After a phenomenal first summer abroad, courtesy of the Karen Stives Endowment Fund Grant, I’m hopping the pond permanently and taking up residence in Marlborough, Wiltshire, England. Though I’m only 23, I refuse to stay stagnant in my career. The months I spent in England in 2018 were just a taste of what’s to come, but it was an amazing way to get my feet wet. To put it simply, it was a huge jump forward in my career, from training and competing to being surrounded by so much talent all the time.

Competing at the Houghton Hall CICO3* was a definite high point because the USA came second in the Nations Cup and it was my first time under pressure in a team situation. It showed me that I have the ability to be cool under pressure, which honestly, is a huge relief.

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It’s January, which means goal setting and resolutions are in full swing. With the U.S. outdoor show season kicking off in a big way – namely, the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida and HITS Coachella in Thermal, California – riders are looking to start the year off right by taking a few cues from the greatest names in equestrian sport.

With big clinics taking place on both coasts, plus the opportunity for amateurs, juniors, and professionals alike to soak up a little knowledge from the big guns from watching them compete, this month is buzzing with our favorite eight letter word: learning.

With so many nuggets of wisdom floating around from clinics, classes, and beyond, we've boiled it down to ten NF.insider tips to make you a better rider, right now – straight from the brains of three of the most legendary American riders there are: Anne Kursinski, Kent Farrington, and McLain Ward.

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With every new encounter, a first impression is made – that gut feeling or thought that is nearly impossible to undo, and sets the tone for the future of the relationship. That feeling is no different for renowned horse broker, Erin Characklis, when it comes to discovering horses to develop into bright young stars.

American-born Erin made the move across the pond to follow her passion for horse sport over 20 years ago. Now permanently based in Europe, Erin has evolved her career from riding to making a name for herself producing young horses and turning potential into reality – a feat that only a rare few are able to consistently achieve. Erin is working to perfect her craft of spotting talent, developing well-rounded horses, and preparing them for the real world.

By keeping the focus on quality over quantity, Erin is getting her sourcing, brokering, and training formula down to a science. When it comes to learning how to discover, choose, develop, and place talented youngsters, there are few with a better perspective than Erin. 

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When you’re in university, it’s inevitable for your calendar to get pretty crowded with classes, social life, and extracurriculars. Imagine adding competing at the CSI2* level to that schedule, and you see why 21-year-old Julia Tops has become adept at multitasking.

Julia is a successful Canadian show jumper currently competing at the CSI2* level throughout Europe while also completing her final year at the University of Toronto, Trinity College, where she is double-majoring in International Relations and Contemporary Asian Studies. Julia has also been accepted into a one-year Master’s Program for Development Studies at the London School of Economics. She's also working as a co-chair for the G7 Research Group (dedicated to tracking and publishing compliance to goals put in place at the annual G7 Summit), Compliance Director of the G20 Research Group, and serving as a sister in the university’s chapter of Delta Delta Delta.

While Julia says that she is no expert – and that learning to strike the balance between school and riding has been an ever-evolving process – she has picked up a few time-management tips throughout high school and her four years of university.

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Whether you're an amateur or professional, show jumper or eventer, in the meter ring or the grand prix field, a few quick seconds can mean the difference between a winning round and going home empty-handed. While speed may seem straightforward, it's a lot more than just wishful thinking and stepping on the gas. There's an art to executing the perfect lightning fast ride – just watch the world's top riders. Just like anything done on a horse, going fast is so much more than meets the eye: it's a layered, subtle, and intricate process that combines impulsion, balance, timing, and athleticism to beat the clock. 

American Olympic medalist and downright legend, Leslie Burr Howard, is well-known for her guts, speed, and accuracy when on course. Those abilities don’t have to come naturally; in Leslie's opinion, becoming the king or queen of the speed round or jump-off comes from experience, intentional practice, and plain old time in the saddle.

Let's face it: speed is an indispensable tool that belongs in the toolbelt of every competitive show jumper or event rider, and developing that tool comes a lot more easily under the tutelage of one of the USA's winningest riders. We caught up with Leslie for a private lesson on just how to master the art of the fastest ride.

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