Erin Nichols took the FEI North American Youth Championships (NAYC) Young Rider division by storm in her second time at the competition. Earning gold in both the Individual Test and Freestyle, and earning the highest individual score of the day as part of the silver medal placing Region 7 team, Nichols has a lot to be proud of. Get to know here in this exclusive Q&A.
How long have you been riding?
I’ve been competing in dressage for about 10 or 11 years. I first started riding when I was 4 years old. My mom also rides so I’ve been around horses my whole life.
Did you start with dressage, or did you ride any other disciplines first?
I first started in Pony Club, and I started with dressage and show jumping. I still compete in show jumping to this day at the 1.10m-1.20m height.
Tell us about the horse or horses you mainly ride (breed, age, what the horse is like).
I now have two dressage horses, Handsome Rob AR and Elian Royale.
Rob is a 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Charmeur x Votik K x Don Schufro). I have brought him up the levels since he was a five-year-old and I was 14. He has a really goofy personality and loves his scratches.
I just purchased Elian while in Germany on the European Young Rider Tour, and he’s a Grand Prix horse. He has a super sweet personality and is eager to work. This is my first time having two dressage horses.
Tell us about your experience at NAYC this year.
NAYC this year was truly unforgettable. Coming off a successful European tour I was excited to have some fun and enjoy this show. I absolutely love the team environment at NAYC, and how you get to watch other amazing riders from all over North America.
Was this your first time at NAYC?
This was my second year on a NAYC team. I think the team aspect is always my favorite because you are all working hard towards a similar goal. You learn so much from a big championship like this one to prepare riders for the future in the sport.
What are some of your goals?
I’m going to start with my new horse in the Young Riders Division, with the plan of moving into the U25. I plan on continuing to develop Handsome Rob AR up the levels. More long term, I have hopes of making a Nations Cup team one day, possibly a team for the Pan American Games, competing at Aachen, and competing in a World Cup.
What is your favorite horse-related memory?
My favorite horse-related memory is going to Pony Club Camps in the summer. You get to camp with a bunch of kids your age, care for your horses, ride in clinics in show jumping, dressage, and cross country, go to camp fires, play mounted games, and sleep in tents near your horses. I really loved going to those.
What would you want to tell other young people who might be interested in trying dressage?
Dressage is very technical, and is truly like dancing with horses. You make lifelong friends, and build a close relationship with your horse.
How do you balance your equestrian goals with a social life, school, etc?
It’s very tricky, since dressage is not a sport you can play for the school. I have to work closely with my school regarding absences, and my teachers on catching up on work. In high school, I went to zero period classes early in the morning, to free up my schedule to ride in the afternoon. Now that I am in college at Chapman University, I tried to get my class schedule to coordinate with my riding schedule. It’s really a test of time management.
What’s it like being a youth rider in the sport of dressage?
I like how this sport allows you to travel to new places for shows. In this way you can meet a lot of new people, and experience new things that you may not have had the opportunity to do otherwise.