Abigail McArdle scored the coveted blue rosette (and a pile of cash) in the $100,000 USEF U25 Show Jumping National Championship at the Holiday & Horses Show in Wellington, Fla. earlier this month. While palm trees and sandy beaches reign supreme at the Winter Equestrian Festival – even in this season of holiday decor, presents galore, and mischievous elves (spying on your kids) – it’s 24-year-old Abigail and the Victorio Equine Group, LLC’s Hanoverian stallion Victorio 5 who stole the spotlight.
Abigail led the pack going into the third class with zero faults accrued from her first two rounds (placing second and third in each, respectively). She went into the final round brimming with well-deserved confidence. Reacting to the win she says, “This is actually my third time doing [the championship]. It felt like it was just my time; I was ready to win it… I have a lot of belief in this horse right now. I sort of walked into this week knowing I was going to win and I was able to see that through.”
With a nod to true partnership, Abigail adds, “I am just really happy this horse won; he really deserved it. He is a great horse, and it was a good field of competitors.”
Watch their winning round:
Such impressive riding chops and sportsmanship is graceful, but it doesn’t come out of the blue. After winning individual gold at the 2012 Adequan/FEI North American Junior & Young Rider Championships, she has gone on to hone her skills as a rider for Plain Bay Sales, home to the international sales operation run by Adam Prudent, son of famed show jumper Katie Monahan Prudent. While Abigail is all-hands-on deck with typically two horses at a time – managing everything about their day-to-day lives from feed and grooming to training schedules and shows – she’s also on point to ride a veritable carousel of horses every day. Not to mention she’s assisting owner Katie to train students and offer the myriad of support needed for the team to succeed with such a complex operation.
With locations in Wellington, Fla., Middleburg, Va., and Rosières-aux-Salines, France, Abigail has her hands full navigating not just her own horses, but also the rotation of sales horses whom she’s tasked with preparing for a new home and career. Some sales horses leave almost right away and others stay a spell, giving Abigail the opportunity to develop them for a longer period of time. Either way the end game is always the same. “It’s just about making sure the home is a good match and the horse and rider will be able to form a relationship.”
Catch riding isn’t uncommon in the competition world and the industry practically runs on sales, which requires riders to be proficient not just in assessing prospects, but also presenting sales horses in their best light – sometimes without having had a ton of time to get to know them first. Abigail is ahead of the game with all her experience, and she’s happy to share some her hard-won skills with you. Pencils ready? Begin!
Photo by Clara Courtillier.
1. First Things First
I try to use similar guidelines catch riding as I do when trying a horse – test your breaks, gas, and steering. This will give you an idea of where the horse is in its training and what you might need to address before heading into the ring to compete or what you’ll need to work on before showing the horse to a potential buyer.
2. Be in the Moment
Sometimes when you’re riding a horse for someone else you feel the need to be perfect. Try to relax and get in the moment rather than focusing on perfection. Horses can always tell when we’re nervous and distracted! When catch riding you need to be fully focused on the horse under you and try to be in tune with him.
3. Try New Things
At home we always have very spooky boxes etc. set up in the ring. My 16-year-old Belgian Warmblood, Cade, is very seasoned to all the exercises at home, so I don’t drill on him too much. But it’s very important for the sales horses to see and do new things all the time in and out of the ring to help them be relaxed in every environment and therefore perform their best.
Photo by Clara Courtillier.
4. Every Horse Is a Forever Horse
I never think of the horses as “short-term” horses. Try to train them as if it is the only horse you will have the rest of your life! When you start assuming “oh well they’ll be gone soon”, or “I’m only competing him a couple times”, you end up cutting corners and in the end it will bite you in the butt.
I am very lucky that all the horses I ride with Plain Bay have great quality. The more horses you ride, the easier it becomes to trust your instincts and skills. I like to analyze every ride – good or bad – to have reference for future situations. Nearly every professional you ask will say that one of the best ways to become a good rider is to ride as many different types of horses you can. You learn a little something with every horse you get, on and in the long run you’re a better rider for it.
Love Abigail's breeches? Get your own pair of the Pat Breech by For Horses.
Feature photo of Abigail and Victorio 5 by Anne Gittins.
Written by Courtney Alston
Courtney grew up a stone's throw from Virginia's horse country. What began as a determined love of ponies turned into a devoted competitive spirit as a Young Rider competing in eventing. The rush of eventing has slowly turned into the wows of show jumping and you can now find her astride her Dutch Warmblood mare. Courtney is a mother and wife and lives in North Carolina.