Megan Sykes has lived much of the last four years in her truck. She’s come to love the hours spent listening to true crime podcasts and endless playlists shuffled by Spotify. It’s a nomadic life for Megan, who splits her time between southern California and west Texas, balancing a budding upper level career with a busy program back at home. But she says loyalty is important to her, and this concept is what makes her hook up the trailer and hit the road time and time again.
Megan began eventing at the age of 15, after spending her childhood as many of us do on the local hunter/jumper and 4H circuits. Wanting to give eventing a real go, Megan began riding at Mike Huber’s Gold Chip Stables and working as a groom for Heather Morris. From that point on, Megan recalls, “the rest is history.”
In 2015, Heather Morris moved to southern California to join up with Next Level Eventing. Megan joined her for the first winter season and says the only reason she returned back home was because she broke her leg. As fate would have it, though, Megan would meet her now-husband, Reed, after she returned home. The two now own and operate Northwest Stables and Classic’s Eventing out of Midland, Texas, where Reed breaks colts and runs the facility while Megan trains clients and takes on sale horses.
A New Classic
It was Tamie Smith who called Megan about a horse named Classic’s Mojah, who had just come in to the Next Level program to be sold. Megan, who had competed through the former CCI1* level with her previous horse, Ghypsy, was seeking a partner with whom she could continue to move up. “Mo,” an Oldenburg gelding who was seven at the time, was willing but able to take a joke, Megan described. It was his easy attitude and temperament, coupled with keen ability, that prompted Tamie to tell Megan she’d found her the perfect horse.
Suddenly, Megan found herself with a talented potential horse of a lifetime and a fantastic coaching team ready to make her dreams come true. She knew that pursuing both her upper level dreams as well as running her business back home would require some creativity, but she took on the challenge with aplomb.
It’s an 18 hour drive from point A to point B, and Megan makes the trek from Texas to California at least twice a year in order to take advantage of training opportunities with Heather and Tamie, as well as with dressage trainer Niki Clarke. Megan says their help has been invaluable and well worth all the juggling.
Megan typically starts her travel season in February, when the first shows of the new year are kicking off in earnest. “I typically have a few young horses at home that I’ll get going in the winter, going to schooling shows, and then I’ll pick one to bring with me to California and meet up with the NLE team at a jumper show and kick off the season. I’ll usually go home after the April event at Twin Rivers, then I’ll come back for late summer and stay for the fall season.”
For Megan, one of the biggest advantages that her work with Heather and Tamie is acquiring the tools to separate the emotions from her riding. With Mo, Megan feels some pressure to get it right since he’s her only top competition horse.
“When you only have one horse, you tend to pour your everything into it,” she says. “It can make you very emotional because everything is riding on that one horse. I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to ride some of the young horses at NLE, and it’s helped me develop more of a feel rather than attaching so much emotion to each ride.”
This learning curve has helped prepare Megan well for her own business, where she says she thrives on taking on sale horses and encouraging them to blossom. “I love working with the young horses and traveling to compete,” she says. “My time riding horses for Heather and Tamie has really helped me be more methodical and logical with my riding, which sets me up well for the future.”
The Proving Ground
This year, Megan’s travel plans included a maiden voyage to the final running of the CCI3*-L at The Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International. Megan and Classic’s Mojah have had a banner year together, finishing in second place in the CCI3*-L at Rebecca Farm this summer. Fair Hill, however, would be a different, more technical test.
For Megan, the journey to Fair Hill was a reaffirmation of why she’s chosen to pursue this path, why she spends endless hours in the truck, why she keeps putting in the time when others may have chosen to ease up on the gas.
“Fair Hill really tests your grit to get things done, and you really do get to compete against some great riders,” Megan said. “I wanted to prove to myself and to my horse that we could do more of the technical courses and still be competitive against the big names.”
And prove that they did, marching down centerline and laying down their first sub-30 score at the 3* level to sit fourth after dressage. A handful of time on cross country and an unlucky rail in their most challenging phase would keep Megan and Classic’s Mojah out of the top five, but their finishing score of 34.7 was enough to finish the weekend in seventh place overall.
The Next Level Eventing group always supports their own, and this was exemplified by the fact that both Heather Morris and Kaylawna Smith traveled to Fair Hill to coach, groom for, and support Megan. Tamie, fresh off a top finish herself at Boekelo, stopped by on her way back to California to compete at Fresno to help out and show her support. Anyone who observes this group is assured of one thing: NLE will never let you walk alone, even when you’re on the opposite coast.
I had called Megan to check in on how she was feeling after a huge effort over the weekend, and she seemed to take both the great achievements and the lessons learned in stride. For all my wonder at her lifestyle, I could almost see her shrugging nonchalantly through the phone. For her, it’s simple: you stick with the program that works for you, and you remain loyal to those who have helped you along the way. It’s not easy, but it isn’t hard at the same time. Megan’s message was clear to me through our conversations: when you know something works, you just find a way to do it.
The morning after Fair Hill, Megan packed up her precious cargo and got back on the road, heading back to Texas for a well-deserved vacation for Mo and some time to focus on the young horses and clients for Megan. It’s a 26 hour drive home from Maryland to Midland. Plenty of time for true crime, reflecting, and dreaming of what’s to come.