Fourth year surgery resident and amateur jumper rider Lindsay Sceats discusses her transition to showjumping, her training program at Willow Tree Farm and balancing career and competition. At age 29 she has a sage approach to show nerves and some creative thoughts on the test for equine piroplasmosis.
Winter Hoffman: What was your childhood like and how were you introduced to riding?
Lindsay Sceats: I grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado in a decidedly non-horse family. I started riding at age seven at Penrose Equestrian Center, a local community barn in Colorado Springs. My parents had recently divorced, and they thought that horseback riding would be a good distraction. They were correct. I initially started western but quickly switched to english as I wanted to jump.
WH: How did you come to have a passion for the sport – through your parents or your trainers?
LS: I have no idea where the horses came from, as my family has absolutely no equestrian background, but I’ve loved horses for as long as I can remember – Barbie horses, pony rides, and eventually lessons and more serious riding.
WH: Are you doing the equitation? What are your thoughts on the equitation as a foundation for show jumping?
LS: I competed in the Big Eq as a junior and rode on the Mount Holyoke College riding team. I think it’s an important stepping-stone in terms of learning to ride technical courses in pressure situations, but I think it’s important not to get too hung up on equitation success as an end goal.
WH: Was Colorado an advantage or disadvantage for your junior show career?
LS: While the horse scene in Colorado is more limited than on either coast, I loved learning to ride in Colorado. My barn growing up did not have full grooming – just basic stall cleaning and feeding – so we had a lot of independence in taking care of the horse and riding by ourselves. I’m truly grateful for that background. There are many great young riders who have come out of Colorado (Kelli Crucciotti, Nick Gegen, Taylor Alexander, etc), so there must be something good happening there!
WH: You won the Cacchione Cup while on the team at Mount Holyoke College. Please tell us how this came about, the high points, and what you learned from this experience.
LS: Winning the Cacchione class was definitely one of the highlights of my riding career so far. I decided early on that the Cacchione was a class that I really wanted to win, so I really worked to try to achieve it. A good friend and I rode without stirrups in every lesson for six months leading up to it and our motto was ‘don’t let it happen, make it happen’… and it worked! I’m still a little sad we didn’t win the team championship for our Coach CJ while I was at Mount Holyoke College, but the Cacchione class was still a good one!
WH: You must have a very supportive family-please tell us about them. Did they travel with you in your junior years?
LS: I have a wonderfully supportive mom whom I’m sad to say has mostly retired from her horse show mom duties. I have a lot of great memories of traveling with her as a junior to different horse shows – we had a Cracker Barrel frequent flyer membership for a while there.
I now have an amazing horse show husband named Brian Refsdal who travels to horse shows. He’s a superstar videographer and a cheerful presence even when things don’t go to plan.
WH: What are you planning to do after your Stanford residency? If you take a break, will you ride?
LS: I will do three more years to complete my residency in general surgery. I will then complete a colorectal surgery fellowship to finish my training before starting to practice as a colorectal surgeon. Continuing to ride during and after is non-negotiable!
WH: What is your view of the sport and how does it impact the training plan and path you chose for you and your horses?
LS: I am definitely an amateur now. Really competitive riding has had to take a back seat to surgical residency because I only have the opportunity to be trained once. I sometimes have to recalibrate my riding goals with the reality of my current time and financial constraints. At the end of the day, I feel so lucky to still ride during residency and know that it will always be there for me.
WH: How do you manage the peripatetic lifestyle of an equestrian and the stress of traveling to horse shows?
LS: Traveling as an amateur to horse shows is very relaxing compared to a day of surgery residency – shows are my vacations!
WH: What are your thoughts on the current state of showjumping in the USA and the rest of the world?
LS: Nothing but kudos for Team USA – I was so proud to watch as Beezie Madden won the FEI Jumping World Cup Finals™ and the team won gold at the FEI World Equestrian Games™ (WEG) in 2018.
Riding and especially top level jumping is so expensive, and even in the short time I have been involved with the sport there has been an increasing focus on the ‘equestrian lifestyle’ and VIP experience. It’s a sport where it’s easy to focus on what you don’t have instead of what you do. One of the best pieces of advice that I have gotten is that comparison is the thief of joy – you have to do the best you can with what you’ve got and try to find meaningful success at a level within your means.
WH: What is your favorite piece of equestrian equipment for horse? For rider?
LS: Rambo blankets, because even my horse has a hard time destroying them and comfy Parlanti boots for the rider.
WH: What advice do you have for ambitious young riders?
LS: More barn and less internet. Also, education is priceless.
WH: What is your day like? Please describe for the readers your training program.
LS: When I am full-time clinical, I am usually at the hospital from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. or so, then head to the barn to ride by 7:45 p.m. or so, untack and out of barn by 9 p.m., dinner, shower, review next day’s cases, bed, repeat. Surgery residency definitely makes you appreciate riding in the daylight.
I’m currently on a research sabbatical so now usually ride at 8:00 a.m., maybe hack one more, meetings/work until 6 or 7 p.m., dinner/exercise/husband time, more work, sleep, repeat, with an overnight call shift thrown in there once a week or so. Controlled chaos.
Training wise, it’s a bit of a mixed bag – aim to jump twice a week in the Willow Tree lessons, plus a lot of flatting by myself.
WH: You have outstanding horses, please tell us a little about each one and what qualities you favor in a hunter or show jumper? What were the high points of the past year?
LS: I have one competition horse currently named The Closer, who is a Conejo son bred by the Cudmores. I got him as a 4-year-old with 30 days training while in medical school and we have (very slowly) worked our way up to the high AOs. In 2018 we won our first 1.40m class at Sonoma. Winning a 1.40m class on a horse I developed was one of the absolute highlights of my riding career. He’s a strange little horse but at this point at least we know each other’s quirks. I also have my old retired junior jumper Waldi who is 26 and living the life of leisure in Woodside.
WH: How did you transition to the jumper division and what do you love about it?
LS: I primarily switched to the jumpers after my junior career. I love the objectivity and technical aspects of riding at speed over bigger jumpers.
WH: How do your trainers Butch and Lu Thomas prepare you and your horses? How does their coaching differ from the program you were in before? What do they have you practice?
LS: I value that the Willow Tree program doesn’t always hold your hand. Especially for our amateur group, they respect the fact that we bring some knowledge and experience to the table, and they give us pointers but generally let us do our thing. Throughout my educational tour of the US I’ve gotten to ride with a lot of great horse people and have learned something from all of them.
WH: You must have a routine to prepare yourself mentally before you go in the ring, what is it? Do you get anxious or have show nerves?
LS: Groom, hand walk and plait my horse, clean my boots, and walk the course a few times. For show nerves – I have to say that nerves are still something I find challenging. It’s definitely improved with experience, but I try to stick with my routine, taking care of my horse before the class and make sure I’m well prepared walking the course and have plenty of time. I try to remind myself that I do this for fun and that I have a day job even if it doesn’t go to plan!
WH: What are your plans for the future?
LS: Be an excellent surgeon and amateur jumper rider with success in the high AOs/national grand prix classes. Eventually fit kids in there somewhere! I would love to develop a young horse or two at a time.
WH: What do you look for in a jumper prospect?
LS: Intelligent, sound, good hind end and comfortable to ride.
WH: Please describe your favorite place to visit and ride in Colorado or another part of the world?
LS: At my first barn in Colorado Springs, there is a trail ride through a regional park in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. It remains one of the most beautiful places I have ever ridden.
WH: Who is your favorite amateur jumper rider and your favorite international rider and why?
LS: Can’t name just one favorite amateur – the Willow Tree Farm ‘Amateur Hour’ crew is near and dear to my heart! They are a tough, good-riding group of ladies and it is so fun to practice with them.
Richard Spooner and Laura Kraut are great horse people, sympathetic riders, and very down to earth, and I am always rooting for them.
WH: Who is your favorite international horse and why?
LS: Eddie Blue (Devin Ryan), Bianca (Steve Guerdat), Admara – all very different horses but I love watching them all.
WH: Do you or your family breed prospects for show jumping? If so, which bloodlines do you favor?
LS: I am actually hoping to breed my first one this year using a friend’s mare under Butch and Lu’s guidance. Cross your fingers.
WH: Will you be competing at HITS Thermal, and if so what divisions will you do?
LS: I will be there week 1 for the USHJA Gold Star clinic and then weeks 6-8 to compete – planning to ride in the 1.30/1.40m amateur classes if all goes well.
WH: None of my doctor friends have been able to answer this question. Why is there no quick Equine Piroplasmosis (piro) test for horses (on the spot)? It would be invaluable for riders when they’re looking at sales horses in Spain and Portugal. It’s heart breaking and expensive when a horse comes back from the pre-purchase with a positive test/lab result. Any thoughts?
LS: That is an interesting question. Take this with a grain of salt as I’m certainly not an infectious disease expert or a vet, but based on some quick reading and some background working in immunology labs, the test for piro is a test called an ELISA assay that looks for antibodies against the parasite that cause the disease. I saw one site also mention a DNA test called PCR that is acceptable for screening.
Most forms of ELISA and PCR require a few mLs of blood/serum in order to get enough sample for detection and some time to perform the lab test (an hour or two for PCR, up to days for an ELISA) is why I would assume this usually requires pre-screening by a vet.’Dip and read’ ELISAs are being developed but are available for a relatively small subset of human diseases. This would still require blood collection so may be hard for trainers to do on the spot when seeing a horse.
WH: Thank you Lindsay for taking the time to answer my questions.
About the author: with a background in filmmaking , fashion and contemporary art, Winter Hoffman brings a unique perspective to the equestrian world. A life long horsewoman she helped her daughter, Zazou Hoffman, navigate her way to a successful Junior career culminating in 1st place in the 2009 ASPCA Maclay Equitation Championship at the National Horse Show and second in the USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final with East Coast trainers Missy Clark and John Brennan. Zazou is now an Assist Trainer and professional rider at Meadow Grove Farm in California.