by Hannah Irons

My name is Hannah Irons (C-1, dual member Tidewater and Seneca Valley Pony Clubs, Delmarva Region) and I am going to share a little bit about my experience competing at the North American Youth Championships hosted by Old Salem Farm in New York.

This was Bella and I’s first year at this level and it is my goal to come back to this show next year with more show experience and confidence in the arena. I have been an active Pony Club member in the Delmarva Region for over 10 years and I am now a USDF Bronze and Silver medalist. I stay quite busy training horses and keeping up with my college classes.

I am so grateful to be leasing a wonderful Hanoverian mare named Bella from Dressage4Kids who made this dream come true. I am also very thankful for my amazing support team for making all this possible. It truly does take a village to be successful in the horse industry.

Qualifying for this competition has been a goal of mine since I first began focusing on dressage in 2010. Helping Region 1 to Young Rider team gold (equivalent to the FEI Prix St. George level) made this week  extra special. There were more ups and downs than I thought possible on the road to this goal. It is important to give and your horse many little goals broken down into weeks, months, and years. It is great to have big goals but if there is only one such as ” to win championships next year” it is easy to get discouraged. Let’s be honest, things revolving around horses rarely go as planned. Thus your goals must be flexible and attainable.

The FEI North American Youth Championships (NAYC) for Dressage is competition which brings together the top International Equestrian Federation (FEI) Junior and Young Riders, ages 14-21, from throughout North American and neighboring countries. This year Mexico and Canada also had riders representing. Young equestrians vie for team and individual FEI medals in the three Olympic equestrian disciplines of Dressage, Show Jumping, and Eventing. Similar to Pony Club Championships, each region selects the top 4 riders after a competitive year chasing scores at qualifying competitions. I had a blast getting to know my region 1 teammates and cheering each other on. Yes, you feel more pressure to get a good score for your team, but it also means you have 4 riders who you are not just competing against, but fully support you and want you to succeed. Unfortunately, other than Pony Club and NAYC, there are very few opportunities to compete as a team. Dressage is such an individual sport, but programs like Pony Club and NAYC teach young riders many important life lessons that will help us in the future.

NAYC is subject to the rules and restrictions of the FEI and is designated as a Continental Championship. There are many additional rules because of this and important steps such as making sure your horses FEI passport is up date, practicing the jog, and thoroughly checking through everything your horse eats or touches (and any medication the rider takes) to make sure it is legal or any doctor notes are needed. Drug testing is frequent at FEI championships.

Being surrounded by such high caliber horses and riders was truly inspiring. I think it is important as I rider to put ourselves in these situations as often as possible. Everyone rides a bit differently under pressure and it is our job to figure out how to use ourselves or our horses excitement or nervousness in a positive way. I do believe that Pony Club prepared me well for the pressure and team aspect of NAYC. To all my fellow Pony Club members reading this, dream big, feel proud of every little step along the way, and never ever give up!