I Am US Equestrian: Finding Your Path
About This Video
Trigger Warning: The video and text discuss depresssion and suicide.
From his early childhood in Parker, Colo., with his beloved ponies, to a working-student position among the professional hunter jumper operations of Wellington, Fla., Ryder Richardson has spent much of his young life proving that people from all backgrounds can get involved in—and succeed at—equestrian sport.
"When I first started riding, I was a lonely, awkward kid from a one-parent household, and I didn’t know where I fit into the world," Ryder explained. "I had so many insecurities. Over time, riding built me up and gave me confidence. My ponies gave me wings and I loved flying. I was hooked. I had a blast learning excellent horsemanship and to how to ride well. I met some of the greatest, most altruistic horse people, and they became my family. And when I watched my first Grand Prix, I knew my calling, that I, too, wanted to become a professional rider."
Ryder has always paid his way to achieve his equestrian goals, including taking a job at a local stable, where he'd do barn chores and school a half-dozen horses each day before heading off to ride his half-Connemara RR Cool Play, nicknamed Becks—a pony that Ryder has noted was "purchased for less than a used saddle" but became his pony of a lifetime.
Ryder's first break came when he received a United States Hunter Jumper Association Foundation Gochman Grant to compete at the 2018 USEF Pony Finals (now presented by Honor Hill Farms) aboard Elle Gibbs's Nominee. The following year, he returned to Pony Finals with Becks and contributed to his team's bronze-medal finish in the USEF Pony Jumper National Team Championship. These steppingstones come with hard work and perseverance, and they offer the opportunity to learn even more, Ryder says.
Ryder has always dreamed of becoming a professional jumper rider. He's already taken important steps toward that goal, and he's also well aware that the path to an equestrian career involves a lot of joy and hard work, as well as the ups and downs we all face in life. After selling his first two ponies, Ryder struggled to find his path forward in the sport and considered quitting.
"During my journey, I have run into some major roadblocks along the way," he said. "There have been times that my mom and I couldn’t afford lessons, horse board, riding boots, and a horse of my own. There have been accidents and injuries, sacrifices, and a lot of hard work. There were days that I felt hopeless about the future. But the tough days made me work even harder. I asked for extra rides, I had trainers take notice, and I was eventually able to purchase a large green jumper pony. He stole my heart and made me appreciate the journey. I took pride in developing my own animals and loved the relationship every step of the way. My heart grew bigger, and that’s when the miracles started happening."
In 2019, after a close friend and lacrosse teammate took his own life, Ryder drew solace and strength from his relationship with his pony Becks. Since then, Ryder has energetically committed to raising awareness of mental health issues and to standing against bullying. He also encourages equestrians to be open to talking about their struggles and to know that it's okay to seek help when they need it.
"I want to bring awareness to people, saying, 'It's okay not to feel good. You're not alone,'" said Ryder. "There's somebody out there to help you."
Ryder also is working to develop a planned non-profit, the Joy Ryder Foundation, that aims to promote diversity and inclusion in equestrian sport, provide meaningful mentorship, and more.
"I want other people like me who may not have the financial resources to know that they have a place in our equestrian community," he said. "I want people to know that you don’t need the fanciest horse or the most expensive tack to become a rider worth supporting. I competed at the Winter Equestrian Festival a few months ago with hand-me down boots and a borrowed show coat on some of the most unreal horses that I have ever seen. Who would have ever thought that a boy with no money from Colorado would make it all the way to Florida to play among some of the best riders in the world? Dreams do come true. Work hard, love the horse, and get out there and start living your passion."
About The Expert
Ryder Richardson is an equestrian from Parker, Colo.
In 2018, Richardson competed at his first USEF Pony Finals presented by Honor Hill Farms as a recipient of a United States Hunter Jumper Association Foundation Gochman Grant. He returned in 2019 with his jumper pony RR Cool Play and was part of the bronze medal-winning combined-Zone team at the USEF Pony Jumper National Team Championship.
Richardson is a junior committee member of Leading the Change, a group focused on diversity and inclusion in the equestrian community and led by Maya Pridgen, Bethany Unwin, Aimee Ritter, and Mavis Spencer.
He also is an active committee member out of five juniors nationally on the USHJA Youth Committee and a peer counselor on Sources of Strength suicide prevention at school.
In 2020, he was one of the equestrians to receive the USEF Betsy Fishback Sportsmanship Award.