Young rider Bonnie Efird learned that competing in the CN North American Junior and Young Riders’ Championships is not only full of highs – but extreme lows. Efird experienced had the misfortune of experiencing the disappointment of competition. However, she handled it all with grace. Such grace, in fact, that in the end she was awarded the “Dressage Trot” Style award, given to one rider in each of the three competitive disciplines.
The award, donated by Brian and Penny Ross in conjunction with Bel Cavalo Bronze, is given to riders who exhibit the best of good sportsmanship through their demeanor and behavior both on the ground and mounted. DressageDaily.com congratulates Efird for the winning of this award. And below she relates her story of the ups and downs of competing at this year’s NAJYRC with her 13-year-old Dutch mare, Magie Noir.
The Highs and Lows and Lessons Learned as a Young Rider
By Bonnie Efird
After winning the FEI Junior division at the Festival of Champions in Gladstone, New Jersey, I was floating on “cloud nine. It was not until two weeks before the NAJYRC that I began to feel the pressure of living up to my new “title” as the U.S. FEI Junior Champion.
When we arrived at the Virginia Horse Park, my mare, “Maggie” was in heat and unsettled. The commotion of a new place didn’t help. Seeing Maggie spinning in her stall made my stomach spin just the same—would she act like a total nutcase in the show ring and cause the reigning junior champion to fail in fulfilling expectations? Would I be able to handle her suddenly hot attitude?
On Thursday, Maggie pulled through and was quite the lady in my Junior Team test. The trot work started a little rough, but I was able to pull through the test after getting higher scores on my canter work. We ended with a score of 67.75 percent.
I was very proud, even though I felt it wasn’t my strongest ride of the season. But best of all, my team (the Region 1 Junior Dressage Team) won the Bronze Medal because each of us put in great, solid rides. (Not to mention our ringside cheering, which was one of my favorite parts of the whole competition!) My fellow Region 1 teammates were Junior Riders Elizabeth Kelemen, Nicole DelGiorno, and Jillian Kemenosh, and Young Riders Ryan Eskridge, Ana DiGironimo, Danielle Vallandingham, and Sarah Cunningham. They made the competition so much fun, and I am so thankful for the bonding time we shared together.
When my dad pulled Maggie out of her stall on Friday to take her on a walk, Ryan noticed that she was sore from being a “goofball” in her stall (again due to her hormonal state.) I became worried that Maggie’s soreness would cost me my ride on Saturday, or cause me to have a sub-par ride. After a few sessions with Sal, the massage “miracle worker,” and a few sessions of the Electro magnetic massage blanket, Maggie seemed fine and my worries drifted away as I mentally prepared for the Junior Individual Test.
Things Don't Always Go as Expected
Saturday arrived and I felt pumped and prepared for my test, ready to fix my mistakes from Thursday and ready to live up to my “reputation.” Maggie felt highly energetic and better than ever in the warm-up. We entered the ring and began our test, but two movements into the test, Maggie spooked. I have yet to determine from what. Horse monsters perhaps? Something on the side of the arena by A had scared her and every time I got down to that end of the arena, her eyes grew wide and she became stiff as a board. No matter how hard I squeezed and kicked her forward, she stopped to look into the woods catching me off guard. Although I knew I would get highly penalized on my submission scores for Maggie’s inattentiveness, I also knew I must keep going and make the other movements twice as good to receive a decent score.
I smiled as much as I possible throughout the rest of my test, despite being frustrated and embarrassed. As soon as I made my final salute to the judge, I let out a big sigh. I thanked the judge and patted Maggie on the neck, assuring her that there were no monsters lurking in the woods.
I felt like a complete failure as I exited the arena and saw the low scores flash up on the board for everyone to see. I felt that I had let down myself, my family, my trainer and my friends. At least, that’s what I thought.
Putting Experience Into Perspective
It turns out, although very cliché of me to say, that I learned a valuable lesson from my “wild” ride. It reminded me of what my grandfather used to say – “You can’t win them all.” The expectations I had been feeling, I had foolishly put on myself. I was reminded that you must ride for yourself. Good riding is making the best of whatever situation is thrown at you. As I put my experience into perspective, I realize that I was so fortunate to have made it to Lexington safely with a sound horse and a healthy me!
Later that night, I was in the car with Ryan and my trainer Liz Ritz on the way to dinner, Liz put on Kayne West’s new hit hip-hop single “Stronger.” As I listened, I realized that West was right. What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.
So one piece of advice I have for other young riders of any and all disciplines based on my experience is take everything day by day. Be thankful just to be alive and to spend time with your horse and the people around you. Most of all, never take showing so seriously that it becomes more of a burden than a pleasure…enjoy!
No matter my scores, I loved every minute of the 2007 NAJYRC, and I feel so lucky to have been a part of it! I can’t wait until next year!