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The Waiting Game for Your Chance in the Arena

by Kathleen Landwehr, US Equestrian Communications Department | Oct 16, 2023, 8:30 AM

Horse shows can involve a lot of downtime if you don’t show until the afternoon or evening. That was the case for the competitors going late in the order of over 200 entries in the 2023 Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show. Two junior athletes had to wait until the very end of the first round to have their chance to ride in the Harrisburg Coliseum. They shared how they spent their time in the lead-up to their turn in the order. Additionally, Luke Jensen, Champion of the 2022 Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final and the 2023 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals - East, gave his insights into the waiting game during his 2022 Medal Final experience.

Rylynn Conway

Junior athletes have to play the waiting game for their chance to compete in the large class for the 2023 Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final.
(Avery Wallace/US Equestrian)

Conway was second-to-last to go in the first round, and she started her day by flatting her Medal Final mount, Clover, as well as her other horse at the show. Next, it was time for a change of scenery until the afternoon.

“I went back to the hotel for a little and took a nap,” said Conway. “I got some food, came back, and watched some rounds. Then, got on and got ready to show.”

Conway said she doesn’t struggle with show nerves too much, though feeling ready for the Medal Final helped with any nerves.

“At the barn, we do everything that they ask here at the show, so I knew that I was going to be prepared.”

It was Conway’s second time competing in the Medal Final, she found herself in a different position at the 2022 edition of the class.

“Last year I had to go second, and this year I went second to last, so it was the opposite,” said Conway. “I probably prefer second to last because I got to watch how the course rode.”

Molly Zygmont

Zygmont, riding Dario, was last to enter the arena for the first round in the Medal Final. It was her first time competing in the prestigious class, and she had some time on her hands until her afternoon ride.

Despite having plenty of time to watch other rounds, Zygmont kept her spectating to a minimum.

“I didn’t watch that many rounds,” said Zygmont. “I watched some in the beginning, but I went back to the barn a lot. I hung around the ringside lounge to try and take my mind off of things.”

As her turn in the arena approached, Zygmont felt dressing the part helped get mentally prepared.

“I think putting on my show clothes helped get me ready and puts me more in competition mode,” she said.

Zygmont does have some show nerves but finds that some nourishment helps.

“I always eat before I ride,” said Zygmont. “I don’t eat anything specific. I ate churros beforehand today.”

Even though Zygmont was the last to go in the first round, she wouldn’t have changed her spot in the order.

“Actually, I kind of liked going last,” she said. “It motivated me because everyone is watching at the end.”

Luke Jensen

On his way to winning the 2022 Medal Final, Jensen had to play the waiting game between the first round, second round, final testing, and announcement of the results before he found out that he was the Champion. Being a working student for his trainers at North Run kept him busy during the down time of the 2022 edition of the class.

“Last year, I had the benefit of being a working student, which took up any free time I had,” said Jensen. “This didn’t give me any time to let negative thoughts affect my mental headspace. I always try to stay a little bit busy with something to keep my mind occupied.”

With experience over the years, Jensen has gotten better at managing any show nerves.

“I approach every class I do with the same mental head space, whether it’s a small training jumper class or an important championship, so that I get used to the nerves and can deal with them effectively,” said Jensen. “As seemingly obvious as it may sound, it is shockingly easily to forget to breathe when you are experience nerves, and breathing, as we all know, is very important.”

Jensen recently became a professional, and he is working on skills to be the best athlete that he can be.

“Over time, I have developed and am continuing to develop, through the guidance of many great coaches throughout the years, including everyone on the North Run team, useful skills such as mindfulness, meditation, and visualization techniques,” said Jensen. “These skills have been proven, not only in the riding world but also the athletic world and in other aspects of life, to be effective ways to boost your mental performance.”

As a past Medal Final Champion, Jensen shared some parting words of wisdom for the competitors.

“My main tip for riders competing in the Medal Final is to try not to treat it like this class will make or break their riding career,” said Jensen. “Try to approach it as a learning experience and a way to demonstrate what you’ve learned through the past year rather than a do-or-die situation.”