Perhaps Helen Claire McNulty’s love of linguistics paved the way for a Gold Medal in dressage in the Junior Individual Test at the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships in July. She said her improved communication skills with her horse, a 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood named Checkmate (by Obelisk by Hemmingway), made the win that much sweeter.
“I have had communication problems with my horse that have resulted in some ugly tests and major disappointments, so it felt good to finally break free from those problems,” she said. “I am so proud of my horse and me for finally figuring out how to speak the same language.”
McNulty, 15, is a tenth grader at Hamilton High School in Holland, Michigan. She trains with Brad Cutshall and George Willlams and said that her mother, Diane McNulty, acts as her “eyes on the ground.” After the Junior Individual Test, the Junior rider was so thrilled with her performance she burst into tears.
“I will never forget how I felt when I looked up at the Jumbotron in the Rolex arena after my Individual test and saw my score,” she said. “I heard Nicho's [Meredith] voice saying, ‘We have a new leader’ and saying my score. I started crying uncontrollably. [Assistant Ring Steward] Walter Bagley, my Mom, and my friends weren't sure what to do. I couldn't stop sobbing because I was so happy!”
She has been an avid participant in several of Lendon Gray’s Dressage4Kids programs for the past three years. She attended the Emerging Dressage Athlete Program (EDAP) clinic at Hampton Green Farm in Michigan. She also was invited to ride in Robert Dover’s 2015 Horsemastership Program in Wellington, Florida, in January where she rode with superstar dressage athletes Dover, Charlotte Bredahl, Laura Graves and Debbie MacDonald. The participants also rode dressage tests in front of international judge Janet Foy, who provided instant feedback in the form of a critique.
McNulty was also invited to attend Stephen Clarke’s Succeed/USDF FEI-Level Trainer’s Conference as a part of Gray’s group. “I thought that Stephen Clarke was a brilliant clinician - he was fun, he kept it simple, and I am still remembering and using techniques I learned from him,” McNuty said.
She spent three month’s in Gray’s Winter Intensive Training Program (WIT). The program immerses its participants in the horse world by exposing them to top trainers, breeders, veterinarians, farriers and other horse care professionals. The “WIT Kids” exercise, go on field trips, read, watch videos and attend clinics.
“It was an amazing experience and I learned so much about horse management, care, and improving riding,” she said. “It was also great to have an instant peer group among the other WITees.”
McNulty said she would like to continue in dressage and compete at the international level as an amateur. When not living and breathing dressage, McNulty likes to study other foreign languages besides horse, including Dutch and German. She plans to go to college and graduate school to study Data Analytics and she’s interested in entrepreneurship and would like to start a technology company or data analytics firm.
Like any teenager, she likes to hang out with her friends and especially enjoys playing basketball. Her goals for her riding include upping her confidence while working with Checkmate.
“I would like to continue to work toward a more a forward, fluid and 'floaty' test as well as becoming more effective and sharper with my aids,” she explained. “I think as you go up the levels, the amount of space to make adjustments becomes smaller. I would also like to become more gutsy in my tests and really go for it!”