You may know her as the winner of the Carolina International CIC Two Star, or you may have heard about her placing 3rd in the CIC Two Star at the Fork, or you might have heard about her making the 2014 Developing Riders/Eventing 25 Program. Ariel Grald has been steadily climbing the ladder in the eventing world and she’s not close to finishing or topping out anytime soon. She has immense goals and tremendous ambition, and with a horse like hers, the sky is literally the limit. Without further ado…
Lila: How old are you and where are you originally from?
Ariel : “I’m 25. I was born in Minnesota, but my parents moved to New Hampshire when I was two so I spent most of my childhood there.”
Lila: How old where you when you first started riding, and how old were you when you first started eventing?
Ariel: “My mother rode horses so I was placed on a horse’s back before I could walk. I was fortunate to have a neighbor’s Shetland pony live at our farm in Minnesota, so I started riding very young. I began eventing at age 8.”
Lila: What was your first event horse, or pony? Describe him or her.
Ariel: “My first event pony was a Welsh Pony/Quarter horse cross gelding named Pinocchio. He was very naughty, and could buck just about anyone off. But he loved to jump! And once I learned how to stay on, we had a great time.”
Lila: What are your fondest memories as a child?
Ariel: “I’m fortunate that I grew up with horses at home. My friends and I rode from dawn until dusk. I guess living in the middle of nowhere has its perks! There were endless places to ride and trails to explore. I also spent a lot of time at Hitching Post Farm in Vermont. I was a part of a great group of girls, who spent every spare minute at the farm, mucking stalls, cleaning tack, anything to be around the horses.”
Lila: I know you graduated from UVM, were you ever torn choosing between eventing, or following a different career path?
Ariel: “After graduating from high school, I wanted to take time off to ride and my mother insisted I go straight to college. At the time, I was frustrated by this, but now I’m grateful; if I had started riding full-time, I don’t think I would have gone to college at all. After graduating from UVM, I worked in a medical research lab for about a year, riding two horses on the side. Once Leah started competing and I realized how talented she is, I knew that I needed to ride and train full-time to accomplish my goals and develop her to her full potential. With undergrad behind me, it was an easy decision for me to focus on my eventing career.”
Lila: Tell me about Leah. How long have you had her? What’s her breeding? What’s your partnership like?
Ariel: “Leah was bred by Kassandra Ladd, of Ladd Brook Farm in New Hampshire. She is out of an Irish Sport Horse mare, by a full Irish Draught stallion named Cradilo. My mother picked out her as a weanling in late 2005. Since I’ve had Leah almost her entire life, I know her inside and out. We really trust each other. She’s always been spunky and opinionated; she likes things done her way. She’s grey and not fond of baths but tolerates them as along as I use hot water. She’s a very sweet mare, but is incredibly strong. She loves to run fast and jump high.”
Lila: How did you get involved with Annie Eldridge, and how has your experience been?
Ariel: “I met Annie just over two years ago through a mutual friend, Karen McCollom. I began riding and competing one horse for Annie, and over time that number has increased. I train out of her Setter’s Run Farm in Southern Pines, NC and Duxbury, MA. Riding for Annie has made so many things possible for me and I’m thankful for her support. She is incredibly kind and encouraging, and has opened up a whole new world of opportunities. She loves all of her horses and I’m lucky to ride them. I’ve gained so much experience over the last couple seasons and have become a much better rider and trainer.”
Lila: How many horses are you currently riding a day? How many are you competing, and what level are they at? Have these horses changed, or improved your riding?
Ariel: “I’m currently riding six horses a day, five of which are actively eventing. I compete two of Annie’s homebreds, SRF Reverie and SRF Full Recovery, at preliminary and training, respectively. Annie owns Wynthrop, who events at the intermediate level. I also competed Annie’s Fernhill Cove through the two-star level, but sadly he’s sidelined with an injury. I also currently compete GHF Jonah, bred and owned by Ann Getchell of Groton House Farm. These horses vary so much in their size, age, experience and competition level. I have to really think about which horse I’m on, what their individual needs are and what works best for each horse to improve and train them. It takes a lot of focus as no two are the same. This helps me work on the intricacies of riding and training.”
Lila: What are your biggest strengths as a rider/competitor?
Ariel: “I love developing trusting partnerships with the horses that I compete. I think that gives them (and me!) a lot of confidence. I truly enjoy the training process and bringing young horses along through the levels. I take as many lessons as possible and strive to be a better rider.”
Lila: What are some of your weaknesses as a rider/competitor?
Ariel: “I tend to over-analyze, particularly in the show jumping. I want to give my horses the best ride possible, but then often end up thinking too much and psyching myself out a bit. I definitely need to work on slowing my brain down and taking a deep breath. Mental focus and clarity are necessary to do well at the upper levels.”
Lila: Do you ever get scared, or anxious at an event?
Ariel: “I don’t feel afraid, but do get nervous before any phase. I’m very competitive, so I put a lot of pressure on myself to pilot my horses well. It’s not about winning, but I want to ride all the horses to their full potential. I would say I have a certain degree of performance anxiety.”
Lila: What are your goals as a rider? Is Rolex on your radar?
Ariel: “Competing at Rolex has been a lifelong goal. I hope to compete internationally at the four-star level as well. I grew up watching endless videos of Burghley, Badminton and Rolex so I’ve always dreamed of one day competing at those venues.”
Lila: If you can, describe your support system…who they are, and what they mean to you and your riding?
Ariel: “Even though she passed away suddenly last year, my mother will always be my biggest fan. She went out of her way to bring me to lessons, clinics and horse shows. She sacrificed so much so that I could pursue my goals. I will always remember the fun we had riding together and going to horse shows. My family is supportive of my goals and come to several events throughout the year. I’m incredibly lucky to have Annie and her husband, Cap Kane, as owners and sponsors. They come to every horse trials. Here in Southern Pines, I have a great network of peers and coaches that help me on a daily basis. I’m extremely thankful to be surrounded by such wonderful people.”