Top event riders don’t just wander out of the forest one bright and sunny day. They are created over time, and often from a young age. Take a look at some of your favorites like Buck Davidson, Doug Payne, or Allison Springer. They have been riding since they were knee high to grasshopper and were fierce, and often dominant, competitors by their teens. These riders have talent, yes, but that talent had to be cultivated over time so that they could become the world-reknowned event riders they are today.
The Professional Riders Organization has created an opportunity for a Junior rider to take a huge stride towards in cultivating their own talent. This opportunity is called the PRO Junior Young Rider Training Level Scholarship Program. It will focus on the education and mentorship of juniors and young riders participating in competitions at the Training Level and the objective is to offer deserving riders the opportunity to train with a top PRO professional based on their merit within scholarship guidelines. Says Marcia Kulak, one of the driving forces behind the initiative, “I believe that PRO as an organization has to show ways to give back and cultivate the future of our sport.” But it’s not just about creating future team members. “It’s important to develop future event riders for the sport even if that rider never represents the US . The reality is that the vast number of kids won’t go on to represent the US. But what if we can point someone in the right direction to be a better professional or judge or better American and to reach their full potential as a citizen? We have influenced that person in a positive way in some endeavor even if it’s not horses. I’ve touched far more young riders that never carried on to be a professional but 100% have said their experience with me helped shape their life in a positive way. Are we going to help make a better person and shape them in a positive direction? It will be icing on the cake if they go on to Young Riders or to a three-star or four-star and, by god, are lucky enough to become an Olympic candidate one day. It’s not just how can we find better riders and make riders, but how can we develop people to their full potential? All the attributes to become a top event rider like physical skill and mental determination and the ability to overcome obstacles – wouldn’t that be beneficial in any walk of life?”
The program will take place at designated events associated with PRO on both the east and west coasts such as Galway Downs (in California) and The Fork (in North Carolina). Three PRO professional members, to be designated prior to each competition, will observe and score the training level divisions with participating PRO Junior/Young riders. Kulak describes the scoring process, “We won’t put emphasis on what place they finished but more on horsemanship skills. Hopefully any child with enough desire and interest and fortitude will get recognized not just because they won but because they showed the very qualities we’re looking for. I hope it brings out the best in young people even if they are not on the fanciest horse.” PRO professional members will provide a copy of the scoring sheet to the event secretary at each competition and it is each rider’s responsibility to pick up the scoring sheet.
The PRO Junior Young Rider Training Level Scholarship Program will spot upcoming talent based on set criteria and provide an opportunity to train in a PRO rider’s high performance program, with minimal financial burden, for one week. The Scholarship Award will consist of one week of training at the facilities of Marcia Kulak, Jan Byyny, Hawley Bennett-Awad, or Amy Tryon. The award includes the boarding of both horse and rider at no cost to the scholarship awardees. Says Kulak, “We want to make that all-inclusive with a place for the child to stay, board for their horse, and training with a lesson every day. They will be integrated into a program and expected to be there first thing in the morning to the last thing at night. It’s a wonderful opportunity to be exposed to a high-end program and how a barn runs, in good weather and in bad weather. They’ll realize what it takes to run, essentially, a small corporation.” The top two point earning riders from the eastern half of the country will each earn a scholarship award with Marcia Kulak and Jan Byyny respectively. The top point earning rider from the western half of the country will earn a scholarship week with Hawley Bennett-Awad or Amy Tyron. By cultivating promising junior riders early PRO aims to feed talent into the pipeline of future USET riders. That’s a train you’ll want to board! If I were 15 years old (or so) once again and every bit as competitive and ambitious as I was then I would be gunning to win this scholarship. There are three reasons why.
1. The Best Coaching
As I said before, the coach is a major, and irreplaceable, part of any good event rider’s team. The top event riders and coaches participating in this scholarship award are not just good professionals, they’re seasoned riders with major competitions like Rolex and Badminton under their belts so can offer advice to young and hopeful riders not on how to ride a bounce to a one-stride grid but also about the stresses and pressures of competing, how to form goals and meet them, and recommend what program would best suit your own horse. These words of advice are priceless.
Meeting top riders like Marcia Kulak, Jan Byyny, and Hawley Bennett-Awad means making friends with key players in the eventing world. They’ll have an eye on you not just the week that you train with them but no doubt from then on out. How could they not when they find out how cool you and your horse are?! It’s helpful to have those eyes on you when you’re navigating your way to the top.
3. Setting Goals and The Scholarship Point System
The PRO Junior Young Rider Training Level Scholarship will work on a point system that rewards riders for things like safety in warm up, turnout, knowledge of dressage tests, and the ability to ride in balance over cross-country. This kind of concrete breakdown in skill set reminds me of the Pony Club levels, which helps riders gain knowledge and skills as they go up the levels. It’s a super way to gauge how you’re doing, what you’re doing well, and what you need to improve. This relates to setting concrete goals and, more importantly, reaching them. You can’t reach your goals if you haven’t figured out the steps to get there. The point system lays out those baby steps and shows you the route. An asset in your climb to the top.
Right, so how do you enter? The PRO Junior Young Rider Training Level Scholarship Program is open to all Junior/Young rider members of PRO. Riders may become members at any time in the year, but must declare via email letter to PRO that they wish to participate in the program. All participating riders must also include, in their email, a schedule of participating competitions that they intend to compete at and it is the responsibility of the rider to inform PRO of any schedule changes.
If you, or a Junior rider you know, has starry eyes about one day carrying an American Flag for the American Eventing team then don’t wait for the talent to hit you like a lightening bolt out of a clear sky. Set your sights on it – early – and go after it. The PRO Junior Young Rider Training Level Scholarship Program is the first step in the right direction.
Want to know more? Kulak says, “I encourage parents or young riders to bring questions to us. This is first year there will be growing pains. I want parents and young riders to be involved. I’m only a phone call or email away.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.