Aug 12, 2019

The Road to AEC: From a Parent's Perspective

Liz Crawley Photo.

As a parent and not a rider, I cannot fully understand the amount of work, time, effort, and sacrifice that goes into preparing for less than 15 minutes of actual competition. The dedication of these kids at such a young age is impressive. The most accomplished of riders give up a lot achieve their dreams. Sometimes it all comes together and sometimes it does not. There are times when a lesson needs to be learned or reinforced. Goals are great, but sometimes they just don’t work out. The most valuable lessons are learned during the hardest parts of the journey.

Our journey began 10 years ago. My daughter, Sommer (who is now 18), began like most riders do. We found a local barn that had lesson horses and a reasonable weekly lesson cost. We honestly thought it would be just a place she could go and be around the horses for therapeutic reasons. We didn’t think she would ever want to compete! She had played soccer, basketball, and softball. She was such a natural athlete, but never truly enjoyed it. Soccer was the only sport that lasted more than one season. We were convinced she would follow the same course with riding. We were wrong.

Soon she began asking for a horse of her own. She rode lesson horses for four years. She begged. She cried. We finally said, “Maybe when you are 14.” Ok, seriously, we just pulled that number out of the air when she was 11. Surely, she would lose interest in three years and we would not be stuck with a horse.

Photo courtesy of Sommer Matheny.

Then one day her dad was watching a lesson. It was hot and humid, as summers typically are here in Alabama. For the entire hour, she never once complained of the heat. She hung on every word the trainer said and tried so very hard to accomplish every task set before her. By the time that lesson was over her dad thought, surely, she would be full of complaints. It was the opposite. She wanted to ride longer. She also tended to the horse and cleaned the tack after the lesson. No complaints and all smiles. Parents, you know this scenario well. The horse, tack, and trunk are spotless, but their own bedroom is a disaster. Always.

That is when we knew, this was her passion. Everyone knows, little girls love horses, but she was 100 percent invested. She was a determined little girl. She found ways to help around the barn just so she could spend more time with the horses. She desperately desired to have a horse that she could call her own.

We tried to hold out to age 14, but we couldn't. She competed in her first schooling show a few days prior to her 13th birthday. She rode Fiona, the lesson horse she had been riding for about a year. She fell off during her first 12-inch cross-rail round. She stuck the landing and it was awesome if you ask me! Literally, she held her arms up and yelled proudly, “I’m good!” It made it memorable, but during the ribbon ceremony, she got the BEST birthday gift ever. Fiona was now her very own.

Fast forward through three years of schooling shows and clinics. I began to hear about horse trials. Other riders from her barn were competing at recognized events but I had no idea what it involved. I talked to her trainer and other parents and decided she needed a bit more experience. After a year of asking (begging), she entered her first horse trial at the starter level. She won! That was all it took. She was hooked on eventing!

Liz Crawley Photo.

She likes to set goals and strive for something specific. Her 2018 goals were to beat her personal best score and compete at the Area III Championships, place in the top five, and qualify for the USEA American Eventing Championships.

I had no clue what the AEC was. I didn’t even know what the acronym stood for. Sommer quickly educated me and when heard the requirements to qualify, I was surprised. That was a BIG goal for her first season of recognized competition. But she was so set on it. She accomplished every goal. She ended on her best dressage score of 30.5, she placed fourth at the Area III Championships in 2018, and she qualified for AEC! We knew that the trip to Colorado would not be in the cards for us that year. It was just not financially feasible. She accomplished her goals and that was enough for her.

This year she set the same goals, but this time if she qualified we were GOING! With the 2019 AEC being held at the Kentucky Horse Park, it was possible! We had been multiple years to the Kentucky Horse Park for the “event formerly known as Rolex” – yes, we still call it that. So, the thought of competing at this venue was very exciting. She did it! In March she got her qualifier with a first place finish! She just needed a third clear cross-country round!

Then it all came to a halt, and not the kind you want at X.

After several bouts of random lameness, the vet discovered Fiona had fractured her coffin bone. Although not thought to be career-ending, it meant a long recovery and no guarantees. It was frustrating and disappointing. It was also the best thing that could have happened to this duo.

I would never wish for either to be injured of course. Sommer was and is very dedicated to and protective of Fiona. She would never want to risk injury to her for the sake of competition. But those goals seemed so far out of reach all of a sudden. It would teach a powerful lesson.

Her competition schedule, canceled. Goals for the year, uncertain. She spent weeks sitting and watching her horse graze. Weeks not even sitting on her horse as other riders came and went from the arena. She gained a renewed appreciation for her horse. Her partner.

Sommer Matheny Photo.

She said it best on an Instagram post. Under a picture of her horse grazing in clover she wrote: “Never skip the chance to ride, even if it’s just at the walk. You never know when the next chance will be.”

How applicable this is to so many things in life. We can become complacent in our day-to-day journey. As with anything in life, it can change in a moment. Sometimes that lesson is learned the hard way. When deprived of the very thing you didn’t realize you needed most.

Fiona healed, and they got that clean cross-country round! Thanks to so many that helped us by donating, contributing to our fundraiser, or giving us points towards hotel costs. Sommer and Fiona (show name Hips Don’t Lie) will be competing at the USEA American Eventing Championships in August. See, I do know what the acronym stands for!

Crossing the finish line of that final clear cross-country round. Liz Crawley Photo.

I will be there cheering for and embarrassing my daughter, I’m sure. Proud, no matter the outcome. I will be nostalgic and probably shed a tear or two. I will take shaky videos of her dressage test and ill-timed photos of show jumping. I will be holding my breath watching them on cross-country. I will love every second and always be grateful to have another opportunity to watch them ride.

About the USEA American Eventing Championships

The USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) 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. The 2019 USEA American Eventing Championships will be held August 27-September 1, 2019 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Click here to learn more about the USEA American Eventing Championships.

Oct 04, 2022 Education

Jim Wofford Delivers His Fun and Education Formula at Woodside Clinic

Specifics of the "Fun & Education Formula" were provided to all at the Jim Wofford Clinic held on August 20 & 21 at the Horse Park in Woodside, northern California. Eager riders, auditors, and volunteers gathered for a much anticipated two-day clinic with the master bright and early Saturday morning.

Oct 04, 2022 Hall of Fame

Connections of Great Event Horse Eagle Lion Offered Invitation to USEA Eventing Hall of Fame

This year a new class will be joining the 47 eventing legends currently in the United States Eventing Association (USEA) Eventing Hall of Fame. Induction into the Hall of Fame is the highest honor awarded within the sport of eventing in the United States. Those invited to join the USEA's Eventing Hall of Fame have truly made a difference in the sport of eventing. Hall of Fame members have included past Association presidents, volunteers, riders, founders, course designers, officials, organizers, horses, horse owners, and coaches.

Oct 03, 2022 Convention

Announcing the Keynote Speaker for the 2022 USEA Annual Meeting & Convention: Dr. Sue Dyson

Have you ever wondered why your horse isn’t performing at their best? Get ready to learn about the many facets that can contribute to lameness and poor performance in sport horses from equine orthopedics expert, Dr. Sue Dyson! The United States Eventing Association (USEA) is pleased to announce that Dr. Dyson will be the keynote speaker at the 2022 USEA Annual Meeting & Convention in Savannah, GA this December 7-11.

Oct 02, 2022 Profile

Change of Rein: Rosie Smith's Journey from Reining to the #2022AEC

Rosie Smith’s rose gold accented helmet matched her perfectly tidy bun of red hair as she took the third spot in the USEA Training Rider Championship at the 2022 USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) presented by Nurena Feeds. Every little detail came together while aboard her trusted partner of nine years: the 20-year-old Connemara Irish Draught named Seamus (by Corrcullen, RID). But Smith’s first jump, back when she was only 15 years old, wasn’t with an English saddle.

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