At the start of the new year, 19 young riders from all over the country embarked on a journey to Ocala, Florida for the first-ever USEA Emerging Athlete U21 (EA21) National Camp led by EA21 Director of Coaching David O'Connor. These riders were hand-selected from the five EA21 Regional Clinics which took place in the summer of 2022 to have the opportunity to participate in a five-day, intensive training camp that addressed both mounted and unmounted lessons which would be critical to their development as young riders. Now that a month has passed by and each of the participating riders has had time to reflect on their experience earlier this year, the USEA is catching up with each of them as they look back on their week in Ocala learning from the best of the best. Here is what the first half of the group had to share:
Madelyn Floyd | Duvall, Washington
Making the trek from one side of the country to the other was Intermediate and three-star level rider Madelyn Floyd. Like many of her West Coast comrades, Floyd was granted the opportunity to ride a catch ride for the National Camp.
"It was really wonderful to have so many West Coast riders included and provided with great catch-ride horses," she shared. "Florida is a long way for us and it was incredible to be able to fully participate, despite that travel distance."
Of all of the exercises the young riders were tasked with while in Ocala, Floyd found the drill team exercises on the flat to be the most challenging and rewarding.
"Dressage is difficult enough, especially on a catch ride, and not made any easier in a group of five," she commented. "[The drill team lesson] was the first lesson and everyone was still trying to get to know each other. However difficult to manage, it really benefitted my riding to split my immediate focus between my horse and everyone else’s horse as we tried to stay together."
Camryn Chung | Dallas, Texas
Upon looking back on her experience at the National Camp, Preliminary and two-star level rider Camryn Chung shared that it was one of the unmounted lessons which she will carry with her throughout her career.
"The first lecture on the fundamentals of dressage was really memorable for me," Chung stated. "The tools and ideas that we discussed in the dressage lecture very clearly connected to the rideability needed in the jumping phases. Specifically, when we think about the 'Rider Responsibilities,' they are the same in all three phases, so being able to control the direction, speed, rhythm, balance, etc. on the flat for the purpose of the jumping phases or with jumping phases in mind really helped shift the way I think about dressage."
One of Chung's favorite memories from across the entire week was getting to sit down with O'Connor and his wife Karen, both Olympic medalists in the sport of eventing, for dinner with her fellow riders.
"Looking at all of their medals and old photos from the Olympics and numerous championships was super inspiring. I also had a great time getting to know the other riders and hearing about their backgrounds. It’s a great memory because I remember feeling really happy to be surrounded by great riders and people who love horses," she reflected.
Kiersten Miller | Rochester Hills, Michigan
Midwestern Intermediate and three-star level rider Kiersten Miller was able to participate in the EA21 National Camp during her college's winter break, an opportunity she is grateful for. She is taking the lessons learned from the week at EA21 National Camp and aims to utilize them as she aims for her future goals as a rider.
"The morning lectures helped us go back to the basics and dissect many important things regarding the sport," Miller said as she reflected on the many ways that she felt the National Camp was setting her up for success in her eventing goals. "We were also able to meet and talk with some amazing people including Max Corcoran and Emma Ford who gave us extensive insight on how to take care of our horses. In addition to that, I was able to meet about a dozen new riders through the camp, which is amazing because it not only created friendships, but also future connections. Lastly, the mounted sessions, of course, will have a lasting effect for the duration of my riding career; I'm so eternally grateful to have had the opportunity to learn under David O'Connor for a week!"
In particular, there was one exercise that Miller found the most challenging: O'Connor's famous circle of cones.
"As crazy as it sounds, the most challenging exercise for me was on day one, where David put two cones, maybe 2-3 feet apart on four points of a 20-meter circle, and our job was to be perfectly in the middle of these two cones on all four points of the circle while riding. I think this was so difficult because it suddenly made something we thought we'd known how to do since we were young, quite difficult. You had to be very disciplined and precise when it came to having your horse exactly where you wanted them. The coolest part about this exercise is that it benefits all riders and horses, from amateur to professional, and green to experienced. It's definitely something I will religiously do from now on!"
Sarah Ross | Reno, Nevada
Preliminary rider Sarah Ross was also treated to a wonderful catch ride throughout the week which she described as "super fun." Having a quality catch-ride allowed Ross to maximize on her time in Ocala and absorb as much as she could to bring back to her own program.
"[The National Camp] gave me exercises that I could take back to my horses at home," she shared. "I really liked the collection exercise of moving down the rail then collecting in the corner and adding circles in the corner."
A groom herself, Ross was most impressed by one of the unmounted sessions led by professional groom Emma Ford.
"As a groom and rider, I thought the Emma Ford clinic was the most beneficial because it gave different perspectives on daily tasks."
Ashley Widmer | Moses Lake, Washington
In addition to the mounted and classroom sessions led by O'Connor, Intermediate and three-star level rider Ashley Widmer found one of the guest lecturers to be enlightening.
"I really enjoyed setting the show jump course with Chris Barnard. It was interesting getting to listen to his thought process on designing courses and how the horse sees it," she reflected. "He also gave us ideas on what to incorporate in our jump schools at home to better prepare our horses to read the fences correctly at competitions."
While her experience at the EA21 National Camp has come to an end, her sense of gratitude for the new program and everyone involved still lives on.
"I am so grateful to have been a part of the EA21 National Camp. I think the program is super unique and helpful for riders that are passionate about the sport and want to learn how to take their riding to the next level. Everyone that was a part of the program and making it happen was so nice and generous. It was fun to meet so many new people and make connections across the country. Thank you to everyone who made this possible. "
Breeana Robinette | Rock Spring, Georgia
Coming to a clinic environment on a younger horse can pose its challenges, but Preliminary and two-star level rider Breeana Robinette found that the exercises set up for the riders at the EA21 National Camp were the perfect balance of challenging and accomplishable for every participant, no matter what kind of horse they were on.
"The four corners exercise with the shoulder in down the long side [was my favorite]," Robinette said. "My mare is younger so it was tricky to keep her balanced in the shoulder in while extending the trot steps, then condensing them again."
Looking back on her week in Ocala with her fellow EA21 riders, Robinette couldn't pinpoint a standout moment from all of her experiences and lessons learned.
"I don’t know if I have a single favorite memory. I really enjoyed being able to meet, learn from, and spend a week with people who have a love for the sport," she shared. "I really enjoyed the camp and I am so thankful to have gotten selected. I am very thankful for everyone and the horses who made it happen. I know there were a lot of moving parts to make that week happen and I am so grateful to have been a part of it."
Ayden Schain | Killington, Vermont
While Ayden Schain loved every minute of the EA21 National Camp, it was one of the unmounted lessons that stood out most to the Intermediate and three-star level young rider.
"Watching David work with the young horse that Sarah Ross was riding on the ground was really memorable," Schain said looking back. "I really find the unmounted work with the horses so fascinating. When you can watch their ears and eyes change and shift focus to you shows trust and understanding that ultimately moves to helping them connect to you when you have them under saddle!"
As a whole, Schain said it wasn't just skills in and out of the saddle that she gleaned while working with O'Connor and her fellow riders. In fact, she shared, there was so much more to the week-long camp than that.
"The EA21 clinic gave me lots of insight as to what it means to be on a team and I learned lots of skills about the fundamentals of the training scale. We were also able to learn lots of history of the sport from a legend like David. The history of the sport gave insights about the progress that other people had to take to get to the top and I feel like that gave me hope for the future and what the path may be like to the top of the sport!"
Julia Beauchamp Crandon | Portola Valley, California
Preliminary and two-star level rider Julia Beauchamp Crandon made the trek from one coast to another for the EA21 National Camp, an experience she is more than thankful for. While she shared that she learned so much both as a rider and a horseperson, it was the connections she made that will stick with her for a lifetime.
"My favorite memory from the EA21 National Camp is being able to get to know people who are similar in age to yourself and have similar goals as you do. It was such a good experience as well from someone on the West Coast to be able to go to the East Coast and see how different things were," she said.
Like many of her fellow riders, one of the most challenging exercises that Beauchamp Crandon grew from in the saddle was O'Connor's drill work on dressage day, but she saw the immediate reward from the tricky exercise.
"I thought the first day of dressage where we all had to work as a group in the dressage court, in the drill exercise, was the most challenging but rewarding because it was difficult at first to get the timing right without messing up someone else. However, once everyone figured it out it was an excellent way to build upon the training scale foundation we set earlier that morning."
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