By Meghan Miller
In 2010, when I first became serious about dressage, my trainer Jessica mentioned the North American Junior/Young Rider Championships (NAJYRC). My parents entertained the idea while I watched YouTube videos from NAJYRC and imagined myself there. At the time, I could barely get my Arab on the bit, but I was ambitious!
For the next five years, NAJYRC was a dream, but never the plan. As much as I needed a horse to move up on, financially, it was just not possible to buy one. It was not until August of 2015 that we were contacted about a horse named Remington. He was huge, goofy, talented, and available for lease.
When I met Remy, I wasn’t thinking about NAJYRC. I had never shown above Second Level, but we quickly clicked and seemed to thrive under pressure. We began to imagine the idea of qualifying for 2017. In preparation mode one evening, while I reread the selection procedures, I realized that though I would still be 21 in 2017, my December birthday made 2016 my last year as a Young Rider. I felt hopeless, but Jessica promised it was still a possibility.
My first qualifier was in March, a whole year earlier than we had planned to debut. It was a complete disaster, and yet, I left that show determined; onward and upward! Many times throughout the grueling season, a particularly low score would convince me it was the end of my NAJYRC dream, but at the final qualifier, I pulled my scores up just enough to qualify. I knew I wouldn’t make the team, and it was frustrating that I didn’t have that extra year, but I was thrilled with my personal improvement.
Then, the unexpected happened. I’ll always remember the phone call. Two riders had declined their nominations, bumping me up to the fourth spot on USDF Region 3’s team. That was an emotional night. What an unexpected, amazing gift . I was going to NAJYRC!
In the month between that moment and NAJYRC, we should have ramped up my training, but we spent that month resting Remy. An ultrasound revealed inflammation in some of the minor ligaments in his left front. The prescription was rest, ice, and NSAIDs. The season had taken a toll, and despite joint injections, he was still not right. We departed for Colorado, with a questionably sound horse that I had not ridden in a month. I lunged him before the jog, and doubt started to creep back in my heart, but somehow, by the grace of God, he passed the jog and was deemed ready for competition the next day.
In warm-up for the individual test, Remy felt really good- fluid and responsive. But I couldn’t help feeling out of place, like I didn’t belong. I had unwisely looked up my competition on Centerline, which had shaken my confidence. I blocked out those unwelcome thoughts, and focused on riding. No matter the results, I was here and it was a gift.
The bell rang, and I cantered down centerline. I can count the number of ‘perfect’ tests I’ve ridden in my life on one hand…that rare kind of test that flows exactly like it’s supposed to. That day I rode one of those tests. The cheers of friends, family, and teammates registered distantly. I was overcome with emotion knowing that it was the best test I had ever ridden. Walking back to the barn, I alternated between anxiety about the score and overwhelming gratitude for that moment and everything that lead up to it. Jessica was tearful but beaming. “I am so proud of you.” I placed 7th individually, and participated in the awards ceremony I had been dreaming about since 2010. NAJYRC was magical. It was everything I’d ever hoped it would be, and more. I had made my dream a reality, and it made my other distant dreams seem a tiny bit more possible.