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Kayla Schnell

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Where Are The Adult Amateur Opportunities?

Photo of Kayla Schnell used with permission from Xpress Foto.

As I sat and watched the American Eventing Championships live stream earlier this year, I couldn’t help but see a pattern in the topic of conversation. Young rider, professional rider, young rider, professional rider, young rider, and so on. All while the adult amateurs gritted through the same tough water combinations as the rest of them.

As an adult amateur, it was – to put it lightly – discouraging. Now, not to take away from all of the hours and hours of work, thousands of dollars, blood, sweat, and tears that these groups put in… that’s not what I’m trying to do here. But, I do think it’s a little bit unfair to mostly (and most often, solely) focus on the young and the superstars.

This bothered me so much that, in addition to my multi-story Instagram rant, I sent a text off to one of my friends who is a professional in the business. She pointed out the fact that there are Adult Rider programs throughout the country, and clinics to go along with them. Okay, I like a good devil’s advocate every once in a while. But, this kind of reminds me of the story of Cinderella, you know, where the stepsisters get all of the beautiful gowns, and Cinderella gets the leftovers? We should be happy with what we get, right? Wrong. I think it’s our turn to find our glass slippers.

Adult amateurs really and truly work their tails off while most often having full time jobs outside of the barn, families (kids in some cases – though my kids all have fur, so I can’t pretend to represent that group of riders,) and grown up responsibilities without any assistant or assistance. Yet we still make time – whether it’s at 5 a.m., 10 p.m., or on our lunch break – to get to the barn, sneak in that lesson before our first meeting, and get our hours in the saddle. Often for me, it is 5 am or 10 pm during my busy work season. We still do it, and we love every red-eyed second.

Aside from the pure recognition that our pros and YRs get, there are so many opportunities that are solely offered to the younger members of our sport. EA21, YRDP, and even the USEF Eventing YR Championships (I could go on and on with more, but you get the idea) are only open to YRs. I know these kids are great and no doubt deserve to have these opportunities, but don’t we? Emerging athletes can only be under 21? Maybe in football, but I’ve seen multiple 70+ year old women and men galloping around in top placings and dancing to dressage greatness.

That’s one of the wonderful things about equestrian sports – there really is no time limit. So why are we putting one on ourselves? What about an Adult Amateur Eventing Championship? Can we have the chance to ride against people that have similar life situations as us, that put in the work no matter how this entry fee almost caused them to be late on rent for the month?

A perfect representation of this are the Young Rider and Adult Rider pages on the USEA website. The AR program page nearly fit entirely in one screenshot. The YR one? Links to various landing pages, and multiple scrolls of content. Endless opportunities. This sport really comes down to one thing — the love that we have for our horses, our teammates, our partners.

Why should that have to stop being a dream at 21? What if there are some young riders don’t want to go professional, but like us, they want to have big goals alongside their 9 to 5?

In addition to the clinics and competition opportunities, scholarships and sponsorships are so much more widely given to the YRs and professionals. In a lot of cases, there is a good amount of monetary support from parents/families, or from syndicates, that help take off the financial edge (though, owning horses is a 100-side square, so there are plenty of edges to go around). The brand ambassador movement is a big one, and those opportunities are repeatedly given to YR/pros. I get it, they usually have the biggest Instagram following. But in all honesty, I want to see a product work, and I will definitely see that in my barn, where I’m surrounded by bada.. adult ammys, or at a show when the woman at the stall next to me is wearing a cute pair of Free Ride breeches (not to mention comfortable – have you tried those?!)

Let me tell you, I’ve tried so many side hustles to pay off bills that I can’t even name them all anymore. Plus my full time job, and my part time job, and my side job, working off lessons at the barn, et cetera. I wouldn’t change it for a thing (okay, maybe the lottery would be fine), but don’t we deserve a little something for being extra gritty and resilient? For all of those early wakeup calls or late nights, for the days taken unpaid at work because we’ve run out of vacation, for skipping our own care because it can’t possibly fit in our schedule? Or our budget?

If my words make you do nothing other than recognize and appreciate the adult ammys in your life, then they’ve served at least a little bit of purpose. But largely, I’d love for this to be a call to action. Let’s change this system. Let’s create more opportunities for people like you and I – we can create the change we want to see in our world. We just have to figure out where to start.