A-circuit to AQHA: Hannah Bedwell’s journey to the top

HN contributor Maegan Gossett traces Hannah Bedwell’s journey from finishing in the top 10 at Pony Finals to being crowned 2011 AQHA Youth World Champion in Equitation Over Fences.

From Maegan:

You and your horse are standing alone in gigantic arena. The stands are packed, and the people are cheering. The excitement makes your horse prance beneath you. Not in the, “holy crap, I’m going to get bucked off in front of this huge crowd” way, but in the “holy crap, my horse is extremely good looking” way. A large blue ribbon is wrapped around your horse’s gleaming neck that is attractively slicked with an appropriate amount of sweat. A woman with a big white smile and even bigger blonde hair hands you the biggest gold trophy you have ever seen. You smile for a picture with a slight sheen of tears in your eyes. Then you take your victory lap.

Don’t lie. You’ve had that day-dream too, the cheesier or less cheesy version. Personally, my dreamy victory lap is always sans bridle.

For Hannah Bedwell this wasn’t a dream. In 2011, Hannah was the American Quarter Horse Associations’ Youth World Champion in Equitation Over Fences. I was lucky enough to meet Hannah this month. I don’t exactly remember what happened or what we talked about as I was blinded by her soft brown leather AQHA World Champion jacket. Not only was I drooling with jealousy, but I was fighting the very impolite urge to knock her over and race off with her jacket. It’s been a week or two and I’m not so consumed with jacket envy that I can admit to myself that I want to win my own jacket legally, which leaves me wondering: What exactly does it take to win an AQHA Youth World Championship?

Hannah started riding when she was three years old. She’s 18 now, and even I can do the math to figure out that is a long time spent in the saddle.

“I started taking lessons with a Knoxville, Tenn., trainer, and she was so good for just a little kid,” she explains. “Our lessons were as long as my attention span would allow, and she made riding for a little kid fun. I rode a 20-year-old pony, who was patient, forgiving and sweet. He was a great teaching pony. My first show was on ‘Champ’–I did lead line with my trainer walking him around. I was so fortunate to have such a wonderful pony and a thoughtful trainer.”

Before Hannah started showing her Quarter Horse, she showed small, medium and large ponies with several appearances at Pony Finals and a top 10 finish in the USEF Pony Medal.

Hannah got her Quarter Horse, Regal To A Te, when he was five. “Paddy” – born on St. Patrick’s Day – is her first horse. “We have grown up together and he is the best first horse I could ever want or have. He is so kind, extremely sweet and loves his job.” In 2011, they qualified for USEF Medal and the Junior Hunters in Indoors. Hannah told me that Paddy would often be the only Quarter Horse in the bunch, showing against a “sea of Warmbloods and Thoroughbreds.”

“My first Youth World Show was in 2009, the year I started showing Paddy [in AQHA]. We pinned in the top 10 in Working Hunter and Hunter Hack. I came home from that show with a whole new idea of the kind of training Paddy and I needed to do. We have worked hard as a team, and I never ask him to do anything I don’t think he’s capable of and he always gets rewarded with treats.”

Hannah’s new kind of training involved focusing on Paddy’s weaknesses, which she said included spooking, hitting rails, having a sluggish canter and losing focus. Not only do they school in the arena, but Hannah also takes Paddy on trail rides, which she says is not his favorite workout. She tries to mix things up a bit by riding in different types of bridles and saddles–english, western and bareback.

No doubt it was a long journey to the 2011 Youth World show in Oklahoma City for Hannah and Paddy. I mean that literally. It was a 15-hour haul from Hannah’s hometown of Atlanta, Georgia with five hours of that trip spent in 112 degree temperature. Preparation for Hannah’s classes once they arrived included early morning hacking, late night jumping and short warm-ups.

I asked Hannah what she felt during her final’s run in Equitation Over Fences. “While I was on course I kept counting the jumps I had left to finish the round,” she explains. “I knew in my head that it was going well, and I better finish strong and not mess it up. After the last jump I thought to myself that was the best we could do and I could breathe again.”

Obviously it takes a lot of skill and talent to make it up to this point in Hannah’s journey to her world championship. But it took nerves of steel to wait in the line-up while the results were announced. “When the top 15 went back into the ring, they announced the placings in reverse order. The last three… me and two of my friends were just standing there. When the [reserve world champion] was announced, I knew we had won. The applause freaked out the second place horse and he bucked the rider, the ribbon, the trophy, blanket, and gift bag off into the dirt. What a commotion!! Paddy starting prancing around and I decided to dismount and hold the reins in my hand. Paddy and I were the last ones standing in the ring.”

So what was she thinking of in that moment she knew she had won? “I had the biggest smile on my face,” Hannah says. “Paddy was definitely going to get a ton of treats. We were Youth World Champion in Equitation Over Fences!”

It sounds so easy reading it on the screen, doesn’t it? As horse people, we all know the ingredients to winning–hard work, a good horse, talent, sweat, tears and a million other things that drain our wallets and make us walk with a limp because we tried to two-point without stirrups for a few laps and pulled a hammy. But we all know these ingredients; we all mix them into our batches. Yet, there is always a second place, a third, a fourth.

So what does it take? I guess winning takes that little extra special ingredient–the one that isn’t always tangible, isn’t always written down. You mix it in during an extra special moment when the sun is shining just right and the world slows its spin for just a second, and in that second, you know you’ve cooked the meanest batch of cookies. And no one else’s is more delicious.


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