Holly (Hepp) Hudspeth on Aiming High the Smart Way

It is with great pleasure and pride that I introduce Holly Hudspeth, formerly Holly Hepp, as Eventing Nation’s first ever guest writer.  Holly has competed at Rolex multiple times and earned her red coat by finishing 9th at the Pan Ams in 2003.  Holly is based out of North Carolina, and recently placed 15th at the Fair Hill CCI*** on the fantastic Last Monarch.  Holly is a well know coach, having trained the Area VIII Young Riders for several years.  As an aside, a close friend of mine is stuck at college in the frigid north, but travels to Holly’s for week-long tune ups in January and over spring break each year, and has benefitted greatly from the experience.  Check out Holly’s website for more information on training opportunities.  Now, please enjoy Holly’s article “Aiming High the Smart Way,” which contains useful thoughts for riders and coaches at every level. 

From Holly: 

I have always been a supporter of “dreaming big.” That is what pushes athletes to reach for stars they themselves never knew existed. Setting the goal is exciting, and for many, obtainable. Yet anyone involved with horses knows all too well that things do not always go as planned. This should not be a time to walk away, but a time to look at all the factors intertwined with producing a solid base for “aiming high.”

I have seen many hard working and dedicated riders out there who enter competitions because they are “qualified.” Time and time again I see riders enter a championship or FEI competition because they are allowed to from their qualifications. Unfortunately, the paper that they are looking at with results does not always tell the truth! It does not define their preparation or skills, and they many enter that horse show under par.  In the situation where a person is truly not ready, the competition will end in failure. Speaking from personal experience, failure is no fun, and makes for a long ride home! Whether one’s goal is a half star or 3 star, there are a few things that I tell my students to look at before they send in that entry for the next big step.

First off, a rider should print off their current competition record and look at where the holes are. Are they jumping well but finishing in the bottom five every time after dressage? Is their horse consistenly having 4 or more rails every round? Are they incurring loads of time faults on the xc due to control issues? Are they taking every long route to avoid the direct questions? If we are seeing a steady pattern of issues, chances are they need to address the problem prior to looking forward to the next level. I think it is so important for riders to not “skim” through the qualifications. I see many people so excited that they finally “qualified” for an event or level, despite the fact they nearly fell off on the xc, were last after dressage, or went bowling in the show jumping. Don’t get me wrong, we all, including myself, have competitions we would rather forget. I am merely talking about the steady repetition of dismal results. And in terms of “moving up,” the one consistent factor is that the level of difficulty increases as you move up divisions. If there are holes, you WILL get caught out.


Holly coaching at the Carolina Horse Park

So now what? Let me say every horse/rider combination has areas that require improvement. So by focusing on that weak area you are increasing your chances of a more successful record. Many riders train with one person for all three phases. I think that working very closely with an instructor is good, but do not close the doors to additional help. I am not saying don’t be loyal to your instructor, but if you need specialized help in an area, go get it. Not every trainer is perfectly well rounded, we all have stronger disciplines. But if you need to up your dressage scores, find a good dressage person to help fine tune your test or teach you how to stop throwing points away. If you are pulling loads of rails, find a good jumper rider to get the best “jump” out of your horse. Speaking personally, I travel when I can to get specialized outside help. I also encourage my students to do the same.

In summary, dreaming big is what drives those with ambition. But dreaming big has to come along with a thought process. Sweeping the problems under the rug will backfire when they escape and find you! Aim high, but take a hard look at where you and your horse are at. Do your homework, on and off you horse, and you will be amazed at what you can obtain. Never settle for the minimum in your training. And when you emotionally and physically hit the dirt, get up and dust yourself off. With grit and determination solid success is right around the corner.

 Thank you again to Holly for taking the time to write this article, and we look forward to hearing from Holly again soon.  Please check out Holly’s website here.  Go eventing.

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