Every horse we ride teaches us something different. Ryan Hall, 17, has one equine in particular that has taught her tons: a donkey named KitKat.
Ryan got KitKat as a companion for her old gelding. She was semi-wild and wouldn’t come within a few feet of humans. Ryan spent lots of time gaining her trust before trying to ride her. It took extreme patience and perseverance (and lots of trial and error finding tack to fit her), but now KitKat jumps basically whatever you put in front of her. This dedication is what has made Ryan a successful rider and she is now on her way to becoming an upper level eventer! Here is Ryan’s story about following her dream.
Meet the Horses
My first horse was an ex-polo horse. She was a very strong mare and I was very tiny. Next I had a pony, and after that an ex-team roping gelding. I rode him through Training level before moving on to my current horses.
Eventually, I got to work a barn with top dressage and jumper horses, which helped my improve my dressage and jumping skills on schoolmasters, and get confidence over bigger jumps. I got to ride many top horses at that barn, including multiple top jumpers, and a gelding who went to Rio in the Para Olympics.
I currently have two of my own horses, and KitKat. Riding lots of horses has given me the skill to be able to jump on any horse and adapt to their style.
Gracelands Liebchen (“Cali”) is an 8-year-old, 15.2-hand Oldenburg mare. Cali is very nice on the flat, and an extremely scopey jumper. She is a strong show jumper, and bold cross-country horse.
SVR Ron (“Ronald”) is a 17-year-old, 17-hand gelding, from Uruguay. He competed up the 3* level before coming to me. He is extremely fun cross-country and can put a really solid dressage test if ridden correctly. Show jumping is his weakest phase.
Until last year, riding at the Adequan/FEI North American Junior & Young Rider Championships (NAJYRC) seemed far out of the picture. NAJYRC is an annual competition for young riders ages 14-21 and is considered a “Junior Olympics.” Tons of kids have the goal of making it to NAJYRC!
Last winter, after my first trip to Florida with two clean events at the Preliminary level, it seemed like it could be a possibility. I went back to Florida again in February to secure my last two qualifications and then aimed for a CCI-1*.
NAJYRC is very expensive, especially with it being in Montana, so far away from my home in Texas. Lots of riders from the different areas around the country fundraised to make the trip possible. I truly hope in the future there will be more support for grants to help get riders to this event. There were some times this winter where I was discouraged about even trying to qualify because of the cost, but in the end I’m glad I stuck with it and worked toward my goal.
I went to NAJYRC in July with Cali. In only one year we have gone from Novice to CCI-1*/NAJYRC, with plans to move up to Intermediate soon.
NAJYRC was a fun experience, and one I got to share with my best friend, Anna Pierce, who came as my groom. Being in a team setting meant that there was more pressure, but also lots of support. We had four days of training camp with team coach Will Faudree before the horses were sent off to Montana (a 36-hour drive from home).
Once settled in at Rebecca Farm in Kalispell, Mont., our team did early morning hacks, and late afternoon lessons. The jog, where a vet checks that the horses competing are sound, was on Wednesday. The riders get all dressed up, and the horses are braided and groomed to look their very best. That night we had a young rider dinner, it was a fun experience to be with all the other teams, we sat in a big circle and introduced ourselves.
I rode my dressage test on Thursday, and I was extremely pleased with my ride. We scored a 49.9, which was the first score under 50 of the day and a 16 point improvement from our previous 1* test.
I didn’t feel well on cross-country day, so I was happy to simply make it around and Cali performed fantastically. I finished with just 16 time penalties.
Sunday was an early morning because of the jog before show jumping. I was very pleased with my ride and my final score. There was room for improvement on my final result, but I am happy to have completed my first NAJYRC.
I currently ride with Kadi Eykamp who has brought multiple horses up to 3* and 4* level. I am aiming for a 2* in the next year. Like many other riders, I am aiming towards competing at the 4* level.
I remind others not to give up because you had a bad lesson or show—we all have those—and you will continue to have those from time to time as you progress. It’s just part of working towards your goals!
Of course, I still have big plans for my little donkey as well. I want to start doing demos with her because I feel it inspires the kids who may not have the nicest horse to still try because if you put your mind to it you can make it work.
Follow Ryan on Instagram @eventingmydonkey to keep up with her adventures!
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2017 issue of Young Rider magazine. Click here to subscribe!