It's hard to find time to catch up with Walker's junior Ava Strohmeyer. Her packed daily schedule begins "at the crack of dawn" when she heads to the barn to ride. That's just the beginning. She also manages to squeeze in morning and afternoon classes, lunch (hopefully), soccer or ski practice, sometimes another trip to the barn, volunteering, studying and then, as a dorm proctor, evening rounds to check on classmates.
But it's also this commitment that has helped Ava excel on Walker's Equestrian Team, even though she only started riding just before arriving at the school. What started as a "light-hearted and casual hobby" has turned into a deep passion. That passion comes not only from the unique camaraderie built with teammates in the barn but also the special bond she developed with her horse, Vince.
"Being a member of the riding team has been a completely different experience than being a member of any other team that I have been apart of," says Ava. "Not only are we, as teammates, responsible for encouraging and lifting each other up, we are also responsible for the well-being of our horses."
She says a lot of her training time is about nurturing this bond with her horse to develop trust and connection. To succeed, she acknowledges she cannot just rely on her own ability to push through a challenge. In equestrian, in order to reach new heights, she has to put aside "physical grit" in order to gain a sense of "compassion for my partner, my horse."
Ava realized this unique interdependency at the prestigious National Horse Show Finals last fall. After a rough start, she felt the fun spirit of the sport and riding itself seeping out from the extreme pressure she was putting on herself to ride well. After two hard days of riding, she took a stroll to the barn to visit her horse. That's when everything changed.
"I went into my horse's stall to spend some time petting him and rubbing his ears," she recalls, "when I realized that competing that day wasn't just about me, it was about him, too. He had worked just as hard as I had to qualify and make it to the final, and I decided right then that I would ride the best I could for him."
Ava entered the ring on the back of Vince with renewed passion for the sport and confidence in herself and her horse. That's when the magic happened: "I laid down one of the best rounds of my life."
Ava ended in the top ranks placing 11th out of 161 riders and made both rounds of callbacks. She says, however, her biggest success was more intangible. "It was the true bliss that came from the connection my horse and I had during both our first and second trips, and the pride I felt in knowing that together, my horse and I were resilient and more than capable of success."
Since this article was written, Ava was Champion in the 15-17 Children's Jumpers with Feeling, winning a class and finishing 5th in the Classic at the prestigious Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida. Ava also competed in the USHJA Jumping Seat Medal, the Dover Saddlery Medal and the Maclay with Triomphe.