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Taleen Hanna


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Checking in with the 2020 E25 Athletes, Part 1: Alyssa Phillips, Megan Sykes & Woodge Fulton

The 2020 USEF Eventing 25 Emerging Athlete Program is filled with talented and determined upcoming professionals. Just like the rest of us, these young adults have continued to persist throughout the suspension of competitions. In this three-part series, you will get to find out how some of these riders spent their quarantine. In part one, we catch up with Alyssa Phillips, Megan Sykes and Woodge Fulton.

Alyssa Phillips and Oskar. Photo by Shelby Allen.

Alyssa Phillips

Alyssa Phillips is from Fort Worth, Texas. She is a five-time NAJYRC medalist and is currently competing Oscar at the four-star level. They ended in the top five at almost every event last season.

“In the beginning, everything was so up in the air and uncertain, so we decided to give my horses a short holiday. They were super happy coming back into work, and that made me happy. During show season, I feel like everything is fast-paced, so my horses and I have enjoyed this downtime. I have been able to focus on each horse’s training needs without rushing to fix the issue or weakness. I love going back to the basics; rideability is key. I’ve stayed motivated during this time because I know my horses are benefitting from it.”

Megan Sykes & Classic’s Mojah. Photo by Sherry Stewart.

Megan Sykes

Megan Sykes is from Midland, Texas, and is competing with Classic’s Mojah this year. Shortly before lockdown started, she placed 4th in the CCI3*-S in Fresno. She also owns and operates Classics Eventing.

“Unfortunately, I got injured shortly after shelter-in-place started, from a fall sustained while training at home. This is a very real thing that happens in our sport, and I got very lucky. The fractures in my scapula and pelvis are healing ahead of schedule and I can’t wait to get back in the saddle!

“Before my accident, I was staying motivated by taking advantage of the down time to get to know my new horses and develop a strong foundation and connection with them. I have a new mare, thanks to my supporters Brian and Kailynn, imported from Germany who is coming along very nicely! Due to the pandemic we’ve been able to take our time with her and allow her to settle in.

“For my upper level horse, Mo, I backed off of his fitness and focused more on strength building exercises. Since my accident, my motivation is stemming from trying to heal as quickly as possible so I am ready to leg back up my horses and make a plan for the fall. Not knowing when shows would resume made it hard to stay focused, but making sure my horses and I stay as healthy as possible keeps me more determined than anything.”

Woodge Fulton and Captain Jack at Badminton. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Woodge Fulton

Woodge Fulton, from Finksburg, Maryland, has been competing with Captain Jack and Franky Four Fingers this year. Woodge and Captain Jack had a successful run last season at Badminton, Strzegom, and Luhmühlen.

“These times have been uncertain to say the least, but honestly it’s been super useful for myself and my horses. Every year I find myself feeling like I’m playing catch-up, finishing up one event and then having to try to make last minute improvements before the next. After Ocala, there was no shows in sight, and this caused a weird, ‘Twilight Zone’ feeling where I could just train in a bubble. No pressure of upcoming shows that made me feel like I needed to rush training certain things, nor a potential start back up date to look forward to. For once in a very long time, we were training just to make each ride better and that turned out to be really beneficial for both myself and the horses.

“It was also interesting not being able to take lessons. It can be the case for anyone, but especially for young riders transitioning to professionals, one of the hardest steps is taking a step away from being under the constant supervision of a coach. So often it’s easy to get reliant on our coaches and trainers, and while quality instruction is obviously important, I think it’s good every once in a while to put the full pressure on yourself and know it’s up to you to get better. I intend to use what I’ve learned during this global pandemic going forward, and apply what I’ve learned even when we are ‘back to normal.’ Until then, I hope everyone is being smart and staying safe, and look forward to enjoying our sport together one day soon!”

Go Eventing.

Remember Your Why

EN intern Taleen Hanna is a junior at Cambridge High School in Milton, Georgia, and an avid follower of the sport. In her latest column, she reflects on the “why” of eventing relative to other sports.

Taleen and Ash. Photo by GRC Photo at Stable View Horse Trials in January.

Recently I was at the barn, having a conversation with my friends about how our horses were sometimes the only thing we lived for. Yes, this sounds a little depressing, but it’s true. We agreed that they largely helped us get through the stress of school, being a teenager, and just life in general.

This piqued my interest in learning more about how horses affect us and our mental health. I can say for sure that going to the barn is vital to my sanity. I wanted to learn more about how other riders are affected by their horses.

On my Instagram, I interviewed 25 riders in total, 21 of whom said riding and their horses provided them with an outlet or a stress reliever. Four of them said that riding has impacted them in positive as well as negative ways. The competitive aspect seemed to bring about mixed feelings on whether or not it helped or harmed their riding. Ava Vojnovic said that “It showed me the competitive side of things; made me work harder. But then it also kind of brought me down because some people are really mean.” While showing can be motivating and fun, it brings the
difficulties of peer pressure and jealousy.

On the other hand, most of the riders I talked to found competing more motivating than anything. Most of us feed off of goal setting especially with our placings or levels we event. We work hard to accomplish our goals. Why? For the ribbons? To impress everyone else? Or for the horse?

I then contacted a sports psychologist to talk to. Janet Sasson Edgette completed her doctorate in clinical psychology and decided to get back into riding and competing. After doing this, she realized the importance of a rider’s mental attitude, so she began working with riders to help them with the demands of the sport. Edgette says that “rather than setting up the rider’s anxiety as this thing to be ‘beaten’ or abolished, I help the rider identify the specific ways in which her anxiety compromises her riding.”

I never thought of looking at it that way, but when you think about it, it makes sense. When you realize what makes you anxious, you have already made a huge step towards improving. This outlook on riding can definitely help to minimize or even just recognize show nerves, which is a big aspect to our riding.

Then, I wondered if other sports have the same effect on people. So, I interviewed some friends who play other sports. Katie, who dances, said that she would be more stressed if she was not dancing, since she would have more time to stress about schoolwork. Sarabeth, who plays lacrosse, said that she would be less stressed if she was not playing lacrosse because she would have more time for her academics. Caroline, who rows, feels that rowing is an outlet for her to push herself, but it is also physically and mentally draining. Lauren, a softball player, said that it affected her mental health in a negative way because when she does not do well, it takes a toll on her self esteem. She also said that “Even though the sport itself can take a mental toll on you, your teammates are always there to back you up and that is what I consider my outlet, not the sport itself.”

As equestrians, we have double the teammates. We have our horse, but we also have our fellow riders. Comparing riding to other sports, it seems like they both have the motivation factor, but the other sports lack the horse. The horse plays a crucial role in our sport.

Not just in the competing aspect, since we obviously need them for that, but they are a part of a partnership that is different than any other. The fact that we can communicate with a large animal with just our body language is incredible. We forget that sometimes. I think I can speak for most of us when I say that riding can be an outlet, but it can also be a stress inducer. Sometimes, it becomes a chore of having to ride in order to prepare for the next event. This isn’t even touching on the fact that horses are unpredictable and can injure themselves, altering our competition plans. Not being able to ride, especially due to injuries or weather, can take a huge toll on our mental health. We have our minds so set on a schedule to accomplish a certain list of goals that we are easily distraught by the bumps along the way.

After gathering this information, I realized that no matter what sport we are involved in, we push ourselves to be the best for our teammates. We do this because they are there for us; whether that be our horse or the riders we surround ourselves with. I ask you to never lose sight of why you do this.

Go Eventing.

Majestic Oaks Winner Catherine Shu Is Enjoying the Journey

EN is very excited to welcome a new intern to the team! Taleen Hanna is a junior at Cambridge High School in Milton, Georgia, and an avid follower of the sport. For her first writing assignment, we asked Taleen to interview an eventer she admired. Her chosen subject: 18-year-old Catherine Shu, who is fresh off a win in the Training Rider division at Majestic Oaks H.T. with her horse 24 Karat Fernhill. 

Training Rider winners Catherine Shu and 24 Karat Fernhill. Photo by Lisa Madren.

Eventers of all levels often look up to the professionals in the sport like Boyd Martin, Michael Jung or Lauren Kieffer. When I think of eventers I admire, they automatically come to mind. Another rider, however, also comes to mind: Catherine Shu. I’ve known Catherine since I was about 10 and I’ve always looked up to her throughout my riding journey. I had the chance to sit down and talk with her about her journey and the challenges of riding.

Her start into riding was not a surprise since she had always been obsessed with horses as a kid. For her fourth birthday, her parents signed her up for riding lessons at a local barn. Around four years later, she went on to ride with an eventing trainer and has stuck with it since then.

Catherine and her current horse, 24 Karat Fernhill, aka Copper, had a win at the Training level at Majestic Oaks earlier this month — what a great start to the season! She was looking for a horse that could give her a move-up to Prelim, but ironically bought a baby five-year-old instead. “He hadn’t done anything, but I don’t regret it at all, it’s been a really fun process,” she says of the 8-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Radolin x Cendry Nouvolieu).

Catherine has been working with Copper for two years now and worked up the levels with the goal of going Prelim this season. “He had the entire year off last year because he tore his check ligament and this previous weekend was our first show back,” she says. “So I’m very happy with our win!”

Catherine describes Copper as “having a ton of energy and you kind of just have to figure out how to deal with it; he’s a really smart horse, and you have to work with him instead of against him.”

This year has looked a little different than past years for Catherine, especially since her horse is down in Ocala with her trainer Alex Green. She drives down from Georgia during weekends or days off of school to ride, but misses a lot of school for shows. “The most important part is just being willing to compromise your schoolwork and talking to your teachers to figure out a schedule that works for you,” she explains. She’s learned to be responsible and to manage time with school and riding, which is definitely not the easiest task. When she’s not in Ocala riding Copper, Catherine rides her friends’ horses if they need work.

The toughest challenge she’s had to overcome in her riding career was “the competitiveness of how all the young riders are now,” she says. Catherine often compared herself to her friends, who were moving up the levels while her horse was injured. “The most important thing that I’ve learned is that you can’t compare yourself to other people; you have to focus on your own goals, and that’s the only way that you will get better.”

Catherine said it perfectly — we should not compare ourselves to others, which I think is something that we all struggle with.

When I asked Catherine what her proudest moment in her riding career was, I was expecting her to tell me about a successful move up or a certain placing she won at a show. She hit me with this: “When I sold my second horse.” At first I was surprised, but she went on to explain that seeing the horse that she taught from a young age become a packer for another rider was the most rewarding part.

Catherine truly captures what it means to not only be a considerate rider, but also a brilliant horsewoman. “Don’t let competitiveness get in the way of your training and of course enjoy the journey!”

Go Catherine. Go Eventing.