Lexington, Ky. – Nov. 19, 2019 – On a mission to further education and sportsmanship at the junior level of equestrian sport, the National Horse Show (NHS) put a spotlight on driven young athletes at its 136th annual event with the launch of the NHS Junior Leadership Committee in 2019. In its inaugural year, the committee hosted several events specifically for junior riders in an effort to help them bond with their peers and have a positive competition experience. The committee’s goals of fostering camaraderie, sportsmanship, and performance positivity came to fruition during the historic event as the talented team of juniors made themselves an essential resource to all young athletes that attended the 2019 National Horse Show.
The Junior Leadership Committee brought together the passion and ideas of seven founding committee members: Hailey Johns (chair), Alex Alston, Alexis Ortiz, Dominic Gibbs, Jordan Allen, Juliette Joseph, and Sophia Pilla. The core team worked together with National Horse Show management to develop exciting new experiences for their peers to the already expansive National Horse Show schedule. Each event supported the goal of being both a learning opportunity and a chance for young riders to meet and network with one another, thus creating a safe atmosphere for personal and competitive growth.
“Our central goal was and remains to make the National Horse Show the best experience possible for as many junior attendees as we can. The committee and greater National Horse Show team have no bearing over how one’s time in the show ring plays out, but what we tried to do was ensure that their time spent outside of the ring was uniquely enjoyable and rewarding,” shared Johns. “Throughout the year, I worked with the National Horse Show team to support however I could. This included helping with social media work, conducting interviews, and working at the show itself. It has been a true privilege to work with the National Horse Show and the exceptional team of people behind it.”
As the Chair of the Junior Leadership Committee, Johns played a significant role in laying the groundwork for success of this new program. Johns was announced as the first-ever Junior Ambassador for the Leo Conroy Maclay Grant (LCMG) in 2018 after receiving the grant in 2017 and using it to compete at the National Horse Show in the ASPCA Maclay Equitation Championship, a lifelong dream of hers. The 18-year-old continuously engaged her fellow junior riders while competing at the National Horse Show, making her the perfect candidate to help create the unique opportunities for team building, personal development, education, and camaraderie.
“To me, the National Horse Show is such a big deal. It is the most historic, the most prestigious and it means so much to so many people,” expressed Johns. “Having the opportunity through Jennifer Burger and the other National Horse Show leadership to be on the inside and really see what it is all about is so special to me on a personal level. I always think about when the show was at Madison Square Garden and how meaningful the show was to the people of that time and it made me think about how I could make the horse show just as meaningful to the people of this time. I want everyone to look back on it and speak of it the same way as the generations before us speak of The Garden.”
Tasked with two primary responsibilities, the Junior Leadership Committee members acted as a sounding board for the National Horse Show and helped to facilitate the experience for other juniors attending Maclay Finals. Committee members also oversaw the Junior Leadership Program’s initiatives and worked closely with the National Horse Show team to improve the overall experience for junior riders and provide them with opportunities for personal development. Throughout the year, members were tasked with brainstorming and collaborating with the NHS team, giving them an in-depth look at the operations and management behind the prestigious horse show. Their responsibilities extended into the two weeks of competition where committee members were deeply involved in the junior events, helping to facilitate and support the events to make them as successful as possible.
“Once the committee was assembled I met with them and we all talked about what our ideas were, what our thoughts were and where we thought other holes existed in the schedule that we could improve upon, and that is how we came to the three events: The Wrenwood Farm Welcome Party, the class photo and the Pizza and Positivity Panel,” said Johns. “I really think that having such a range of committee members that were from all different areas of the country, different backgrounds, different barns with different experiences allowed for the events to be as inclusive and comprehensive as possible.
On Friday afternoon, the Junior leadership committee hosted the Wrenwood Farms Junior Welcome Party as a lead up to the ASPCA Maclay Draw. This event was open to all junior competitors of the National Horse Show and featured food and a live DJ.
On Saturday afternoon, junior riders gathered in front of the iconic Alltech Arena for the first ever ASPCA Maclay National Championship class photo. Exhibitors were then invited to join the committee for a “Pizza and Positivity” event in Maxwell Place, where Dr. Jennifer Speisman PsyD, HSP, addressed the athletes that were entered to compete in the ASCPA Maclay Equitation Championship alongside international show jumping athlete Kent Farrington and 2013 ASPCA Maclay National Champion and international show jumping athlete Lillie Keenan. Dr. Speisman, Farrington and Keenan gave auditors tools to use to help them remain calm and positive during their time in the Alltech Arena and opened the floor to a Question and Answer portion that many attendees found to be exceedingly insightful, leaving a lasting impression on them.
“I don’t know if it was the timing or the fact it was the end of indoors and everyone was stressed out, but the Pizza and Positivity event made me feel like a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders,” shared Allen. “To hear from the top of the sport, especially from two riders I have looked up to for so long, and to hear that they struggle too and get nervous was such a big relief. In this sport it is easy to feel like you are going through things alone, so it was so nice to hear that the top show jumpers deal with the same things as us junior riders. When you were watching you just didn’t want it to end!”
In its inaugural year, the National Horse Show’s Junior Leadership Committee made great strides in connecting junior riders and fostering an environment of friendship and support to build memories that will last well beyond their days of competition.
“The Junior Leadership Committee served as an amazing experience to work with juniors that I hadn’t met before,” said Gibbs. “To work with new faces and build relationships with them helped me improve my own leadership skills. The Junior Leadership Committee is perfect for anyone that wants to be a leader and has ideas for the National Horse Show. The experience of joining a committee for a horse show as a junior is an opportunity of a lifetime. It was such a fun experience and I think that anyone that gets the chance to join, should.”
“I would love to continue to expand and build the strongest Junior Leadership Committee possible. We hope to continue to foster the growth of junior riders to hopefully help them become influential members of this sport, not only as riders, trainers or amateurs, but in terms of governance and leadership,” concluded Johns. “I would like to thank this year’s committee members for being our inaugural group and for trailblazing with me. I have enjoyed every moment and cannot wait to see what the future holds.”