By Madison Sumner
When I arrived at the North American Youth Championships (NAYC) showgrounds in Traverse City, Michigan, for the first time, it felt like I was in a dream. I stepped out of the truck and stood in awe, taking in all the sights and sounds while thinking about how honored I was to be at such an important event. I was eager to see the show rings and walk my horse around the grounds. That had to wait though. It was time to unload my horse, head straight to horse inspection, prep his stall, and unload the trailer. It was a lot of work, but I loved every minute of it.
The week that I spent at NAYC was full of many different emotions for me. I was extremely excited to be there, but I also worried if my horse, Briar, and I were ready. Briar had been on rest for the first three weeks of July due to swelling in his hock, so we only had a couple of weeks to get back into riding and preparing for the show. Fortunately, he was cleared by the vet and gave me his all during our rides. We put in a really nice Junior Team Test and earned the highest individual score of the day. The Junior Individual Test had a few bobbles, but we still qualified for the Junior Freestyle round. Going into the freestyle I told myself I just wanted to have a clean, solid ride and we ended up getting the silver medal with a 71.5%! Standing on the podium beside riders who I had developed friendships with over the last week was a feeling I will never forget.
After a few days of rest, it was time to leave Traverse City and head to Lamplight for the 2022 Festival of Champions. I was not only excited to be able to ride down centerline again with Briar, but also to watch some of the riders that inspire me, such as Adrienne Lyle, Katie Duerrhammer, and Laura Graves. I also got to see a lot of the friends that I made at NAYC again. We started off again with the Junior Team Test and placed first. I felt like it was the best Junior Team Test we have ever done. We got third place for the Junior Individual Test, which placed us as overall reserve champion. The live results page had crashed during the last few Junior Individual rides, so no one knew how they had placed, and we were all waiting for the awards ceremony. I predicted that I would be third or fourth place overall, so I was really surprised when they called my name to put the reserve champion cooler on Briar. After the lap of honor, I remember feeling sad that the competitions were over, but also really grateful for having had the opportunity to attend, and for all the new friends I had made. More importantly though, I was grateful to Briar for always giving 110%, and for being the awesome teammate that he is!
Briar is a 16-year-old black KWPN/Friesian, and I knew I wanted him from the first time I sat on him. He was a little over our budget though, so I was pretty bummed when my parents said that we would have to continue looking. I remember making Instagram videos of me trying him and wishing that he was mine. My parents and I made a trip to Florida around Thanksgiving 2020 to look for more horses. When we got to our barn there was this big red bow on a stall and the stall plate said “Briar”. They surprised me with the best early Christmas present ever! I was so excited to start training with him! Briar can be sassy at times, but he is a total love bug, and just wants attention and treats. Briar and I have developed a really strong connection, and we trust each other – I think that is so important with any horse and rider.
My riding career began ten years ago, when I was just four-and-a-half-years old. I trained at a very small dressage barn in Clarksville, Tennessee, and since day one I have loved dressage. When I was six, I got my first dressage horse – an 18-year-old Arabian schoolmaster. He was the best teacher, and he and I competed at Introductory Level at some local schooling shows. My next horse, Sergio, was a 15-year-old Friesian/Arabian cross. He and I competed through First Level, and we were able to travel to some recognized shows as well. We struggled to find dressage trainers in our area, and sometimes we would have to travel an hour and a half just to have a lesson. After visiting Wellington, and getting Briar, we decided to move there so I could receive regular training.
During the 2021 Winter Equestrian Festival we earned our USDF Bronze and Silver Medals, and now have two scores towards our Gold Medal, so that is our next goal. I am also hoping to qualify for NAYC and Festival of Champions again. One of my future goals is to qualify for the European Young Rider Tour when I am old enough. Sometimes I get asked to ride other client’s horses while they are away. They are all so different, with their own quirks, strengths, and weaknesses, but I really enjoy the opportunity to ride any horse! Even though I love riding Briar, I would love to be able to consistently ride other horses. I think it really helps me grow as a rider to have different experiences.
As of now, Briar and I are back into full training at Havensafe Farm in Wellington. He enjoyed a nice break after NAYC and Festival. We did a lot of hacking around Havensafe, and Briar did a lot of napping during the break.
There can be many challenges to overcome being a youth rider. For me, it was the lack of dressage in my area. Owning, caring, and showing a horse is very expensive, as well. I’ve seen comments on social media that label youth riders as “silver spoon babies” and that is not always the case. It definitely is not the case for me. My parents and family have sacrificed a lot, and work really hard, to make this possible for me. I am very grateful that I have had these opportunities.
A good support system is very important, especially for youth dressage riders. Jennifer Baumert, my trainer, and her assistant Kjersten Lance, are extremely supportive, and I can’t thank them enough for all the training and support. I also take care of Briar myself, at home and at shows. My parents may help at times, but I like to groom and tack Briar because I think it helps build the bond between horse and rider, and it saves money. It can be intimidating when you are only thirteen but are competing against riders that are 20 or 21, or competing against adult amateurs because there were not enough junior/young rider participants in your class. However, it is really important for youth dressage riders to not give up and I try to look at everything as a learning experience that I can grow from. Even though there are challenges for youth riders, there are way more rewards that come with it; and there is no better feeling than riding down your final centerline, knowing that you and your 1300lb partner just rode a beautiful test!