Aug 21, 2021

The Road to AEC: A Little Kid, A Talented Pony, and a Big Dream

Alli Gill and Teagan. Photos Courtesy of Alli Gill

Ultimately I guess you could say my journey to the USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena Feeds (AEC) began when I was 6 years old. Like so many horse-crazy kids, I started taking lessons at a local hunter barn, and I fell in love with riding. When I was 8 years old, my family (who are novice horse people) decided that it was time to find me a pony of my own. We searched for a year and a half and finally stumbled upon a bay mare named Teagan while on a family vacation in the Smoky Mountains. At the time Teagan was a 9-year-old Chincoteague pony mare. Like me, Teagan didn’t know a lot, but she was the right size and age and she was safe for me to ride and learn on. With my trainer, we did lots of basic flatwork including straight lines, circles, transitions, and jumping. We entered some local schooling hunter shows and schooling combined test shows. We also started fox hunting with a local fox hunt club, and Teagan and I were having a lot of fun.

In April of 2018, I attended the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event (LRK3DE), and I saw a couple of cross-country jumps that looked like my level (which at the time was equivalent to Starter/Beginner Novice). I asked around and found out that there are shows other than the LRK3DE held at the Kentucky Horse Park. This was when I found out there was an entire U.S. Eventing organization with recognized shows and roadmaps to progression in eventing. I was so excited and worked with my trainer to develop a 14-month training and local showing schedule to get ready to attend Champagne Run at the Park in July 2019. Teagan and I worked harder than ever and finally made the long journey to the Kentucky Horse Park to compete. I had no idea what to expect and was happy to have just arrived at the park with my little backyard Chincoteague pony. Much to my surprise and excitement, I placed fifth in a field of 15 junior riders.

Upon returning from this show, I started taking eventing more seriously as I realized that this is what I really wanted to focus my riding on. I moved my pony to an eventing barn and learned so much more about eventing and even joined the local Pony Club. Within three months, I had my first Pony Club ratings and attended my first Pony Club Rally at Fleur De Leap as a Beginner Novice rider. Teagan and I placed first! While coming out of show jumping, my trainer told me I had just qualified for AEC and I replied “What is that?"

I spent the next year working harder than ever to prepare. Even through the shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we were able to train and ride at our barn in shifts. During the summer as things started to open back up, and following strict COVID-19 guidelines, we were able to attend a couple of shows at Texas Rose and Poplar Place. There was so much uncertainty going on with Covid and I was so excited when the registration window opened for AEC 2020 - we were going to the Kentucky Horse Park to ride in the biggest event in North America. One evening in late July at Eventing Camp with my barn mates, I received the news that AEC was canceled, I was devastated!

However, I saw the positive and built a new strategy - continue to train, work hard, and improve, and come back the next year stronger. Our next show was at Fleur De Leap in September 2020 and we moved up to Novice at this show. I placed first, ending on my dressage score. We were now qualified for the Junior Novice Division at AEC 2021. We have continued to train and focus on our dressage this year and attended a few more shows this spring to finish our qualification criteria. Looking back at AEC 2020 being canceled, I see now that it was a blessing for us because we have had so much time to work on improving our dressage and jumping strategies.

I am so proud of how much my pony has improved and I have loved every second of our journey together. We are so excited to attend AEC 2021. It still amazes me how far a little kid with a talented pony and a big dream can go.

Kentucky here we come!

About the USEA American Eventing Championships

The USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) presented by Nutrena Feeds is the pinnacle of the sport for the national levels. Held annually, the best junior, adult amateur, and professional competitors gather to vie for national championship titles at every level from Beginner Novice to Advanced. This ultimate test of horse and rider draws hundreds of horses and riders from around the country to compete for fabulous prizes, a piece of the substantial prize money, and the chance to be named the National Champion at their respective levels. In fact, the 2019 AEC garnered over 1,000 entries and took place with 925 starters, now standing as the largest eventing competition in North American history. The 2021 USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena Feeds will be held August 31 – September 5 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Click here to learn more about the USEA American Eventing Championships.

Sep 24, 2021 Future Event Horse

Fast Facts: 2021 FEH East Coast Championships

The 2021 USEA Future Event Horse (FEH) Championships will take place at three different regional competitions. The first of the three to kick off the FEH Championship season is the FEH East Coast Championships which will start on Saturday, September 25, and run through Sunday, September 26 at Loch Moy Farm in Adamstown, Maryland. The 2021 USEA FEH Central and West Coast Championships will take place in October.

Sep 24, 2021 Eventing News

USEA Podcast Bonus Episode: Aachen #TeamTalk with Jenni & Erik

What a week in Aachen! Nicole is joined by Erik Duvander and Jenni Autry to relive a brilliant week for U.S. riders in Aachen in this special bonus episode.

Sep 24, 2021 Volunteers

The VIP Volunteer: Daniel Stickney

When Daniel Stickney met his future wife Kathy in college, he had zero involvement in the horse world. Kathy had ridden as a teen and after marrying in graduate school, the couple was invited on a trail ride by an acquaintance who owned a boarding and lesson barn. That trail ride sparked Kathy’s fire for riding again and she began working at the barn to help offset costs of lessons and boarding for her first horse, Kismet. Suddenly Daniel found himself in the saddle as well. The two have been riding together for over 30 years now.

Sep 23, 2021 Competitions

Weekend Quick Links: September 24-26

Are you following along with the action from home this weekend? Or maybe you're competing at an event and need information fast. Either way, we’ve got you covered! Check out the USEA’s Weekend Quick Links for links to information including the prize list, ride times, live scores, and more for all the events running this weekend.

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