From showing Western pleasure in a pink shirt with white fringe as a 7 years old, to training with top Dressage riders such as Steffen Peters, McKenzie Jenkins has already earned medals, competed on both Junior and Young Rider teams, and started her dressage career as a working student for her trainer, Tami Crawford at Traveler’s Rest Farm in College Grove, Tennessee. Seventeen-year-old Jenkins, a homeschooled 11th grader from Nashville, clicked with horses at the tender age of five. After discovering dressage as her sport, Jenkins benefitted from excellent training and programs offered for the juniors and young riders in the USA.
Jenkins took her first horseback-riding lesson at age 5 after she had tried to get into other hobbies without any luck. “My sister had been in dance classes since she was three, so my Mom took me when I was three as well. I hated every minute of it. I tried dance, softball, and swimming. Nothing seemed to click until my first riding lesson at age five on a little lesson pony named Bebop,” Jenkins said. From there on, Jenkins will admit it was love at first sight.
Jenkins continued to pursue her passion for horses at Lazy J Farm at a mere seven- year-old, riding Western as well as English. She recalls the exciting day when she got her first horse. “My parents bought me my first horse for my eighth birthday. He was a very large barreled 15.2 hand quarter horse. I looked like I was doing the splits across the saddle on him,” Jenkins laughed. It was with her quarter horse that McKenzie rode in her first dressage show at the Intro level. Little did McKenzie know back then that she would eventually be competing at international dressage competitions with some of the top young riders in North America.
Jenkins recalls becoming interested in Dressage after a family friend sent McKenzie and her parents to Michelle Deel in Conyers, GA. That was the weekend that Jenkins fell in love with Dressage. “I will never forget that weekend. Michele had a horse named Money Train. He was absolutely gorgeous. I watched Michele ride him, and watched him half pass across the arena, looked at my mom and said, "I want to do THAT."
However, it was not until later that Jenkins discovered Tami Crawford, her current trainer and mentor to whom she admits she owes much of her success in Dressage. “A few months later, we went to a dressage show here in our area and I saw Tami Crawford ride a Grand Prix test on her horse, Dakota.” Jenkins recalled. “That sealed the deal for me. Dakota was bucking and acting silly around the outside of the arena and Tami was smiling and laughing. The judge rang the bell and Tami got him together and went down centerline and it was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. I knew for sure dressage was what I wanted to do, and wanted to train with Tami.”
Deel found McKenzie George, a Welsh pony with a jumping background. With Tami’s help Jenkins trained George to second level, and then sold him after she outgrew him.
It was after Jenkins sold George that she found her mare Tsarina, the Arab-thoroughbred cross which made Jenkins a competitive FEI Young Rider. Although McKenzie’s mom was skeptical of buying a horse with this breeding, Tami Crawford encouraged McKenzie to try Tsarina. “I tried her and we clicked from the start. We never tried another horse,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins’ first Wellington experience was with Tsarina at the Palm Beach Derby riding 3rd level. Jenkins remembers being a little intimidated by all of the big names in Wellington, but excited by the idea of warming up in the same arena with dressage ‘celebrities’. “There were no other juniors at third level, so I was in an open class. I was in a class with Shelley Frances, Caesar Parra, and George Williams. I was so nervous, but so excited.”
Since then, McKenzie has become a well-known Young Rider and has had some incredible opportunities for a rider her age. She has done clinics with Neil Ishoy, Oded Shimoni, and Steffen Peters, and earned her USDF bronze medal. Jenkins made the 2008 Region 3 Junior Team for the NAJYRC where she won a bronze medal in the individual and a silver in the freestyle. In 2009 Jenkins graduated to the Young Rider ranks participating in the Collecting Gaits/USEF National Young Rider Championships at Gladstone, and was part of the Bronze Medal 2009 Region 3 Young Rider Team at the NAJYRC in Lexington, Kentucky.
Despite her achievements, Jenkins is humble and is quick to add that she owes much of her success to her trainer, Tami, her parents, and her horse Tsarina. “Tami Crawford is the reason I have had so many opportunities,” Jenkins said.
Recently though, McKenzie sold Tsarina to Amy Borner, which was a difficult decision for all involved. However, this story has a happy ending. Jenkins said, “When Amy came to try Tsarina, I think it was love at first sight. It made the sale easier and I am so happy for Amy. She sends me updates and pictures every week, which I love! I miss her very much, but am so happy Tsarina is making someone else as happy as she made me. ” For Jenkins and her trainer Crawford the importance of developing successful Young Rider horses is an important aspect to the program.
Since selling Tsarina, Jenkins bought her new gelding Dollarprinz by Donnerhall. At a mere 8 years old, “Prinz” is already schooling all of the Prix St. George, and Jenkins looks forward to trying for the FEI Young Riders again with her talented new gelding. However, Jenkins truly has her hands full as her other new horse, a Dutch Warmblood mare, Olivia, just arrived at Traveler’s Rest Farm January 8th.
In between working her two new horses, Jenkins continues to show great dedication to dressage as she has recently taken on working for Tami Crawford as a full-time student. Jenkins, however, is excited by all of her new endeavors. “It has been a goal of mine to work for Tami since I started training with her eight years ago,” Jenkins said. Jenkins drives an hour each way to Traveler’s Rest Farm; she emphasizes how it is worth it, and how it is both beneficial to her and her horses. “Traveler's Rest is a beautiful place with top notch facilities. Both of my horses will be in full training with Tami.”
Tami Crawford has obviously made a large impact on her life. “If I could give any advice to any junior/young rider it would be to find a great trainer that you click with,” Jenkins said, “Tami is always looking out for me even when she cannot be there. She is always positive, always smiling, always pushing me to meet my goals, and always looking out for what is best for me in and out of the saddle.”
Crawford, herself, has two upcoming superstar horses; Wise Guy owned by Sue Ann Wells, and Roncali who is her own. “Both of them are fabulous 6 year olds who have the potential to be international stars,” said Jenkins.
Many Young Riders struggle balancing high school and college with their horseback riding careers. Jenkins, though, is thankful that she has been homeschooled most of her life. “There would be no way to be as involved with the horses without homeschooling. Homeschooling has made it possible to go to Wellington and now to be at Tami's more.”
As far as her social life goes, Jenkins admits that she’d rather be riding. “My mom likes me to have a day a week with no horse stuff, but honestly, I prefer to be at the barn far above doing anything else. One great thing about dressage and especially being involved in the Young Rider program is that I have friends of all different ages all over the country.”
As such a talented and experienced young rider, Jenkins is surely one to look out for on the ‘emerging Young Rider superstars’ list. Jenkins looks to the future in hopes to have a career in the horse world, but still remains focused on the present. “Right now, I'm just focusing on my new horses, my new job, and finishing high school, she said. “I'm not sure about college, but the place my family calls ‘Tami Crawford University’ is a great place to be.”