Mar 01, 2023

The EA21 National Camp Riders Share All | Part Two

By Meagan DeLisle - USEA Staff
Mipsy Media photo

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 them as they look back on their week in Ocala learning from the best of the best. Hear from some of the EA21 National Camp participants and how the experience impacted their riding and their goals for the season and beyond below.

Harper Padgett | Woodinville, Washington

Harper Padgett. Mipsy Media photo

Washington native and two-star eventer Harper Padgett made the trip to Ocala to participate in the first-ever USEA EA21 National Camp. While she shared she learned a ton in her own work in the saddle during the experience, she also commented on what she gleaned from watching the other riders’ lessons throughout the week.

“I think my favorite memory from the EA21 camp was watching the jump lessons,” reflected Padgett. “It was very interesting to watch multiple riders trying to achieve the same thing. It is such an educational experience as I got to observe the different way the riders tried to ride the same lines or courses. I got to learn from their mistakes and take inspiration from what they did well that worked with what David O’Conner was trying to teach.”

In looking back on her week in Ocala with her fellow EA21 riders, EA21 Director of Coaching David O’Connor, and the other guest speakers who taught throughout the week, Padgett shared how the overall experience has prepared her for her future goals as an eventer.

“I think that this camp prepared me for future goals by instilling the pure basics," she said. "It is easy to quickly progress and move up through the levels without truly going back to the basics each time you ride. In this camp we focused on the really simple things, such as correct position and the significance of straightness while riding. These two aspects of riding are usually overlooked, even by myself. This camp reminded me of how important doing simple things correctly is and how they allow you to progress the correct way, and how you need to be trained in these basic things in order to get to the more complicated pieces of riding. This is what is going to prepare me the most for my future career in riding.”

Maia Ramberg | Hugo, Minnesota

Maia Ramberg. Mipsy Media photo

For one-star rider Maia Ramberg, it was O’Connor’s and Emma Ford’s guidance on cross-country day that has stuck with her after the experience.

“On cross-country day David talked about the different rider positions. I felt like it gave me a better understanding of our positions effect on the horses balance and preparation leading up to fences,” she shared. “And an unmounted lesson that stood out to me is all of the knowledge Emma Ford shared with us. I felt like I now have better knowledge on how to care for my horses as individuals.”

Narrowing down to just one favorite memory from the week was a challenge for all of the EA21 National Camp participants to do, but Ramberg highlighted that getting to know each of her fellow EA21 riders a little better definitely stands out in her mind.

“My favorite memory of the camp is all of the riders hanging out in the house and getting to know each other," she said. "I felt like all of the riders supported each other and created a great learning environment. I truly enjoyed this opportunity. and I’m so excited to see these girls achieve great things in the future. I gained some amazing friendships through EA21. It was such an honor to attend, and I am forever thankful.”

Kayla Dumler | Enumclaw, Washington

Kayla Dumler. Mipsy Media photo

Another rider hailing from Washington state was Intermediate level rider Kayla Dumler. Like many of her fellow riders, Dumler found that O’Connor’s drill-team like lesson on the flat asked her to really step into sync with her horse and her own skills as a rider.

“The dressage lesson the first day doing the drill riding was the most challenging and rewarding for me,” she said. “Having to focus on everything with your horse and the person right in front and behind you was very challenging. However it was very rewarding because in the end it helped me to hold myself to a high standard, enforcing the training scale while thinking about other things like the horses around me.”

Dumler shared that being selected to participate in the EA21 National Camp was extra special, as it was the first time she was ever selected to participate in a similar experience. She aims to take what she learned during this year’s National Camp and apply it to her own riding and future educational opportunities to make herself the best rider that she can be.

“In the future I would like to be selected for more lists and eventually teams so going through the whole process and experiencing what a training session is like will help me prepare for future goals for getting selected for more lists because I have now been through the process and know what it is like,” she said.

Caitlin O’Roark | Centerville, Virginia

Caitlin O'Roark. Mipsy Media photo

When O’Connor told the EA21 National Camp Participants to always “be a student of the sport,” two-star rider Caitlin O’Roark really took that to heart, applying it to every aspect of the week-long educational experience. That mentality helped her think outside of the box when it came to every lesson they were presented with.

“During cross-country day when we had our unmounted lesson, David talked about horses reading and understanding jumps and questions out on cross-country. This stood out to me the most because the horses have to understand as much, if not more, than what we do,” she reflected.

That standout quote wasn’t all that O’Roark took away from the National Camp, however. She feels that the connections she made and the lessons she learned have greatly impacted her future in the sport.

“I think it was good to meet our future competitors and team riders,” she stated. “I also had some very good takeaways with the training scale and how to change almost every exercise we did for a 4-year-old to a 15-year-old horse. I want to thank USEA for this opportunity, David O’Connor for coaching, and everyone involved for making this happen! I'm so thankful to be a part of the program.”

Maya Clarkson | Santa Cruz, California

Maya Clarkson. Mipsy Media photo

California-raised Intermediate and three-star level young rider Maya Clarkson tried to absorb as much information from throughout the week as possible. For Clarkson, it was O’Connor’s "circle of death" show jumping exercise that will stick with her forever.

“David had us go on the circle in four, five, and then three strides to test the horse’s readability,” reflected Clarkson. “It was very challenging because the exercise required so much focus. In order to do it successfully you really needed to ride every single step and react immediately to whatever was happening with your horse at that moment. When I saw that exercise set up I wasn't sure how well it was going to go with my mare. After making a mistake and figuring out very quickly how focused I needed to be, I was able to navigate my horse Lou through the challenging exercise very successfully. She had never done that exercise before, so I was so happy with how rideable and relaxed she was, allowing me to easily change from four strides to five and even the three very smoothly by the end.”

Making the experience even more memorable for Clarkson was the fact that she got to enjoy it with two of her closest friends on cross-country day.

“One of them, Sarah Ertl, and I have been riding in group lessons together since I started eventing with our coach Shannon Lilley," she said. "It was a really cool full-circle moment riding again with Sarah and Shannon being there that day too. We both are from California and have now moved out east to further our eventing careers, but we're both in different programs now and don't get to see each other or ride together much anymore. Being in this program and riding together at the National Camp again was special and reminded me of where we started and how far we have come, a memory I'll definitely cherish.”

Lea Adams-Blackmore | Norwich, Vermont

Lea Adams-Blackmore. Mipsy Media photo

While she learned a ton from her riding experiences at the National Camp, for Intermediate and three-star level rider Lea Adams-Blackmore, the highlight was watching O’Connor hop on a horse himself and demonstrate a few key skills.

“My favorite memory from the EA21 National Camp was watching David get on a young horse in one of the groups and completely changing the horse’s balance so that all of a sudden the exercises it was being asked to do were much easier,” she shared.

The opportunity to participate in a team like atmosphere without the pressure of a competition was huge for Adams-Blackmore, and she reflected on the importance of the EA21 program and others like it after the event.

“I feel that getting the chance to ride in this team setting was such an incredible opportunity. I hope to participate in all of the programs that follow this, and so I believe this prepared me for those experiences extremely well,” she said. “I loved getting the opportunity to meet everyone, and I hope this camp continues for many generations to come in order to help young riders come into their own.”

Audrey Sanborn | Mercer Island, Washington

Audrey Sanborn. Mipsy Media photo

Like Adams-Blackmore, Sanborn gained a lot of useful insight from watching O’Connor interact with the horses at the camp. She shared a pivotal moment for her while observing one of O’Connor’s groundwork sessions.

“The unmounted lesson that stood out to me the most was watching David do groundwork with two different horses," she said. "One of the horses was familiar with groundwork before, while the other was not familiar with groundwork. This was a reminder to me of how sensitive horses are to our movements, and how important communication is with our horses.”

After a lifetime’s worth of education packed into one week-long camp, Sanborn is eager to take what she gained from this opportunity and use it towards making her longterm goals a reality.

“I believe that the National Camp motivated me to become a better rider for myself and my horses," she said. "This camp taught me a lot about the sport of eventing and the importance of the basics. Overall, the camp inspired me to pursue my goals as a rider in this sport.”

Dylan Philipps | Pittsboro, North Carolina

Dylan Philipps. Mipsy Media photo

Preliminary and two-star level rider Dylan Philipps felt that riding in the EA21 National Camp was the perfect way to kick off the year.

“The EA21 National Camp gave me a great jumpstart on my 2023 season," she said. "I was able to take home a lot of great concepts and homework to incorporate into my training before kicking off the competition season in February. The camp helped expose some weaknesses in my training that I am eager to work on and improve on as I develop as a rider.”

Philipps found herself reflecting on how the drill team exercises on the first dressage day made a big impact on her flatwork.

“I find that I almost always take private dressage lessons and while this is extremely beneficial, I tend to get caught up in all the details, and I try to wait for the ‘perfect’ moment. Riding in a larger group forced me to do more planning ahead and to start riding for the next movement as opposed to waiting for the exact ‘perfect’ moment to ask for my transition or start an exercise,” she said. “I found that breaking this desire for perfection actually helped my horse greatly. As I focused less on fixing the movement I was in and instead planned for the movement ahead the overall quality of the work greatly improved.”

Other EA21 National Camp riders include: Sarah Ertl, Jules Fanello, and Ella Garcia.

Miss out on Part One of this series? Access it here.

Applications are now open for the 2023 EA21 Regional Clinics. Learn more here.

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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