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Ayden Uhlir – The Journey to the Individual Gold Medal at the North American Young Riders
Ayden Uhlir, (18-years-old) from Texas, won the Individual Young Rider division Gold Medal with her horse, Sjapoer, a 13-year-old KWPN (Contango x Jenia/Wolfgang). Last year at NAJYRC, she won an individual Gold Medal in the Junior division-level. No other rider has ever accomplished such a feat. Uhlir shared with us, “This year at NAJYRC, I was not pushing myself to medal. I knew that no one had ever won back to back Junior and Young Rider Gold Medals. I figured there was a reason, as it is a big move, a big jump in levels. The changes are huge: tempi changes, the canter pirouettes, the changes in bend, straightness. I just started the year with the expectation to do our best to learn as much as we could.” Uhlir planned out a self-sacrificing strategy after last year's competition, quickly putting it into action. She wanted to move, with her horse, from Texas to Washington State to train with Jeremy Steinberg. Uhlir's parents have experienced their daughter's grit and determination. They agreed that her Grandmother would spend the year as chaparone, due to Uhlir's need to finish high school. And the plan paid off.
She continued, "After NAJYRC in 2012, last year, I moved, on ten days notice to Kirkland, Washington to train with Jeremy Steinberg. It was the best decision I could have made at that time. I love Washington. Shauntel and Jeremy are the best training pair ever. Jeremy is gone a lot for clinics and his USEF responsibilities, so Shauntel kept me moving forward and gave Jeremy regular updates; he directs my training, and when he is home, he kicks my butt on what I should have learned while he was away. She is the cheerleader and positive visualization side. Jeremy is the detail freak. He is very demanding and meticulous. But it works well for us. Although, my Grandma says I am becoming OCD about things and she thinks it is his influence."
The road this year leading to the NAJYRC competition was not easy. She shared, “When Sjapoer had an impaction on the Saturday before and nearly ended up at the hospital, I thought our chances of even competing were over. But Dr. Newton, Jennifer Oliver and Reese Koffler-Stanfield worked hard to help him over his colic and to keep him hydrated and feeling good. He really wasn't himself until Friday, during the competition. He woke up that morning and started being pesky in his stall. It was in n that moment I thought we had a chance. He is back. He wants to show everyone what he can do. He is such a great competitor. He just gets bigger in the ring. He blows up as if to say, 'Look at me mom.'"
She shared her start in riding, “Well my horse story began when I was 6 years old and I sat on my first horse, Minimum Risk. I told my parents "I had found my thing," and I haven't missed more than a day or two in the saddle since. I first trained with local trainers, Mary Claeys-Smith and Mary Mahler. I mostly competed in breed shows and was fairly successful. I even went to Arab Sporthorse Nationals and had multiple rankings. Then, I moved trainers over the winter break of 2009-2010 to train with Bre Dorsett. I was her first Junior/Young Rider. We did a lot of learning and growing together in the region about the program.
As the costs of riding and my desire to focus on riding increased I talked my family into making some changes. I went to them when I was in 7th grade with a Powerpoint presentation on: why it was in my (and their) best interest to let me homeschool with K12, so that I could be a working student for Mary and later Bre. This gave me more saddle time and time to learn about the inner-workings of barn management and being a trainer. We also realized I needed a more competitive horse. So my trainer, Bre and I, went to Holland and found Sjapoer. Our first year at Junior/Young Rider's, we did fairly well. Later, we had a series of injuries, both he and I, that set us back.
School and riding so far have been manageable together because I used K12 iCademy, an online international school. It gives me flexibility for my daily and weekly schedule but is highly demanding. I've taken calculus and Latin. I have a 3.9 GPA and a scholarship to Seattle University, a private Jesuit school which I will attend in the fall. I was accepted elsewhere (Cornell even offered me deferred enrollment through the end of sophomore year) but I choose Seattle because it is a small private school near my trainer. I can keep up with riding and school. They have been very open and willing to work with my riding goals so far. I am really excited to become a Sea Hawk in the fall.
Emerging Dressage Athletes Program (EDAP):
But the biggest turning point in my career came with my first acceptance to Emerging Dressage Athlete Program's Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic over Christmas of 2011. While there as an auditor, I met the most amazing heros. I saw Robert Dover, Courtney Dye, Linda Zang, Lendon Gray and so many others. I heard them speak on what it took to succeed. I was daily given the knowledge, tools and inspiration to want more, to achieve more. The energy from that week in Wellington and the information that I took back to Region 9 infused not only me, but all the other young riders I knew in my Region 9 to push forward. I shared everything I could with others in my barn. While in Wellington, I also met people who inspired me to want to work harder. I became friends with Brandi Roenick. Her support over the years has been invaluable. She called me daily this year at NAJYRC and gave me amazing pointers on my riding. Over the last two years, we have gone snowboarding together, and kept building our bond inside and outside of Dressage.
The next year I went to EDAP as a rider with a bit of success behind me from winning Juniors. It was a slightly different experience, but it gave me even more of a boost. I had just moved to Washington to train with Jeremy. I was now one of the people who could give some advice to others. It was humbling. I remember going to introduce myself to one of the auditors and I said, "Hi, I am ..." and before I got out my name she said "I know who you are." At that moment I felt a great responsibility. So this year at EDAP, I tried not only to learn but to share what I had learned. The visualization exercises that I learned at both EDAP's from Dr. Susser have been paramount to my success. The workouts and need for fitness from Bob Gutowitz has reshaped my entire gym routine. Having Mary Phelps tell us about media interviews, and even practice answers with us, has been key to not ending up embarrassed several times. The training and exposure to trainers is unparalleled. Finally, this year I found my big sis, Genay Vaughn. We met before at a competition, but we roomed together at Jen Baumert's house during the EDAP, and we have been thick as thieves ever since. I have been down to visit her, she and I talk regularly, and we are even working on an invention together. She is a true friend who gives you a kick in the butt when you need one, and she is the most loyal and poised girl I have ever met. So to sum up EDAP. AMAZING! The greatest web of training, support, knowledge, friendship and growth a dressage rider could ever ask for. I would not be where I am today without it. And I hope to be blessed to be asked back in any capacity through the years.
USEF's Long Term Training Program (LTP):
The USEF's Long Term Training Program which was initiated last year has also been of great help, like EDAP, in putting me on target. EDAP gave me the foundation and springboard, the LTP gives me singular focus and a detailed plan. They are a great combination. The LTP sets out short and long term goals for riders, trainers and parents. You set out your plan, you discuss and address issues and concerns about achieving those goals, you commit to the goals and you have regular meetings to make sure you are staying on target. If you get off your target the USEF wants to know why and what they can do to help. It is a great way to work to develop the pipeline of young Dressage riders that may someday compete for the US Internationally. I also think it is really a great plan for all riders to do on their own as well.
Other than riding, I am overall a happy and athletic kid. I do well in school but I would rather be outside than in a classroom. I am very artistic and creative. I make jewelry and draw. But my hidden talent that my parents wished I had followed instead of riding is singing. Although very few people have ever heard me, I am told, I sound like a 1940's Blues singer at the Apollo Theater. Whenever something really big happens in the family, my mom tries to use it as an excuse for me to sing to her.
Our victory this year is the culmination of the last two years of changes, sacrifices and opportunities give to me by EDAP, the LTP, my trainers and my parents. I thank them all and wish for their continued support so that I can keep on this incredible journey!
Photos: Victoria Trout - USDF Education Programs Coordinator
Image Gallery Photos: Victoria Trout and Julie Stephens