AHJF JUNIOR HUNTER CHALLENGE WINNERS LISTEN AND LEARN - Ashley and Kaitlyn Spend a Weekend Learning from their Heroes
Ashley Butler and Kaitlyn Johnston were all eyes and ears making sure to absorb everything they could. As the winners of the annual AHJF Junior Hunter Challenge they were mixing and mingling with the best of the best. Their victory weekend included a chance to wander the horse show grounds with some of the hunter and jumper world’s elite riders, horses, judges, course designers and more on the final weekend (October 2-4, 2009) of the eight-day Capital Challenge Horse Show at the Prince George’s Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro, MD. Olympic gold medalist Conrad Homfeld. World Cup Team Hunter Challenge and AHJF WCHR Pro Finals three-time winner Peter Pletcher and Olympic and World Equestrian Games Chief Steward Karen Golding are just a sampling of the people who gave of their time and knowledge.
In 2004, the AHJF created an annual program known as the Junior Hunter Challenge. It is based around the grass roots horse shows (non USEF or USEF Local Member Events) and a special series of classes guided by a specific set of rules and regulations. This annual competition provides a goal for junior riders currently competing at the non-recognized level.
Kaitlyn, Arlington, TX, was the Western Region winner and Ashley, Lawrence, MI won for the Eastern Region. This event is sponsored by the American Hunter-Jumper Foundation and the winners get a free trip to the Capital Challenge and three days of hands-on activities such as learning to judge, seeing what grooming is like at an A-rated horse show, presenting awards in the arena and more. It was a weekend that someone at their level could only dream about.
During the weekend they met with Geoff Teall for a judging session, sat with noted riders and trainers Havens Schatt and Sandy Ferrell for the WCHR Pro Finals and got a look behind the scenes at barn etiquette with AHJF President Keeley Gogul. They received a firsthand tour of the HEART Ambulance, met and learned how to walk a course from Conrad and were educated in national, international and Olympic rules and regulations from Karen, Wellington, FL.
The highlight of their victory was being part of the photo awards presentation after Hunt Tosh won the $7,500 Professional World Championship Hunter Rider Finals for the 2009 AHJF Professional WCHR title. At the end of the evening they attended the Pro Finals press conference and had their picture taken with Hunt and the five other finalists.
ASHLEY BUTLER – JUST 13 AND LIVING A DREAM
Thirteen-year-old Ashley Butler (April 1, 1996), an only child, came to the Capital Challenge Horse Show with her mom, Sally Butler.
Ashley earned her win on Jughead, a Trakehner over 2’3” and 2’6” fences. Jughead is owned by Cedar Lodge Stables, which is also home for the horse.
The road to where she is today started when she was just a baby. “When I was little my parents gave me pony rides and I would stay at the barn and pick up rocks and then when I was eight I started riding. My aunt, who is a co-owner of a barn, is my trainer and my cousins help me out a lot. My mom used to ride too.”
Ashley doesn’t just ride. In fact she plays basketball, softball, is in a drama and music class and also vaults but it is the horses that she enjoys most. “I just love being around them; the feeling that you have when you are with them. They are your best friends, it is my passion.”
While horses take up a lot of her life she’s very serious about her other activities and last year had the lead in the annual children’s play at her school. “It is a lot of fun and I enjoy it. My parents are professional musicians. My mom is a pianist and my dad is a professional guitar player.”
As far as horses, Ashley is hoping “to do it as a profession one day.”
The young teenager devoted a lot of time to her victory explaining that “it took a lot of hard work to qualify and win. I think it was because Jughead and I had good courses at our shows. Out of all the hard work I have put in I haven’t won anything and so I guess this year was our year.”
Ashley also was appreciative to the AHJF for organizing the Junior Hunter Challenge series and commented, “I really like this program. I learned a lot and to be able to win and come here is amazing and overwhelming. I never thought I could come to some place like this and now I know I can become a professional if I want to.”
That confidence was encouraged by all the people she spent time with over the weekend who made it clear that they had all gotten to where they are today by hard work and determination.
“They let me know that it does take a lot of work to get to where all the professionals are today. I learned how to judge and what the HEART ambulance does and what one of these shows is all about,” she continued.
“It is a lot bigger than what I am used to. For us there are just two rings and the first ring goes from cross rails to 2’3” and the other 2’3”, 2’6” to 3’6” and all the shows are on the same circuit.”
Before ending our conversation Ashley wanted to thank the AHJF and especially Colleen Costich, who works for the AHJF and was the one who guided her through the weekend. “This is an amazing program and I can’t believe I am here. I can’t wait to tell all my friends.”
AT 16 KAITLYN HAS HORSES IN HER BLOOD
Kaitlyn Johnstone, 15 (September 26, 1994), is also an only child who came to the Capital Challenge horse show with her parents Becky and Kevan Johnstone. Kaitlyn has four horses of her own ranging from just four months to 23 years and it was that experience around so many different horses that has helped improve her riding skills.
Her horses consist of Merlin, a 17-year-old, Thoroughbred, bay gelding who is the newest member of her horsey family. Skye’s Alibi is a four-month old, Warmblood cross, Paint filly who her mare, Sky Blue, a six-year-old Paint/Draft cross gave birth to. The veteran horse in her family is Babe, a 23-year-old, bay, Quarter Horse mare.
And if you think these are the only horses that Kaitlyn is around you’d be wrong. “I also ride my trainers horses,” she revealed.
Kaitlyn started collecting horses when she was just eight years old. “I just keep adding them. I ride hunters and jumpers and right now I am competing up to 2’9” and school at 3’.”
While Kaitlyn can’t remember the first time she was ever on a horse she surmises that she was bitten by the horse bug on a pony ride. While her early memories are dim she recalls one early incident that should have discouraged her. “I rode a horse named Brio. He was 17 hands tall and at one point he ran away with me and I fell off.”
No matter, she just fell in love with these animals. “They are my passion. I always wanted to be around them. I can’t explain why but maybe just their beauty. I love being on them; when I am on their back in the show ring at first I get nervous but once I’ve warmed up I am fine.”
Although most of Kaitlyn’s time is consumed with her horses at one point she played soccer and these days she tries to fit in time for running and swimming.
Looking around the indoor arena at the Capital Challenge Kaitlyn remarked, “I want to end up here. I thought about the grand prix but I don’t know yet. I want to train and ride. I would like to get where all these guys are as far as riding and then I can train. Teaching other people what you know is making good use of your knowledge.”
To earn her stripes for the points needed to earn her the win Kaitlyn showed in two Hidden Lake shows in Texas. “I didn’t expect to win. I was riding in it for fun and wasn’t aiming to win but then I won both classes.”
And there is an aside to her story. For the second competition Kaitlyn explained, “My trainer took the wrong horse. It was my trainer’s jumper but it was the best mistake she ever made, so I won on two different horses. The horses look exactly the same except for the height.”
For her winning ride she was given a test by the judge and recalls that in the first competition “they had us make up our own course and so I did the most difficult course I could think of. I was really surprised when I found out I won because I didn’t show in all of them like other people did.”
Like Ashley, Kaitlyn is thankful to the AHJF for recognizing the need for a program like this. “I really love the program. It helps kids our age learn about the horse shows and what to aim for. It is a lot bigger here. I really like seeing all the big time riders.”
Looking back at the weekend it was meeting fellow Texan Peter Pletcher that awed her the most. “I was speechless when I met him,” she admitted. “I just found out he existed and was getting to know about him and then I got to meet him here.”
Kaitlyn continued talking about the weekend noting, “I learned so much. I think I am going to use everything I learned.”
WCHR PRO FINALISTS GIVE SOME DIRECTION
At the press conference following the WCHR Pro Finals the six finalists were asked to offer advice to Kaitlyn and Ashley on what they can do to one day be one of the final six.
“No matter where you are starting out there are always people that will help you, so keep your head up and go full force and go for where you want to be,” offered Hunt, Cummings, GA.
“Ride as many horses as you can and take a lot of time to see what the top professionals in the industry do,” suggested Scott Stewart, Flemington, NJ and Wellington, FL, three-time WCHR Pro Final’s winner.
“Take every opportunity you can to watch good professionals ride and ride anything and everything you can,” added Kelley Farmer, 2009 AHJF Hunter Classic winner, Keswick, VA.
“Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. All it takes is hard work and we are all up here to prove that to you,” remarked Peter, Magnolia, TX.
“It is not just about watching the competition but also spending time observing the schooling area and how we are getting the horses ready for the class. There is a lot of stuff that goes on outside the competition arena,” noted two-time WCHR Pro Final’s winner John French, San Juan Bautista, CA
Ken Berkley, Flemington, NJ, concluded, “put yourself in the best and most professional riding environment that you can regardless of your level.”
While it was during the press conference that these riders offered their advice, the Junior Challenge winners had been receiving good suggestions all weekend.
“Ask questions of everyone because at your age you are like a sponge,” said Karen Golding.
Keeley left an open invitation for the riders to contact her with whatever questions they had. Peter offered to meet up with Kaitlyn at one of their local shows and even school her. Conrad took his time to make sure the riders understood how to stride out distances and what different fences required of the horse and rider.
Each of the people who sat with the Junior Challenge winners went above and beyond what either Ashley or Kaitlyn could have imagined. Who knows maybe this weekend will be the stepping stone for Ashley or Kaitlyn to one day walk in the shoes or boots of the many professionals who gave of their time and expertise to make this weekend something they will always remember.
AMERICAN HUNTER-JUMPER FOUNDATION
The AHJF is a member-supported non-profit organization formed to further the development of the sport of show hunter competition. Programs of the AHJF include the World Championship Hunter Rider Awards, the AHJF Emergency Relief Fund, AHJF Educational Programs and the AHJF Investment Plan.
The AHJF also sponsors other featured events throughout the year, including the AHJF Hunter Classic Spectacular of Palm Beach (February 20, 2010) and the World Champion Hunter Rider Pro Finals (October 8, 2010).
At the Capital Challenge the Junior Hunter Challenge weekend was part of an overall World Championship Hunter Rider Awards Program, which included junior, professional, amateur-owner, adult amateur, children’s and pony hunter riders. The program was established by the AHJF to recognize and reward excellence among hunter riders.
For more information, the AHJF can be contacted at 508-835-8813, fax: 508-835-6125, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.