California Eventing Spotlight: Meet Harper Padgett

Photo by Tina Fitch Photography.

When 15-year-old Harper Padgett arrived at the USEA’s U21 Emerging Athlete national camp this week, she didn’t know what horse she’d be riding. The Seattle-based rider’s three horses are in Florida for the winter, so she’ll be participating in the session with US Olympic gold medalist David O’Connor on a catch ride.

“It’s kind of fun!” said Harper of the awaiting surprise. Plus, she believes that the more experiences she has, the better ride she can give her own horses and the better prepared she’ll be to attain her long-term goal of representing Team USA.

Catch riding is part of Harper’s plan, as is competing on the jumper circuit and taking lessons with dressage and jumping experts.

This past summer, Harper competed jumper division catch rides at Thunderbird Show Park in British Columbia and loved it. “I think it’s an important part of improving and getting a feel, not just for my main horse, but for riding and developing younger horses.” Along with eventing work, she’ll be contesting the Winter Equestrian Festival jumping circuit in Florida this season.


Even without catch rides, Harper enjoys plenty of variety in her own horses. As her longest time partner, Captivate has been Harper’s best coach. Formerly her mom Leonie Padgett’s horse, Captivate passed to Harper when she was 12 and helped her rapid ascent from Novice and Training to Preliminary and 2* in their first year together, at only 13. “Being able to trust him and having him be so steady at the level has helped me feel so confident in bringing up a young horse to that level.”

He’s a relatively calm character. “It’s nice having a horse that can make the time in Prelim but you don’t feel like he’s running away with you.”

Harper is “super excited” about that younger horse, Cooley Starship, who is the opposite of Captivate personality-wise. “He’s a fiery, super sensitive hot horse,” says Harper. “I’m learning how to ride him and calm him down.”

At the Eventing Championships at Galway Downs last November, this pair was 2nd in the USEF Eventing Young Rider Championships at the CCI1*-L level, and third overall in the division. “I think he is going to be one of my long-term horses,” Harper shares. “I haven’t wanted to rush anything with him. The Young Rider Championships were easy for him and I’m very excited for Preliminary and 2* with him this year.”

Harper also has a newer and more seasoned horse in Cooley Co-Presenter. Her first few months at home with him have been encouraging. So much so that she expects him to be her Intermediate and 3* partner now that she’s entered her 16th year and is eligible for those divisions.

At-Home Horsemanship

Photo by Kim Miller.

Harper keeps her horses at the family’s Seattle area farm. With academics an equal priority to riding, Harper has help with barn chores during the week. She enjoys doing all the conditioning work in the afternoons and handling the horse care responsibilities on the weekends.

Their property has hills for stamina and strength building and Harper uses the time riding on her own to absorb and apply lessons learned from her coaches. “Obviously, horsemanship is not just about the riding,” Harper observes. “Being with the horses 24/7 helps build our bond and developing their ground skills is important to producing our partnerships.”

When she’s home, Harper works with jumping professionals Lauren Crooks and John Turner and dressage coach Debbie Dewitt. This winter, she’ll compete one of her horses on the Winter Equestrian Festival jumping circuit in Florida under Lauren’s watch. She admits the jumper world is tempting. “I love the jumping and there are a lot more girls my age on that circuit. But I love eventing, too, and I wouldn’t want to give up the momentum I have there. Plus, I love the people in eventing. Everyone is so supportive.”

US Olympic eventer Phillip Dutton is Harper’s coach when she’s in Florida. She’s been working with Phillip since meeting him at a clinic at Galway Downs three years ago. Phillip and Liz Halliday have helped source Harper’s horses.

Emerging Athlete

Last year’s accomplishments align perfectly with Harper’s big goals. She was the top Junior Preliminary rider in the country and in USEA Area VII.

Earning a spot in the Emerging Athlete national camp enhances those competitive accomplishments. The 18 participants for the January national camp are drawn from a larger pool selected for five regional camps held earlier in the year. The Jan. 2-6 camp at Kings Way Farm, across the road from Galway Downs, marks the USEA’s second staging of the session and Harper was selected both times.

She appreciates the camps’ half riding and half lectures format. Harper has referenced notes taken in last January’s deep dives on dressage, jumping and cross-country throughout the year. She’s pleased that the USEA offered that depth of education at the regional and national camps, so that more up-and-coming riders can benefit from it.

Networking was another focus of the non-riding sessions. “They talked about the publicity aspect of getting your name on those lists when it comes to grants and being able to advocate for yourself. Building your own connections was a big topic last year.”

Above all, the camps’ focus on training and development basics — including the German training scale — are invaluable as she ascends the levels, Harper says.

Harper recalls being passionate and driven from the start. Her mother Leonie Padgett had evented while growing up in New Zealand. She steered Harper in the eventing direction early on and continues to be a super supportive horse mom and an amateur competitor herself. Harper enjoys sharing the sport with Leonie and having a daily brain storming partner when it comes to training challenges, highs and lows of life with horses and career goals.

Harper started riding a pony at 8 and “I just loved the competition and wanted to do my best all the time.” Prioritizing high school and riding, and maintaining a healthy balance between the two, is an intense juggling act, she acknowledges. But she wouldn’t have it any other way.

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