Oklahoma City or bust! Kristen Kovatch prepares her team of New York youth for the Interscholastic Equestrian Association’s western national championships, to be held this week during the NRHA Derby in Oklahoma City.
While the rest of the equine world is caught up in Olympic fever (myself included) reining turns its attention not to London but Oklahoma City, half a world away. The NRHA Derby runs this week in OKC, featuring the industry’s best competitors in aged events (four, five and six year olds as well as some limited classes for older horses.) This is the NRHA’s third biggest show of the year, drawing competitors from all over the world.
And this year, the Derby will also draw a younger set of competitors from all across the US. For the first time, the NRHA Derby will also host the Interscholastic Equestrian Association’s (IEA) western national championships. Modeled similarly to the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) competitors will ride a draw horse on which they get no warm-up time. They mount up and enter the arena and show. The format is friendly to riders who may not have the money for their own horses and tack but still have the talent to catch-ride at the national level.
Naturally my team is a little nervous about traveling to Oklahoma to show. Many of my riders have never shown outside of New York state before, let alone at an internationally-recognized show drawing some of the biggest names in the business. They’re going to (hopefully) be getting on some very nice draws that will help them show off what they’ve learned and get them recognized in the show pen. These top-level trainers might even be watching some of their rides, scoping out new talent and potential employees or interns.
My students will be able to watch the pros at work, having the best examples put before them all week long, illustrating all the ideas I instilled in them over the past year. This kind of exposure has no comparison in terms of what they will learn—it’s worth more than any lesson I could teach them. They’ve gotten a few lessons in the past week from a local professional Denny Wilcox, who told them the same thing—“Watch Sean Flarida, because you won’t see him do anything.” I can point out some of the trainers I’ve interned for in the past—Dean Brown will be showing two horses and it’s always fun to cheer for someone you know. After some time to digest what they see, my students will then finally get to show.
I am not nervous for my kids—yet. I will be. On Thursday I’ll smile and support them into the ring and be a complete nervous wreck on the inside. It’s one thing if I was showing and made a mistake—that’s me. It’s much more agonizing to watch my kids have a bad ride and wonder if I did not prepare them adequately. Such is a coach’s love. The hard work, smiles and tears of an entire season will boil down to ten minutes or less in the show pen.
At the same time, I’m thrilled that they will be able to prove themselves in Oklahoma, for better or for worse. This is the best team I’ve ever coached (in my grand two years of coaching…) and I am proud that they have the opportunity to show at the national level. For a scrabbled-together group of kids from an obscure part of western New York, they sure have made me proud.
You can watch the Derby and IEA Nationals on live stream at the NRHA Derby site.