FireFly and Sonador at the World Equestrian Center

This summer, Sprout (FireFly) and Kobi (Sonador) both got some arena time at the luxurious World Equestrian Center in Ocala, which is just a few minutes from the farm. During Summer Week II, Sprout competed in 1.30m and 1.35m classes, including the Saturday afternoon Future’s Prix. In Summer Week IV she made her debut in the hunter ring and placed in Friday’s Hunter Derby. Kobi gained some experience competing through 1.10m during Summer Week II. He loved the atmosphere! Photos courtesy of Andrew Ryback Photography.

Ashland Student Receives Diversity Scholarship Award

Congratulations to Ashland’s own Muhammad Shahroze Rehman for being a 2020 recipient of Eventing Nation’s inaugural Diversity and Inclusion Scholarship! Read his essay contribution here!

AN ESSAY CONTRIBUTION TO THE DISCUSSION OF DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION IN EQUESTRIAN SPORT:

I was 11 years old when I first sat on horseback. I vividly remember every moment of it — the excitement, the passion! It was the most amazing feeling of this world. Hi! I am Muhammad. I love horses and I will give up anything in my life for my passion for horses and equestrian sports.

I am a Fulbright Scholar from Pakistan, currently pursuing my Ph.D. in Educational Technology and Human-Centric Computing at the University of Florida. Over the past two years, I have worked with students with disabilities to study the accessibility and usability of online learning for all learners. My current research focus is on the applications of Virtual Reality (VR) in pedagogy for adult learners. I also teach a course on Introduction to Educational technology to undergraduates at the University of Florida. But this is not all that defines me.

I would define myself as a resilient individual chasing his dreams. Coming from a middle-class family in an underprivileged area of Pakistan, I was lucky to get into one of the most sought after and prestigious boarding schools in Pakistan. I was not a very social kid and talking to humans was not one of my strongest pursuits. As I was struggling to find my identity amongst hundreds of other students, I found something amazing — my happy place — the equestrian club at my school. 

My life changed after that moment. I started using my break times to hang out with the horses, groom them, and talk to them for hours. I would indulge myself in wild imaginations where I was a horse whisperer who lived with hundreds of horses and they all loved me and talked to me. These imaginations were short-lived. As I would hear the bell ring my imaginations would shatter, and I would walk back to my dorm. But, I didn’t mind repeating the entire process over every single day of my life. 

The equestrian team at my school was one of the most competitive teams and it became a dream of mine to join the team. On my journey to make it on the team I worked with a lot of horses ranging from Arabians to Warmbloods to Thoroughbreds. There were some good days and some bad. Once a horse bucked me off and my foot got stuck in the stirrup. He kept dragging me for a couple of yards before I got my foot out. After being in a hospital bed for a couple of days I went right back to ride with him. I was finally able to make it on the team in my last year at school. In Pakistan, I competed in sports like Tent Pegging, Sword Pegging, and freestyle Polo. 

When I came to the US in 2018 to pursue my graduate studies, I was excited to find out that the University of Florida had an equestrian club! In Pakistan, equestrian sports are male dominant, but I didn’t know that it is a little opposite in the US. I joined the club at UF and decided to join the eventing team as it sounded the most exciting. When I first showed up to attend the club meeting, the room was filled with more than a hundred girls! I became nervous and walked down the room to take a seat in the farthest corner. My anxiety and nervousness went away when my team captain approached me and said, “Hey Muhammad, why don’t you come to sit with the Eventing team!” It was a nice gesture, and it made me feel welcomed and a part of the team! 

It’s been two years since I have been on the UF Eventing Team and not for a single day have I felt uncomfortable for being an international from a different ethnic and cultural background and the only boy on the team. My teammates are the best people ever! Most of them are very advanced level ridders but they have never made me feel like I am a beginner. They always support me, boost my moral at competitions, help me tack up, walk the courses with me, guide me, and help me train. I feel blessed to be a part of this team and having some amazing teammates. The past two years were the most exciting two years of my life because of this team. 

I am currently competing at the beginner novice level, but I didn’t know anything about eventing when I started two years ago. I think it would be an injustice if I did not mention the efforts of my awesome coach, Ashley Johnson. She is one of the best riders I have ever known and have had the privileged to train with. She has supported and trained me in my Eventing journey, and I aspire to be like her one day. 

Eventing is a sport that I am passionate about, it excites me, and I want to learn and grow so that I can compete at advanced levels like my teammates. Just like any other sports, I believe that diversity and inclusion in equestrian sport are very important. The reason why I shared my journey with you is because it is an example of how the positive attitude of my team and coach toward diversity left a long-lasting impact on my life. 

I believe that diversity and inclusion in equestrian sport provide us not just an opportunity to compete with people from all over the world, but it also gives us a chance to explore and understand people from different nations, cultures, ethnicities, and genders and their perspectives of equestrian sports. It also helps us learn what other equestrian sports exist in the world. Through diversity in equestrian sports, we can also learn and create rules and regulations beyond borders that can provide the safe and fair treatment of horses. It will help us to extend help to horses in need, save them from animal cruelty, and give them a second chance. It is through diversity and inclusion that we can end stereotypes in countries like Pakistan where equestrian sport is only for males. 

Horses and equestrian sports have a very special place in my heart. It was through this sport that I got a chance to meet some amazing people and make some lifelong friendships. It was our common interest in the equestrian sport that helped me meet my now Fiancé. We have a dream to build a rehabilitation farm for OTTBs and introduce them to second careers. If I receive this scholarship award, I would use this money to adopt my first OTTB and train with him/her for our eventing career. 

In the end, I would like to conclude by saying that through diversity and inclusion in the equestrian sport we can learn, grow and empathize with equestrian enthusiast from all over the world and use it as an asset to improve our sport by making it safer and more exciting for generations to come. 

Regards,

Muhammad Shahroze Rehman
University of Florida

Tips for Setting SMART Goals this April

SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Trackable. With life changing daily across the country right now, most of us will be spending a lot of time training at home this month. For some of us the ability to take regular lessons or travel to practice and school at different venues will not be possible. For many riders who board their horses, going to the barn may even become a limited activity. It could be an easy month to feel unsure about what type of training to do or to feel stuck in a rut. Using SMART Goals will help boost your confidence and purpose!

First, consider the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic goals. Extrinsic goals focus on ‘be good’ outcomes and performances. One example of an extrinsic goal is challenging yourself to canter a line of cavaletti jumps in five strides, then six strides, then four strides. Intrinsic goals focus on ‘get better’ outcomes and these goals relate more to building competence and mastery. An example of an intrinsic goal is deciding to practice leg yields during two different rides in a week. Both types of goals are useful.

Right now it is the beginning of a new month. All competitions are shut down for the foreseeable future. It is a very good time to set goals that center around intrinsic motivation and are authentic to your own riding. As you gain more mastery, your performance will improve and your extrinsic goals will be more attainable as well. With this in mind, brainstorm a few Specific goals for the next four weeks. Write them down. Be open minded. Perhaps your goal is to create a better independent hand and seat so that you have more strength over jumps, or perhaps your goal is to maintain core fitness and flexibility for riding at home even when you can’t make it to the barn.

Next, think about how Measurable your goals are. For me, this usually centers around how many days during the week I am going to work on a different skill set. When I teach my horses to do flying changes, for example, I often decide that I will practice changes three days a week. During at least two of those rides, I only do a few flying changes. I just touch on them and then move on to other things so that my horse doesn’t feel frazzled. For riders who maybe can’t make it to the barn as often as they would like, a great goal might be to do yoga two days a week to improve balance and flexibility and go for a run three days a week to maintain cardiovascular fitness.

As far as Actionable, think about the resources you have available to you this month. I was just talking to one of my students about her training program for her preliminary level OTTB for the weeks ahead. He needs to become stronger in dressage, but he also really likes variety and doesn’t like getting drilled. She is going to be riding at home all month. I suggested she place a cavaletti jump in the middle of a flat area and on some days not do a traditional dressage ride but instead ride him in the open, cantering the cavaletti on a large circle in both a working and lengthen canter to practice balance, rhythm, and rideability. This will help him to stay fresh and engaged in his work.

Making a goal Relevant will improve your own motivation to pursue it. When I coach, I am amazed at how many students come to me not really having any idea of what they would like to improve. The more you understand clearly the areas that you would like to improve, the more you can create goals that will help your riding to flourish.

Lastly, make your goals Trackable. For the month of April, write down week by week what you would like to do to reach your goal, and a vision of where you want to be with this goal by the end of the month. Then, each week as you do what you had set out to do, check it off your list and write a small reflection about how the week went. If one week doesn’t go as well as planned, think about why that was, and regroup for the next week.

In riding we always need to be ready to change from plan A to plan B. This month, our innate resilience as event riders will be put to the test in other areas of our life as well. For many, this will be a very challenging time, but perhaps with the right outlook, this time can be used to grow in our riding through setting creative goals and working towards them!


Ashley Johnson is a 5* Event Rider and an ICP Level III Certified Instructor. She is based in Ocala, FL and coaches the University of Florida’s Eventing Team. Ashley is pursuing a master’s degree in psychology through Harvard University’s HES School with a focus on sports psychology. If you would like a customized at-home training program with video and phone call accountability check-ins, contact Ashley at alequestrian@gmail.com.

Why Do We Play?

Two years ago, a few members of The University of Florida Equestrian Club decided to start an Eventing Team within the club.  They asked me to be their coach.  I jumped at the opportunity.  I grew up in New Jersey, and I have a BA from Rutgers University in English and theater.  I chose Rutgers over other liberal arts universities because it was close to home for me, and that meant that geographically and financially I was able to continue to ride and train while I attended college.  I am in the minority as a CCI4* rider in the U.S. that also has a college degree, and I am eternally grateful for the education and life experiences that I gained while at Rutgers.  As a coach for the UF Eventing Team, I have been able to support both my sport and younger riders pursuing a liberal arts education.      

I have been incredibly impressed over the past two years with the poise and dedication that the kids on the team have exhibited.  They show up neat, clean, professional and ready to learn.  They come on their lighter days and work in the barn, and many have done internships in the barn for college credit.  The team started off with twelve active members in the first year, and then expanded to about sixteen in the second year.  Roughly half of the team own their own horses and had already competed in the sport of eventing when they joined.  The other half were riders with a decent foundation of skills coming largely from the hunter world who were ready to try something outside of the ring.  Although a few of the the higher level team members compete through the upper levels, the bulk of the riders are riding at beginner novice or novice, or even just starting to get into the sport at tadpole.

Three day eventing is an incredibly involved sport.  It is a triathlon.  You have to be proficient in three different styles of riding – dressage, cross country, and show jumping.  Not only that, when you compete you have to know the rules for all three phases, and bring things all together over a one or two day period.  This winter the Ocala Horse Trials hosted it’s second Intercollegiate Challenge, and we were able to field two teams.  In May, we also sent the first UF team to the Intercollegiate Championships in Virginia.  In both cases, I was reminded of the many, many bumps that I myself hit along the way as I improved as a rider.  At the Ocala Horse Trials, many of the riders did well and were in the ribbons.  Some, however, had disappointing weekends.  One rider was on a younger horse who was very spooked in show jumping and was eliminated after three refusals.  Another rider’s horse was far more excited than she had anticipated and she wasn’t able to manage his speed.  She, too, was eliminated in a jumping phase.  At the Intercollegiate Challenge in May, two of the riders achieved personal best dressage scores, but of the three team members competing, only one was consistent enough across the weekend to finish on his dressage score and in the ribbons.  Last week, I took a group of the kids cross country schooling at a new venue, and one of the girls lost her confidence when her horse started trying to duck out.  She knew that she would have been fine over an identical jump at home, but this new experience was nerve wracking for her.

Sport can have a profound impact on us as people.  It gives us a physical outlet.  It helps us create goals to work towards.  It creates camaraderie that reaches across boundaries.  This spring, while I was competing at the Land Rover Kentucky CCI4*, I was walking my cross country course on Friday at the same time as one of the most prolific riders of my time, the German rider Michael Jung.  Jung, who had flown his horse over from Europe, was sitting in second place after dressage, and was there to win.  I was there to jump around clean for a second time, and gain more mileage for my next 4*.  Jung and I approached jump five together, measuring our minute markers on a meter wheel.  As we walked, he turned to me and asked me how my dressage test had gone.  One of my friends remarked that this is something like Brad Pitt asking you how your acting career is going.  I smiled and replied that I had been pleased with my horse, and I asked him how his dressage had gone.  He said that he was happy with his  ride as well.  In that moment, we became friends within the sport.  Sport has an incredible ability to break down boundaries and create community and leadership.

As my UF kids work along to become better riders and better competitors, they support each other through the highs and lows.  Sometimes, the first time something goes wrong at a show or in schooling, a rider might be very surprised.  Sometimes there are tears.  Inevitably, though, the other team members rally around them and tell them of their own war stories, encouraging them and helping them to see the bigger picture.  It reminds me of how, so often, we don’t actually play sport in order to win.  We play sport in order to play.