I’m not one for the spotlight. As the voice of the Association, you don’t need to know my personal views, political, eventing, or otherwise. So despite my byline appearing on thousands of articles on the USEA website and magazine, this is probably only the second time I’m writing about myself (the first was about my love for lessons, and reading it now makes me laugh as I am still 100% addicted). But as I am now just a USEA member I thought I would share a bit of my journey to add to our member spotlight series, Now on Course.
The first thing you need to know about me is that I’m not a person who can do things halfway. When I’m onboard it is full steam ahead, jump in with both feet, 24/7 passion. So when I discovered eventing after 10 years of hunters (both in the ring and fox hunting) I was all in.
My parents “bribed” me to accept a full ride to the University of Georgia (UGA) by allowing me to take my horse to school with me. I turned down several more expensive schools and it was all horses all the time from then on out. I worked nights at the UGA vet school and the school newspaper to afford to compete (in addition to a full load of classes and the usual university life) and during my freshman year, I made my USEA recognized debut on my half-blind OTTB Jackson who was bought at an auction. Jackson stopped at the second fence on cross-country and I fell off, but it didn’t matter as I was hooked.
After Jackson retired came another OTTB who wouldn’t work out, but then Bella entered my life. A sassy Palomino/Paint pony who was impossible to catch but loved to jump - she gave me my first taste of eventing success. Despite horses coming first in my life, I managed to graduate magna cum laude with a degree in journalism. So what’s a horse girl to do with a journalism degree? Equine media of course. Four days after graduating I packed up Bella and we made the move to eventing mecca, Northern Virginia, and started a six-month internship at the USEA.
After six months, I didn’t want to leave the Association and luckily they didn’t want me to leave either so despite not having any open positions a job was cobbled together for me with a little bit of this and a little bit of that. My first years at the USEA were filled with projects such as emailing every rider who fell off at a recognized event and trying to get them to fill out a survey for a study we were doing, organizing file cabinets, working the booth at the 2010 World Equestrian Games, compiling YEH/FEH scores, fulfilling sponsorship requests, organizing prizes, and helping out wherever I was needed - always giving 100 percent. I also got the chance to photograph events, write endless articles, and help with the magazine which were my favorite parts of the job.
After three years at the USEA an opportunity came up to try a different side of the equine business was offered to me and I left to work in marketing for a helmet manufacturing company. A little over a year later the then CEO of the USEA called me up and offered me the chance to return - this time in my dream position as editor of Eventing USA.
In 2014 I returned to the USEA and since then have dedicated most of my time and energy to first the magazine and eventually the entire Association. I was promoted to Director of Media and Communications just a few years later and was in charge of the website, event coverage, social media, graphic design, and more. The USEA staff is small so everyone pitches in at events from stapling stall signs to collecting tickets - I’ve done it.
During my time at the helm, the USEA doubled its social media reach; developed consistent, fast, and accurate event coverage practices; overhauled the podcast; released articles seven days a week; and gained a reputation for transparency and reliability. I’ve been lucky to work with some fabulous people who have helped me see my vision of a professional association come to light.
My time wasn’t without mistakes and cringe-worthy memories. My biggest ‘will-never-live-that-down-moment’ involved reporting a famous team horse being sold overseas after the FEI mixed up the ID numbers and had him competing in Europe with a different rider! That one taught me quickly to confirm everything and never release a story without double-checking my sources.
I also have so many good memories. Mostly from my times in press tents across the country with fabulous people or being in the right place at the right time to capture the viral photo of the event. There were the thousands of hours that went into launching the new USEA website (which isn’t so new anymore!) and the relief when it was finished. Or putting together Eventing in America to help preserve the history of the sport in the country. I also feel like I have been able to make a positive change – one example is my writing the article “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Bringing Everyone into Eventing” as it was the impetus for the founding of Strides for Equality Equestrians (SEE) which has had a real impact for a lot of people.
After editing and designing 45 issues of the magazine I’m pretty chuffed to be going out on the high note of Eventing USA defending its award as the best of its category two years in a row at the American Horse Publications Equine Media Awards. For the 50th volume of the magazine I launched a redesign of the publication and was proud to see the work be recognized not once, but two years in a row with the judges’ saying: “Those interested in eventing get more than they expected in Eventing USA. The editor "gets it" that social media and online reporting mean that followers of the sport can get results of various events in real-time or close to it. Hence, this publication focuses on exceptional events and goes into more depth and interest, minimizing the overall results to lists or photos with captions. In addition, its features include some surprises like the importance of a course designer and statistics on how many competitors typically achieve certain results. Finally, the magazine includes association news, features on health issues, "how-to" articles, and profiles - a well-rounded collection of information that should have something for everyone. The cover, table of contents, and layouts support the value.”
In May of 2021, I welcomed my daughter Iris to the world and she has turned it upside down. I’m pretty good at juggling – I’ve managed to ride six days a week despite a demanding career in addition to maintaining a social life (sort of!), a marriage, and a lot of travel. But after a year of trying to balance it all, it’s time to hand the reins over to a new person who I’m sure will steer the USEA through the flags. As I referenced at the beginning of this story I can’t do things halfway and the USEA deserves to be in the hands of someone who can give it their all.
Hopefully, my career change will give me the time to meet my longtime goal of competing in a CCI1*, and fingers crossed, I will see you all at the 2023 USEA American Eventing Championships - an event I never thought I’d be allowed to compete in.
One of the hardest parts about deciding to leave the USEA was that I was worried I would lose my identity - I’ve always been ‘Leslie who works at the USEA.’ But luckily I still have the sport and you better believe I am still eventing’s number one fan (despite being tragic at playing Eventing Manager).
As my final moment as USEA Director of Media and Communications, I would leave you with these few things:
The USEA is made up of over 12,000 members, each with their own special horses and experiences. The USEA's Now on Course series highlights the many unique stories of our membership. Do you and your horse have a tale to tell? Do you know someone who deserves recognition? Submit your story to Meagan DeLisle to be featured.
One of my passions is continuing to be a good student, because I think no matter how old I get, there are multiple reasons learning new things inspires me. First and foremost, it helps me be a better rider and trainer, so my horses benefit. Second, it helps me be a better teacher by exposing me to different ways to have a relationship with a horse or a student.
This month we’re going to begin a three-part series on how to create positive riding experiences by making sure the words you say to yourself and the thoughts you think to yourself are positive. Referred to as self-talk, internal dialogue, or brain babble; the words you say to yourself can have a huge impact on your performance. In fact, your thoughts and voice are actually considered behaviors, and just like how positive physical behaviors (i.e. a balanced transition) can create success, your verbal behaviors can also accomplish the very same thing. So let's spend the next few months talking about how to talk to yourself!
Being spontaneous has paid off for Kevin Keane and Sportsfield Candy. “I bought him on a Wednesday and showed him on a Thursday,” Keane recalls about his first event with his Irish Sport Horse gelding, then 9 years old, at Plantation Field Horse Trials (Unionville, Pennsylvania) in September 2016. “I owned him for part of a day, and the next morning I showed up at a CCI and jogged him up for a two-star, and we went clean and clean and clean.”
THANK YOU to everyone who has already entered the USEF/USEA Recognized CDCTA Spring Horse Trials scheduled for Sunday, April 9 in Berryville, VA. We will continue to take late entries through Friday, March 24 using USEA’s Xentry system. If you still want to come compete, please enter! The late fee has been waived through Friday, March 24.