Five-star international eventer Ashlynn Meuchel remembers her purchase of the now 13-year-old big grey Dutch Warmblood gelding named Emporium (Cartano x UPANA), whom she lovingly refers to as Theo. “He was affordable because he was feral,” Meuchel reflected. Ask her to say that again without laughing and it might prove difficult. All jokes aside, most of us know that challenging horses usually take us on the scenic route to success. They have big hearts, big strides and sometimes big fears or quirks, and charmingly, Emporium had everything.
We hear a lot of buzz about producing a horse—bringing along a baby and riding them up through the levels—but it’s rare to have a rider who is patient and passionate enough to stay the course with one steed, and also have their education remain parallel to the horse. But Meuchel has done just that, taking the quirky quartz colored gelding from novice level to five-star, with confidence being a key in their survival.
Tamie Smith played a pivotal role in Meuchel’s introduction to the 5-year-old gelding back when Meuchel was only a teenager. Smith had Emporium as a resident in her sale barn in Temecula, California around the time that Ashlynn was looking for her next partner. California was an easier trek from Montana—Meuchel’s home state—than the east coast and Meuchel graduated high school early to work for Smith and continued to travel on weekends or college breaks to train and compete. Smith recognized the potential in both horse and rider and quirks aside, Emporium showed great promise.
“Even as a 5-year-old, it was clear that he was quite talented jumping-wise, but he was needing some work so we bought him basically knowing that he could jump a big jump,” said Meuchel. “Otherwise there were a lot of questions for him as to whether he’d make a good eventer because he’s quite large—17.2, 17.3—and he’s not bred to event.” Meuchel didn’t shy away from the challenge of riding or even owning a horse that was a bit of a mystery package. In fact, she chased her dream of advanced level eventing and followed her nose to the east coast, unpacking his personality along their partnership and celebrating personal and professional success with Clayton Fredericks.
Now residing, training and competing in Ocala, Florida, Meuchel hasn’t forgotten her roots in the west, primarily Kalispell, Montana where the USAE American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena Feeds take place this August. “I’ve learned so much from [Emporium]…how to produce a horse, and how to produce a quirky horse,” said Meuchel. “So it’s been really nice to take some of that knowledge home to Montana. I went last year and this year and I’m trying to get on a regular schedule out there because I want to try to contribute to the community that I grew up riding in.”
Sharing her passion and skill with the riders in her home state is really about sharing an experience together and working on confidence building—something that Meuchel has a true passion for with both horses and riders. “I try to really focus on confidence because [Emporium] and I lacked that for a long time, so I try—through my teaching—to make people and horses feel like they can do it,” said Meuchel. And of course, reading a horse’s cues is a lifelong learning curve—knowing how they communicate when they’re fearful or when they need a little extra encouragement. Either way, Meuchel’s clinics are all about the exchange of questions between horse and rider, and learning how to answer each other really matters when it comes to trust.
“Maybe [the horse] doesn’t have a behavioral issue, maybe the root of it is a confidence problem,” said Meuchel, who had to tackle Emporium’s fear of jumping down into water from a place of understanding, not aggression. “Maybe the horse is missing a piece of its training somewhere and it’s easier to address the training issue rather than a behavioral issue…I think a lot of it was just that [Emporium] lacked confidence rather than he wanted to be a bad horse. Most horses don’t want to be bad, they’re just scared or worried.”
Meuchel is unofficially on an eventing talent search, producing young horses in what most consider to be the epicenter of the eventing industry and also passing down confidence building skills and positivity to her clinic participants and students. And Emporium is doing the same, setting an example for promising yet challenging horses with his early success as a USEA Young Event Horse Program (YEH) graduate.
“It’s a good program to have for our young horses in the states,” said Meuchel. “It’s nice to have a standard across the country to compare young horses.” The program’s goal is to identify young horses who possess the talent and disposition that, with proper training, can excel in the uppermost levels of eventing. Emporium is the product of following that sentiment to its fullest potential and, in turn, also producing a rider in the process—one who is capable, compassionate and as raw-edged as her Montana beginnings.
At the August USEA Board of Governors meeting, a proposition was brought forth to officially recognize what is commonly referred to as “Starter level” as a USEA division. For many years now, Starter level has been offered as a test at USEA approved events. The decision to recognize the level officially would allow those competing in Starter level divisions to receive recognition on the USEA Leaderboards and to compete at the Starter level at the USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) in the future. The motion was approved to recognize this level, and the USEA staff have been hard at work preparing all of the rules, guidelines, and standards that will go along with this level’s recognition for the 2024 season.
Karma is developing into one of the fastest and most-reliable cross-country horses in the West. The 9-year-old bay Oldenburg mare and James Alliston won their third-straight blue ribbon together at either the four-star or Advanced level in the CCI4*-S at the Twin Rivers Fall International in Paso Robles, California, with the only double-clear cross-country round on Saturday.
Most couples share a kiss and part ways at 8:00 a.m. as they head off to their own work days, but eventing power couple James and Helen Alliston do it all together. We gave our USEA members the opportunity to submit their questions for this West Coast-based couple, and USEA Podcast host Nicole Brown gets them to share all on many topics: eventing in the U.S. versus the U.K., who is the most competitive of the two, dealing with warmer temperatures, why James likes to drive illegally slow, and so much more!
The Plantation Field International CCI4*-S concluded today with the cross-country phase, and the final standings were nearly a matter of “last one standing.” As Tropical Storm Ophelia brought a torrential downpour to the area, a number of riders decided to opt out: of 39 competitors, only six completed, and 17 withdrew before the start of cross-country.