Horse Country: Galloping Their Way to London

by Editorial

Two local equestrian riders look to represent their country in the London 2012 Olympic Games.
By Jonathan Sylvester

This summer and fall, a line-up of Three Day Event riders with their hearts and eyes set on the London 2012 Olympics seek to demonstrate the talents of horse and rider and earn a spot on the US National Team. Two of those hopeful riders, Hannah Sue Burnett and Allison Springer,  are from the D.C. I was lucky enough to chat with both in order to uncover what it takes to be an Olympic-worthy rider.

Hannah Sue Burnett

Hannah Burnett competing with companion St. Barths

After her competitive performance at the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event and throughout the season, Burnett, 23, became a likely prospect for the US Olympic team. Hannah is partnered with an equally capable and dedicated partner named St. Barths.

Washington Life: Why is it important for you to represent your country in the Olympics?
Hannah Sue Burnett: Even as a young girl, I dreamed about riding for my country in an Olympic Games and World Championships. Americans are instilled with a great sense of pride for our country, and any chance to stand up for it and represent it is a huge honor.

WL: What made you decide to become a professional event rider?
HSB: I always knew I would be a professional rider. I have only doubted it seriously one time – after I graduated high school and wanted to try going to college. That only lasted one semester and I knew the whole time I should have been riding and pursuing my goals and dreams.

WL: What makes your horse a great athlete?
HSB: St. Barths, who we often call Nike, got his nickname because of his athleticism and speed. His mind is sometimes faster than his legs, which can make the Dressage phase a bit more challenging at times. His strongest event is the cross-country section.

WL: What is something you wish people knew about your sport?
I wish people would come out and watch the cross-country phase and get a feel for how exciting it is. These horses love their job. You can see it through their expressions as they gallop around the course looking for new obstacles to conquer. Horses are the real reason we love this sport.

WL: Do you have any advice for younger riders?
HSB: Life with horses is not an easy life. There are so many ups and downs in this sport, and with horses in general.

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I have learned through my personal experience that you have to take the bad times with the good. My coach Karen O’Connor said to me after I won a big event in 2010, “You can’t let the good times get too high, because it makes the bad times too low.” It’s a piece of advice that really applies to every sport; one minute you’re on top of the world and the next you’re flat on your face.

Allison Springer

Allison Springer atop Arthur

Allison Springer, from Philomont, Virginia, has had the Olympics as her career goal from an early age. She knew from the age of ten, when she saw her first Olympics on TV, that her dream was to represent her country as an event rider. I was fortunate enough to ask Allison about her Olympic dreams and her horse, Arthur.

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Washington Life: What made you decide to become a professional event rider?
Allison Springer: It has always been my dream to go to the Olympics as a Three Day Event rider. In order to live out this dream, I have had to train and compete full time. I also need to make money and fundraise nonstop because living the dream is enormously expensive. The costs involved are the biggest prohibitive factor in making my Olympic dream come true. I am very fortunate that my day job is my life passion.

WL: What are some early memories of riding?
AS: I was blessed to have grown up in Barrington Hills, Illinois. We have the amazing Forest Preserve there and the park district owns an equestrian facility, which hosts the local Pony Club, Fox Hunt and Riding Club. I was very fortunate to get to enjoy all aspects of riding growing up. My most vivid memories are of exploring the Forest Preserve on my pony as a child.

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There is no better way to learn how to ride.

WL: What makes your horse a great athlete?
AS: Arthur is a great athlete because he is super sensitive, incredibly balanced and believes 100% in the partnership that I have with him.

WL: Does Arthur have any quirky habits?
AS: Horses are herbivores so in the wild their best defense mechanism is to spot any possible danger and flee as quickly as possible. Arthur is very aware of his surroundings and easily spooked. I have worked very hard on his trust in me.

WL: What is something you wish people knew about your sport?
AS: Men and women compete equally in my sport. So it isn’t just about strength, it is also about sensitivity, timing and compassion.

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