By Raegan McCool

I started riding when I was three years old, with a passion that is still with me today.  I rode in 4-H until the age of thirteen– just two short years ago.  My experience there was successful, with many championships in a variety of classes on my grade quarter horse, Onyx.  My riding mentor, at the time, introduced me to Forrest Hill Farm (FHF), in Lafayette, when I traveled with her to a lesson.  She graciously allowed me to share that lesson and it was the beginning of a journey I never could have imagined.  After continuing with my own lessons at the farm, Jennifer and Margaret Kaiser offered me the opportunity to join their internship program, in the fall of 2016. It was a big step out of the box to invite such a young rider to full-time service. That was the start of my dressage career and the beginning of many wonderful opportunities. 

Last summer, I showed Jennifer and Margaret’s FHF Mercedeswood at Training and First Level.  We qualified for the Great American Insurance Group/USDF Region 2 Dressage Championships, placing 6th at Training Level and 8th at First Level.  That was an amazing accomplishment at that point, never dreaming what this summer would bring. In April of this year, I didn’t know if I would even be showing Third Level.  Jen and Peg allowed me to start training on their successful mare, FHF Racharee.  She is not an easy ride and makes you work for what you want, but when you get it right, she’s beautiful.  I couldn’t ask for a better teacher to take me up the levels.  I’m so grateful to Margaret and Jennifer for allowing me to ride her.  

Little did I know, my mom and Jennifer had already declared my intent for NAYC, with the hopes of getting my name recognized.  The end of May came around, and I rode the team and individual tests; scoring above 65% on both tests, I suddenly found myself on track to have a shot for the team.  Two months later, I was qualified and accepted to the Junior North American Youth Championships (NAYC) team! Dreams do come true!

On our way to Old Salem Farm, I was still in shock, trying to really grasp all that had happened from last fall to now. When we arrived, our jaws were immediately dropping over the beautiful barns, arenas, and landscapes.  Nerves were at an all-time high on Wednesday, at the Junior jog.  Racharee was held after the first inspection, but passed after a second jog. Thursday was our team test, which went extremely well.  I couldn’t have asked Rae to be better. Saturday was the big test, the individual test.  I was nervous, to say the least.  Going in, looking at all the judges, knowing my family and friends were watching online, and my family that was there watching just gave me more focus. I’ve always been nervous before a test, but as soon as I went in the ring it was all focus. Going through the movements, thinking about being precise, conservative, and riding the cleanest test I possibly could. Coming down the centerline, I knew we did it. I was on cloud nine. Rae was amazing.  After we halted and saluted, the tears came rushing down.  I could not have been happier.  We made it, we did it, and placed in the top 10 individually – 7th, to be exact.  

A year ago, showing Training and First Level, I never would have dreamed we would get this far, but we did. I am so thankful for the chance to participate in an FEI event and learn how to better prepare for international showing.  This show also brought together riders from our region to meet, work together and encourage each other.  Our chefs were amazing – helping me along in my first large riding event.  Finally, I can’t thank Jennifer, Margaret, and my parents enough for all their teaching, support, and opportunities.

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