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Meagan DeLisle


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Best of JN: 8 Spots You Won’t Meet in Heaven

When sitting in the stands, jumping looks easy enough. Ride like you know what you’re doing, approach the fence, instill confidence in your horse (and yourself), and jump that sucker. It’s understandable why outsiders to the equestrian world can look at a wonderfully ridden round and say, “That isn’t hard, the horse is doing all the work!”

But we, as the ones on the backs of thousand-pound animals who are deathly afraid of a leaf blowing across the arena, know that the best riders make it look easy. One of the greatest challenges we face when approaching a fence is finding the appropriate distance. I am occasionally guilty of getting in a line that is a little worrisome, forgetting to breathe, and watching in slow-motion as my whole ride goes downhill — sometimes literally. We hear a lot of talk about ‘the perfect spot,’ but what about the other honorable mentions?

The Hail Mary spot:


Photo by Kimberly Cornelius

Also known as the ‘oh crap’ distance. There is no scientific reason as to why this happens, but somehow you and/or your horse felt awfully brave and decided to shoot for the moon (literally). If your horse clears this jump, you better go buy all the carrots at the grocery store because they deserve it. And when you get home be sure to wash your breeches thoroughly because they probably need it.



Photo courtesy of Kira Topeka, by Suz Cornue

You could say this is mostly experienced by green horses, when really you can thank the horses with a innate fear of anything and everything.  You as the rider must be prepared for a massive over-jump and then make lots of jokes as you exit the arena about how your horse just hates jumping small as your heart tries to slow down from its dangerous pace.

The “I Jump. You Jump. Remember?” Spot:


Photo courtesy of Tess Fortune

An ode to one of the classic love tales of all time, only your horse doesn’t know that. Caused by a miscommunication somewhere along the line or a verrrryyy naughtyyyy pony. Either way, one of the two of you is jumping without the other, which can lead to some funny stories you can share later as you ice various parts of your body.

The “I Believe I Can Fly” spot:


Photo by Katie Powell

Sometimes our horses decide to over jump. Most of the time we aren’t prepared for it. It is in these moments where we learn to grab mane and hold on as we attempt flight for hopefully the first and last time in our lives. Let’s leave the flying up to airplanes, ponies.

The “I Saved You and You Know It” spot:

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Photo courtesy of Natalie Klaver, courtesy of Spotted Vision Photography

This spot is often paired by a very grumpy look from your wonderful mount and your trainer yelling at you from the sidelines “YOU DIDN’T DESERVE THAT.” Your horse deserves all the cookies and love for this grand gesture. I am very guilty of this crime.

The “Emergency Brakes” spot:


Photo by Linda Surmeier

Even worse than bailing out, here your horse demonstrates his ability to be a reiner rather than a jumper and slams on the brakes. Why jump when you can stop?

The “I Forgot How to Jump” spot:


Photo courtesy of Leesa Blank

This could pertain to the horse or the rider and is literal reflection of a brainfart. It is hard to explain how or why these events happen and thanks to great photography, we can study them for many years to come and try to sort out how years of training can disappear in seconds.

Annnnnd my personal favorite,

The WTF spot:


Photo courtesy of Victoria Anne Gomez, by Heidi Rockhold

There are no words. I cannot tell you what this is or why this is happening…..I think this horse forgot how to horse.

There are so many ways that things can go oh so terribly wrong while jumping. Sometimes all you can do is grab mane and hold on for dear life…..or if you aren’t in the ring grab a camera and take photo of the year!

And if you can’t even make it through the course walk:


Photo courtesy of Shannon Steldt-Schlitz by Alex Plat

…maybe it’s time to consider knitting.

Go Jumping.

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One Hunter Jumper’s Epic Cross Training Lesson with Meghan O’Donoghue

Photo by Wayne DeLisle

Photo by Wayne DeLisle

You can ask my family, I am probably the most unlucky person on the planet. I can’t even win a free ticket on a scratch-off, but despite the handful of lemons life throws my way, every once in a while I manage to land a big win. So when on a wild hair one morning I decided to message pro eventer Meghan O’Donoghue to see if she could squeeze me in for a lesson while she was home for the winter, I never expected her to message me back with an enthusiastic, ”Happy to help!” There I was two Saturdays later loading up my mount Joey into a trailer and making the trip to Le Cheval de Boskydell, Meghan’s home barn, for the lesson of a lifetime.

While in college, I rode for my University’s IHSA Equestrian Team and we would travel to compete against nearby colleges, which is how I met Meghan’s mom, Jill O’Donoghue (coach of the SIUC team). Jill is one of those coaches who always dons a smile, despite your placing, and supports all the riders in our region. With Le Cheval being just a short hour from our home base in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, we were regulars at the schooling shows they host. Even after coming back from my hiatus from riding, Jill spotted me in the crowd and made it a point to give me a big welcome and a hug.

It is easy to admire Jill and in my time getting to know her, I also learned of her family, including her two daughters Meghan and Kelty who were in the pursuits of establishing professional riding careers. It was my junior year in college when Meghan took her own Pirate to their first Rolex and several of us on the team would ooh and ahh when we saw him in the barn on our visits to Le Cheval. I was mesmerized by her success and small-town roots and challenged myself every day to work as hard as she had to make her dreams come true. So when I saw Meghan at one of the Le Cheval schooling shows shortly after my return to the saddle, I decided to get in touch with her in order to help take my big dreams to the next step of becoming reality.

Back to the Basics

My horse, Joey, is a green OTTB with just a year off the track. I am bringing him along in the hopes of moving towards the rated jumpers and he is still in that moldable stage where every ounce of education we can get is beneficial. I rode into that lesson with hopes that by cross training with an Eventer, I would not only gain some great experience in the jumper ring, but also in improving our flatwork skills. I am a firm believer that your horse is only as good over fences as he is responsive on the flat. Thankfully, Meghan shares that thought process!

We started with a good thirty minutes refining Joey’s trot and my canter seat. The first thing Meghan had us tackle was achieving a more aggressive trot. In a majority of the video captured during the lesson you can hear Meghan telling me, “Trot. Trot. More Trot. Make him take you somewhere. More. More.” Just as we adjusted to trotting with a purpose, it was time to perfect our transitions. Our main focus was to be able to slow into the walk without the use of my hands. I struggled with the concept at first, I have relied a lot on my hands in the past which has led to some frustrations, but Meghan continued to encourage me to place my trust in Joey and allow him to understand my body, not just my hands. The first time I loosened my reins and sat back, Joey slowed down. After that successful demonstration, it was time to canter.

Let me tell you, at this point I thought I might be dying. Two days prior to this lesson I read a post by Denny Emerson about the importance of the warm-up and how too many people call a 5-10 minute ride on the flat a warm-up to fences and thought to myself, ‘do people really do thirty minute warm-ups?’ I can now answer that — yes they do, only I don’t so I was pretty darn out of shape.

We talked a lot about my seat and my posture. I can be a bit of a leaner, and Meghan explained how my position on the flat and over fences inhibits Joey from getting into the correct frame. Since purchasing Joey, I have ridden in a half seat because he has always seemed to go forward better. Meghan opted to have me sit, and I truly mean sit, the canter. “Think like dressage,” she said as I considered seat belting my butt to the saddle to make it stay there. At first, Joey and I were both a bit bewildered by the new amount of contact, but then I began to notice how his head was coming up into place without me having to pull him there.

Finding My Seat

Then it was jumping time! Thankfully, after our great warm-up on the flat Joey was not his typically chargy self to the fences. We jumped around a few singles and then Meghan made up some fun courses for us. Reminder- my horse has been jumping hunter courses. So when Meghan assigned us this really cool, but slightly intimidating five-stride bending line in a somewhat S shape, I was sure I was going to die. Joey is game for anything, though, and took each question in stride, even when I struggled to find the right distance the first few times around.

Meghan’s personality made working with her an uplifting experience. As we topped the last fence in the line with the correct striding to each fence, Meghan called out loudly, “Good for you!” Even though my back was to her, I could hear the sincerity in her voice. She was truly happy that I had succeeded at this challenging task. I have seen so many trainers/ professionals use negative reinforcement to ‘teach’ their riders, but this environment was nothing like that.

As we continued to jump courses with new challenges for us to puzzle out, Meghan stressed the importance of me being able to find my seat at the canter, especially before the fence. As Joey grew strung out over a particular line and kept charging out of the first one and barreling into the second, Meghan sent us back out on the rail to work on our canter again. As we came to the corners, Meghan had me picture myself picking up Joey’s ears in preparation for a fence. I did so by pushing my seat down and into my saddle, allowing my body to scoop with the movement, and giving a gentle lift with my hands. Instantly, Joey had his head up and would lock onto the straight-away in front of us.

Photo by Wayne DeLisle

Photo by Wayne DeLisle


Then it hit me- up until this point I had been riding Joey comfortably in a half-seat but to compensate for my slight lean (which I am still working on, it’s totally a posture issue on my part), Joey was ducking his head down and becoming too heavy on the forehand. By rocking back and engaging his back, he began to rely on his hind end more and was able to keep his head up in preparation for what was ahead of him. We took the next few fences with this thought in mind and I felt it all click together.

One Step Closer to the Dream

Joey and I had a lot of firsts in this lesson, but we also improved a ton on our basics. From jumping our first skinny (I knew I was going to knock a standard over but, darn, my horse is a perfect saint and didn’t blink at it), to adjusting my posture over the fence, I learned so much in that one hour that will continue to impact my future riding goals with Joey.

The best part of the whole day was that while I was afraid I was going to be nervous, I wasn’t. Meghan made this lesson such a positive experience and never made me feel like I am just some wanna-be jumping 2-foot fences with unobtainable dreams of the Grand Prix ring. My legs were wobbly when I dismounted, but I couldn’t stop beaming. What an exhilarating and enlightening experience! My husband and my coach attended the lesson with me (Wayne was the designated videographer, Cassie was excited to watch and learn from another professional) and even they were excited about mine and Joey’s future after seeing him adapt to these new challenges with ease.

Being a small town girl, it was so inspirational to ride with another small-town girl who made her dreams come true. Meghan was so welcoming to work with and riding with another trainer gave me a lot of positive things to work on and a new perspective on my partnership with Joey. I am so very thankful for the opportunity to get to ride with Meghan and hope to ride with her again one day.

Until then, you will see me sitting on a cushion because nothing will break in your tailbone more than cantering like a Dressage rider. You win, Dressage … You win.

Meagan DeLisle is a regular contributor at our sister site, Jumper Nation. To see more of her adventures and interviews, be sure to swing by and check out!

Best of JN: Making a Maclay Winner – Exclusive Interview with Hunter Holloway

Hunter Holloway and C’est La Vie at the CP National Horse Show. Photo by Taylor Renner/Phelps Media

Everyone has a unique story about how they got into equestrian sports, but Hunter Holloway can’t remember a day where horses were not in her life. In fact, she told JN that her mom fell off of a horse the day before she was born! It takes a strong support team and years of hard work and dedication to create a champion, both of which Hunter was able to lean on. A lifetime in the saddle and a supportive family who always encouraged her to pursue her dreams helped her get to that victory gallop on Sunday, November 6th when she was dubbed the 2016 Maclay Champion.

Hunter told JN, “this [riding competitively] was what I always wanted. I can’t imagine my life any other way.” It hasn’t always been as glamorous as competing at the Kentucky Horse Park at one of the equestrian industry’s most prestigious events, however.

Photo courtesy of Hunter Holloway on Instagram.

Photo courtesy of Hunter Holloway on Instagram.

On a typical summer morning, Hunter is usually in the barn by 7AM and starts riding around 8AM. She normally rides anywhere from 8-10 horses a day, ranging from her own string, clients horses at the barn, re-sale projects, and young greenies.

Around the 6th grade, her traveling schedule for shows became more intense and she and her mother/trainer made the executive decision to pursue an online education for her so she would be able to show year round. “It took a lot of dedication,” she claims, “but it was worth it!”

Dedication seems to be a great word to use when describing Hunter. She grew up in Topeka, Kansas, not exactly the worlds largest equestrian hub, and rides/trains out of her mother Brandie Holloway’s barn. “It can be difficult,” she said when describing working with her mother as her trainer, “but I wouldn’t want it any other way. We had to learn how to balance the roles. She is my trainer when I am on the horse and my mom when I am off the horse.” The strong foundation her mother set for her and her massive amount of support made Hunter the rider she is today.

By the age of 12, Hunter had won her first Grand Prix — a goal many competitors won’t accomplish until well into their adult years, if at all — but Hunter spoke of the win humbly. There is nothing about this young woman that doesn’t reflect the character that has been instilled in her through years of hard work.

Watch: Hunter Holloway and Argentina in Hunter’s first Grand Prix win, the $25,000 Dallas Harvest Horse Show GP. 

It was around that age that the Holloways made the connection with Don Stewart of Don Stewart Stables in Florida. Hunter formed a working connection with him and he took her on as one of his students when she was in Ocala and traveling for indoors. That partnership was a stepping stone in her career.

Hunter’s heart is in the Jumpers and she speaks of her many days in the Grand Prix ring without the slightest hint of hesitation in her voice, but the Equitation ring is a different story. “Equitation actually makes me more nervous,” she said with a giggle. “Which is strange because the courses are only set to 3’6” and I am used to jumping Grand Prix!”

She tells JN that when those nasty nerves creep up, she always remembers that the biggest competition you have is yourself. She likes to listen to music and focus on her rides as she waits for her turn to make her round, but she has a great amount of help from her team to keep her calm and collected. “Don is known for his humor! He always seems to crack a joke at the in gate which helps get my mind off of my nerves.” Hunter’s positive outlook has been a contributor to her success, and says that even when she inevitably makes mistakes, she keeps persevering.

That perseverance had to play a big role on the Friday before the initial Maclay testing when her mount Any Given Sunday came up with a fever. “He just didn’t feel right,” she said, “we were warming up and he wasn’t off, but I knew something wasn’t right.” She continued saying she was more upset over the illness of her beloved mount who has been in the Holloway family since he was 5 than she was nervous about riding a new horse in the finals.

Watch: Hunter Holloway and Any Given Sunday Reserve Championship Performance in 2015 Pessoa/US Medal Finals

The handsome gray the she won atop of, C’est La Vie, was her backup. He was actually purchased right before USEF Finals as a resale prospect and was clipped the day before the competition began. Despite the last minute switch, Hunter was smooth and polished and rode her way to the win with ease.

For now, Hunter is winding down and soaking in the reality of her new accomplishment, but she won’t be that way for long. She has her ambitions set high with planning her future career as a competitive equestrian (she has yet to decide if she wants to move on as a Professional or start off as an Amateur) and deciding which online college program to enroll in. She is happy for now being a hometown girl in Kansas, but this won’t be the last we see of her. That passion for horses instilled in her from before her birth will live on past the Maclay win and we should expect great things from her in the future.

Watch: Hunter Holloway’s winning ride in the Maclay earlier this month: