Although eventing is a competition between individuals, it has always been a team sport. Any seasoned rider can attest that success is dependent on support - from trainers, vets, farriers, dentists, grooms, friends, family, and countless others. My own experiences as a four-star eventer and longtime trainer have proven how valuable it is to teach junior riders to embrace a team mindset, which is why the USEA’s Interscholastic Eventing League (IEL) caught my attention when it began earlier this year.
A student of mine suggested that we start a team upon realizing that many of her peers felt a sense of camaraderie at the barn or while training, but not necessarily at competitions. The Eventing League was a perfect solution because it offered a sense of community on as well as off the horse. She quickly recruited ten young eventers who participate from as far away as Massachusetts and Maine. Some play sports at school and are looking forward to building the same kind of team spirit. Others are members of Pony Club and have enjoyed bonding with fellow eventers. All of them are eager to grow - together.
Team Wilmerding Equestrian was ultimately created to help riders see eventing as a team sport regardless of whether they are competing, training, or helping someone else on the ground. Our most recent competition at the Horse Park of New Jersey in early June brought everyone together for a fun weekend. It proved to be a memorable one for many reasons. Although only four team members competed, three more demonstrated incredible sportsmanship by helping groom and walk courses throughout the day. One rider completed her first recognized event with encouragement from teammates. Low dressage scores, clear rounds, and a lot of hard work was rewarded with our first IEL Challenge win.
Everyone looks forward to the day when all ten team members can compete at the same show. In the meantime, the girls are planning conditioning days at a local park and regular lessons in my training program. Many team members enjoy spending time outside with friends, so hanging out with an ice cream cone in hand is our go-to for fun beyond the barn, but a beach day or goat yoga may also make it onto the calendar this summer.
Reflecting on our first few months as a team helped the girls recognize how much they’ve learned. Team Wilmerding Equestrian plans to build upon this growth by continuing to gather for group schooling sessions every few weeks and holding informal combined training shows ahead of real competitions. Offering young riders a chance to trot down centerline before they have to do so in front of a judge has been very helpful for building confidence. I’m excited to watch these dedicated riders learn, grow, and compete alongside one another in the coming months!
Meet Team Wilmerding Equestrian:
“My favorite thing about my partnership with my horse is our ability to understand each other. We are both a little bit of underdogs, but we both keep pushing each other and we don't give up on one another. He tries hard for me and I give 110% of that back to him. My personal goal with me and my horse is to have consistency in anything we do, whether that's dressage or jumping. For him to just take a deep breath and realize that it's okay. I also play volleyball in the winter season and practice it on the side throughout the rest of the year.”
“I love my horse’s personality and his drive. Our personal goal is to move up to training and qualify you to go to AEC’s. Outside of the barn, I like to hang out with my friends and go swimming and find fun stuff to do as the day goes on.”
“My favorite thing about my partnership with my horse, Tommy, is that we trust each other. I have been so comfortable and confident with him since the first time I tried him and he seems to feel the same way. Our personal goal is to move up to training and compete at AEC's this summer. Outside of horses and riding, I love photography and reading.”
“My favorite thing about my partnership with my horse is the connection we have been able to gain over the years. My personal goal with each ride I have is to finish with a positive attitude. Outside of the barn, I like rowing and spending time with my friends.”
“I love that my horse always challenges me. She is so incredibly smart that there’s never a dull day with her, and I think our shared love for a challenge makes us a great team. My goal with Cleo is to constantly move forward and learn more. I don’t think that either of us would enjoy staying in one place for too long. This past fall we had some drawbacks, and yet we’re still moving forward, showing in 2nd and 3rd level dressage this year and eventing for the first time as a team. When I’m not at the barn or school, I like to paint and work with local vets to continue my journey into veterinary medicine.”
My favorite thing about my horse and me is our communication. I believe we communicate completely when we ride. We work through anything and trust each other to inform the other if something is off. Our goal is to go to his first show. I am always going on adventures with my friends. We love hiking, swimming, and just hanging out.”
My favorite part of my partnership with my horse is our trust on the ground. As a personal goal, I would like to have a really good dressage test. When I’m not at the barn, I like to hang with friends and go swimming in the summer.”
“My favorite thing about my partnership with my horse is the joy that being with my horse brings. I could be having a bad day and he would brighten it up immediately. My personal goal with my horse is to compete but also to have as much fun as possible while reaching for our goals. Outside of riding horses, I enjoy reading quite a bit.”
“I love to be able to bond with my horse and have fun with him. My personal goal is to be able to move up to Novice with him someday. When I’m not riding or not with my horses, I am mostly reading.”
“My favorite thing about my partnership with my horse is our bond. Whenever I leave him on the cross ties to go grab something, he looks at me and it’s almost like, ‘Where are you going? Why are you leaving me?’ He stands there waiting for me to return with his ears pricked in the direction I went. My personal goal with my horse is to compete at training level sometime soon. Outside of horses and riding, I like to play soccer, hang out with friends, and go boating for fun.”
About the Author
Clarissa Wilmerding is a professional rider and trainer based out of Califon, New Jersey during the summer and Ocala, Florida during the winter. Although currently focusing on developing young horses and show jumping, she is a seasoned 4* eventer who loves helping her IEL team reach their goals. Clarissa also regularly teaches lessons for Somerset Hills Pony Club, the same pony club she grew up riding with. Learn more about her training program at www.clarissawilmerdingequestrian.com or by following @wilmerdingequestrian on social media.
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About the USEA Interscholastic Eventing League
In August 2020, the USEA Board of Governors approved the creation of the USEA Interscholastic Eventing League (IEL) as an official program of the USEA. The mission of IEL is to bring together junior riders who are in the 7-12th grade and provide a supportive community through which students can continue to pursue their riding interests. A group of junior members in the 7th-12th grade who share a common bond (same barn, same school, same Pony Club, etc.) register with the USEA as an interscholastic team. Click here to learn more about the Interscholastic Eventing League.
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