo for four years and then for David O’Connor in the summer of 2022, Schain is now with Law Eventing in Ocala. She reunited with O’Connor, the EA21 Director of Coaching, at the EA21 National Camp.

“It expanded on the knowledge I’ve had from David in the past,” Schain said about her EA21 experience. “I got to watch him teach so many different types of riders on their own horses or on horses they didn’t know. The most valuable time was getting to watch people ride their horses, especially the riders that didn’t know their horses and watching him transform the comfort of the horse and how the rider communicated with the horse.”

Pursuing skiing and eventing, with all of their ups and downs, has shaped Schain, and she’s now set her sights on eventing’s summit.

“It’s taught me to do something bigger than myself,” she said. “You’re always part of communities that are bigger than yourself.”

Sarah Ross | Reno, Nevada

A fellow member of the EA21 community with a similar background to Schain in terms of ski racing and eventing competitively is Sarah Ross. As a teenager from Reno, Nevada, she was on track for the Junior Olympics in skiing. However, she faced challenges balancing two sports at an elite level.

“I was kind of given an ultimatum of doing only one sport,” Ross said. “Ultimately, I can’t stand the cold. I hate the cold with a burning passion.”

Photo courtesy of Sarah Ross

So, Ross committed to eventing and immersed herself in the sport by competing on many different horses. From February 2018, when she completed her first USEA-recognized event at 14 years old aboard Run Forest Run, a chestnut Thoroughbred gelding, until the end of 2021, Ross rode 10 different horses in USEA-recognized horse trials.

Then, in 2022, she started competing exclusively with Fernhill Heart Throb (Heartbreaker), a 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding that came from Ireland and competed up to the Preliminary and two-star level with Alexa Ehlers in 2021.

Ross and “Sparkles” clicked immediately. They won their first event together at Novice at the Twin Rivers Spring International (Paso Robles, California). Then, they moved up to Training and won at the USEA American Eventing Championships, presented by Nutrena Feeds, and at the Area VI Championships held at the Ram Tap Horse Trials (Fresno, California). They finished 2022 with Ross doing her first Preliminary.

“He’s opened so many doors for me,” Ross said about Sparkles. “He’s been an incredible horse to be riding. I had a lot of horses before him that I produced up to Training level. I did a lot of Training levels, close to 40, before I moved up to Preliminary. There were a bunch of things that just never quite went right, and I was always just kind of stuck in the mediocrity. When I got Sparky, the mediocrity stopped.”

Sarah Ross and Fernhill Heart Throb. Photo courtesy of Sarah Ross

In 2023, Ross has relocated from the West Coast, where she was based with Andrea Baxter and Rebecca Braitling at Twin Rivers Ranch, to the East Coast, where she’s working with Zachary Brandt.

“To be able to do this professionally, you need to have connections all over, and there’s no way to develop those unless you put yourself out there,” Ross said. “Finding people that can bring out the best in you is super important, and, not settling for mediocrity, I tend to lean toward people that are a little harder on you and bring out the best in you.”

Ross said she felt that sentiment about the EA21 National Camp while working with O’Connor and catch-riding a younger 5-year-old.

“Riding a horse like ‘Jerry’ really sets you up for the future riding horses of all different stages of training,” she said. “So, it’s a good step in helping you prep for a career.”

Ross recently added a young horse to her stable after purchasing Kilcandra Top Gun (Colandro x Bonnie Dolly), a 4-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding, from the Go For Gold Select Event Horse Sale in Ireland in November 2022.

With similar backgrounds, Ross and Schain’s paths crossed through the EA21 Program, and they represent the next generation of eventers that EA21 seeks to develop on their way to the top of the sport.

About the USEA Emerging Athlete U21 Program (EA21)

The purpose of the USEA Emerging Athletes U21 Program (EA21) is to identify and provide consistent quality instruction to the next generation of elite event riders. The aim is to create a pipeline for potential team riders by identifying and developing young talent, improving horsemanship and riding skills, and training and improving skills and consistency.

The USEA Emerging Athletes U21 Program was launched in 2022 with a model of five summertime regional clinics taught by selected USEA Eventing Coaches Program (ECP) instructors, leading to a winter national camp consisting of selected Young Riders from the regional clinics. Athletes who are 21 years or younger, are current members of their USEA Young Rider Area program, and are established at the Training Level or higher, are eligible to apply for the EA21 program. Click here to learn more about the USEA EA21 Program.

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