Conversations With Equestrians: Ricky Neal

By Jackie McFarland

Life’s path is paved with decisions. In the show jumping world, if a young rider truly aspires to go the highest levels, achieve the Olympic dream, the road is not only paved with tough choices, it is long and challenging. Gifted junior riders all reach that impasse where the dreamy junior years are drifting away and the rest of their lives are ahead of them. If college is in their future, how do horses fit in? If they want a future filled with international horses, world-class competition and having their names synonymous with those they now idolize, how do they make this happen?

There is no panacea. No surefire solution. Making a lot of choices along the way, maybe some wrong turns, possibly with a pace that seems too slow; sometimes the path may even may go an entirely different direction. To choose to be a rider that represents his/her country is not only a big decision but to get there takes perseverance, dedication, hard work and certainly some hard knocks.

But when a rider actually reaches those ultimate goals that define him or her – the opportunity to compete internationally, to be chosen to represent a country on a team, to find, bring along and win on not just one but several horses. Those moments make it all worthwhile. So Ricky Neal decided to put the schoolbooks aside for a year, pull up his bootstraps and jump in to the world of show jumping with the big boys and girls. He’s ready to emerge as an equestrian athlete.

EqSol: Your start in horses – a brief history…
 When I was 4 or 5 years old we had a babysitter, who happened to be a dressage rider, looking after my two older brothers and me. She asked my mom if she could take us out to the barn for a lesson. We went to the LA Equestrian Center. My brothers decided that horses were for sissies. But I was having fun on these big animals, so I started taking more lessons. A few years later I got my own pony and got further hooked from there.

I rode at the Flintridge Riding Club with Heidi Misrahy and started showing. And then with Susie Artes for a short time; she was great. I started with Meadow Grove in 2001 at the same time as Paris [Sellon]. We both had ponies back then.

Right after we moved to Meadow Grove we bought a children’s hunter and later that year we bought Randy Sherman’s old children’s jumper. That was six or seven years ago.

EqSol: Tell us about the horses you’ve had that have brought you to this point.
 The horses I have now are Cavalier Tommi Tank, Luke Skywalker and Larina.

We bought Tommi in February; he needed some solid flatwork and to get fit, but he has a lot of talent. He’s matured so much this year and the change over the last few months has been awesome. He showed at Spruce in the 1.45m and he’s my Young Rider horse. He’s eight this year and just ready to step into some bigger Grand Prix classes and serious money classes. I’m really excited about his potential.

Luke Skywalker was my Junior and Young Rider horse last year. He’s a winning 1.40m Jr/Am horse, scopey and talented for his size. We bought him two years ago and he’s been with me at the height of my Junior Jumper career. He’s been a big part of my evolvement. He’s going east with me and he’s for sale.

Larina is the love of my life. After giving me five solid years, taking me to the 1.40m level, she’s taking a well-deserved year off to have a baby. She’s bred to Uno de Laubry (Karl Cook’s chestnut stallion). Larina will be a great mother – strong-willed, solid, sound but kind with a big heart. This will be her first baby. She’ll come back afterwards and take care of someone else like she did me.

EqSol: And of course behind every aspiring star is not only talent and great trainers, but at least one dedicated parent. A little bit about your mom, Barbara.
 My mom would do anything for me. She’s made a lot of sacrifices to get me where I am today. I owe a lot to her. She’s always looking out for me – looking for ways for me to expand my options – she found EAP (USHJA’s Emerging Athletes Program).

All of my success through the years goes back to her, either directly by encouraging me or indirectly by financing the path. She’s willing to sell everything except her two cats to help me get what I need to achieve my goals.

EqSol: You participated in USHJA’s Emerging Athletes Program (EAP) in its inaugural year (2009) – tell us more about how you found out about it.
 Mom. She heard about it and encouraged me to apply. From there on I took the responsibility.

EqSol: Tell us about how the EAP process – a bit about each level. Creating the next generation of top riders – continuing the integrity of the top of the sport…
 Of all the applicants, 250 riders within the 12 zones are picked to participate in the Level I session. Melanie Smith Taylor was the clinician. Then Melanie and the committee pick a few riders from each Level I session to go on to the state level, also called Level II. Bernie Traurig worked with the Level II riders from our zone. Next Melanie rated all the riders who participated in Level II, no matter where we were from. Those top 12 were invited to Level 3, the National Level. Julie Winkel’s Maplewood Stables in Reno, NV hosted this session, including providing horses for all 12 riders.

Definitely the most intensive experience, I learned a ton at that last session. Over the three days, we worked with the clinician Peter Wylde, a vet, a farrier, an FEI Steward – a number of people with a variety of experiences in the horse industry.

On the third day we had a team competition in a Nations Cup format. Since we were on borrowed horses, the height and placing wasn’t as important as how we handled the pressure and worked as a team.

We were judged, essentially ‘watched’, the whole time. Carly Anthony and I may have been the most experienced competitors but we certainly weren’t above any of the group – there were some very knowledgeable horsemen, great riders in that group. I learned a lot from them.

The goal of EAP is to find one rider who could potentially represent the US in International Competition as part of a USEF Team. So many factors are considered – riding ability, competence and horsemanship are some. They want to know if you are willing to learn and better yourself as a horseman as well as help others. Another important part was media literacy. We each had to stand in front of everyone on night and give a thank you speech where we were judged on our public speaking.

I have to say that my trainers Dick Carvin and Susie Schroer make similar demands on me all the time. Essentially they are perfectionists, so I was well prepared for what the judges were looking for at EAP.

EqSol: And being one of the two winners – what has that led to?
 As winners we got to choose with whom we’d like to train for 30 days. I decided to split up the time between Mario Deslauriers and Mindy Bower.

I rode with Mario for two weeks at Spruce Meadows. He is a great rider, trainer, horseman – he’s just the whole package. Dick and Susie not only helped me coordinate my schedules with Mario, they helped prepare me for an advanced level program like Mario’s. After Spruce I decided to be a working student, so I am going to Ottawa and the Hamptons with Mario. After the Hamptons I will be back in California with Dick and Susie.

I plan to book two weeks in the fall with Mindy Bower. I’m looking forward to learning groundwork with her; she was great at the National Session.

EqSol: How do you think the experience has boosted your riding and career, and how it will it continue to?
 EAP has had a huge impact – it has really brought out the horseman in me. I went from a junior rider to the path of a professional rider. I honestly don’t think I would’ve been inspired to do so without EAP. The experience led me further down the path of becoming a professional horseman.

EAP allowed me access to Melanie Smith Taylor, Bernie Traurig and Peter Wylde to start. And the chance to work with Mario Delauriers and next Mindy Bower as a winner of USHJA’s Emerging Athletes Program put the whole experience in a different light.

EqSol: How/when did you know that you wanted to pursue ‘the big time’?
 I think the turning point was the decision to take a gap year next year and hold off on college. Take the year to work and spend time learning more about the business side of the horse world. That decision was and will be a turning point.

I’ve known about the possibility but I wasn’t certain until I now. Dick and Susie have been preparing me for this decision for several years. Starting with the summer I turned 15 when I went to Belgium and worked for Ludo Philippaerts in preparation for the ‘big time’ to see if this is what I really wanted to do. Seems the more I get involved in the sport the more I like it – it’s enveloped me bit by bit.

I still have a lot to learn. I still have to get out into the real horse world and see how it fits. That’s what I plan to get a taste of during this next year. I’m going to jump in with both feet and see how it feels.

EqSol: Your future – competing, school, horses, etc?
 I’m aiming for winter in Wellington. Then I will make a plan from there.

I’ll start at Wesleyan (Middletown, CT) in the fall of 2011. Since I deferred I have to submit an essay on what I’ve been doing this year. Once I get to school I’ll keep riding but not certain of the plan. There are tons of barns close Wesleyan. We will figure that out as it gets closer; lots to do before then.

It’s always a pleasure to talk with you, Ricky – and we congratulate you on emerging as an athlete!

The Equestrian Diaries

By Ricky Neal, 2009 Gold Medal Team Member

July 22nd 
Wednesday’s warm-up competition offered us our first chance to school our horses in the newly renovated stadium at the Kentucky Horse Park. The course, set by Olaf Peterson Jr., consisted of eight obstacles. Once in the ring, each competitor was granted 90 seconds to jump as many jumps as they wanted in whichever order they liked best. The majority of my Zone 10 junior team opted for a shortened version of Olaf Jr.’s course which allowed us to school both the open water and the double without fatiguing our horses too much, as we had a long week ahead. Despite the wet weather our team came away from the warm-up competition in top shape, excited for the week to come.

July 23rd
The championships began on Thursday for the Juniors with a one-round competition against the clock. Because Sunday’s winner would be determined by faults only, the emphasis was on clear rounds and only clear rounds. The first Californian in was Samantha Harrison, who set an excellent example for the day with a confident clear round, just under the time allowed. I was the next rider to enter the ring from Zone 10, aboard my Oldenburg gelding Luke Skywalker S. Luke cantered around the ring with great confidence and I was able to steer him around the course without any rails coming down. The rest of my teammates from Zone 10 followed suit, and at the end of the day the scoreboard reflected the hard work each one of us had put in order to qualify for the Junior team; Annie Cook and Gina, the alternates for the team, led the victory gallop, while placings 4th-7th went to me, Alec Lawler, Taylor Siebel, and Samantha Harrison, respectively. With five riders in the top ten, our Zone 10 team quickly became the favorite for Friday’s team competition, and we would not disappoint.

July 24th
Friday’s team competition consisted of nine teams jumping the same course twice, with a jump off to determine the winner in case of a tie. Olaf Jr. set a long, challenging course for the two round competition, but after Thursday’s success, our team felt confident, comfortable, and prepared for the day’s challenges. As Zone 10 drew first in the order of go, our lead off rider, Samantha Harrison, was the first to enter the arena. As she did the day before and as she would continue to do all week, Sam posted a relaxed and effortless clear round, much to the delight of Zone 10’s cheering section, which was to be rivaled only by the hoots and hollers of the adjacent Mexican cheering section. Following Sam’s lead, Taylor Siebel posted another fault free score, giving Zone 10 the only two clear rounds in the class thus far. Next to show was Alec Lawler, who completed the difficult course with a respectable 8 fault round. Already with a definitive lead in the competition with only 8 faults, there was little pressure on me as I walked into the ring as Zone 10’s anchor rider. Luke again cantered around the course with ease and again the jumps stayed up, giving our team a total of 0 faults, being tailed only by Zone 2 with a score of 12.

As anyone can tell you, however, team competitions are often fickle in nature. Although Samantha started the second round with a fault free round, both Alec and Taylor had 12 faults each, and following two clear rounds from Zone 2, we found ourselves in a tie for the lead after three of the four riders had gone. Because Zone 2 had a drop score of 20 in the second round, they needed a clear round from their anchor rider, Kaitlin Cambell, in order to win. As Zone 10’s anchor rider, I knew that my score would mean the difference between gold and silver for our team, but I first had to see how Kaitlin would do. On the way to the in-gate, Kaitlin’s eye caught mine. “Good luck”, I offered, with only the slightest hint of sarcasm. “Yea, no pressure,” she shot back with a smile. Yet despite the lighthearted banter, Kaitlin was all business when she walked into the ring. Some 80 seconds later, Kaitlin crossed the timers to the thunderous applause from Zone 2’s cheering section having completed the course fault free, giving Zone 2 a grand total of 12 faults. As the announcer so thoughtfully summed up the situation as I entered the ring “The pressure is on.” Once in the ring, however, cries of encouragement from Zone 10’s cheering section pierced the stadium and reminded me that I wasn’t completely alone. With my nerves conquered, I began the course with the same confidence and focus which I had had during the first round’s ride. The handsome Luke Skywalker again rose to the occasion and cruised around the course without any problems, leaving all the poles in the cups.

The fun was not yet over, however, as we now had to jump off against Zone 2. Zone 2 started the jump-off, and their first rider posted a quick four fault round. Samantha Harrison, who deserves a nickname for her stone cold consistency throughout the team competition, loped around the shortened course, leaving all the fences up. The next two riders for Zone 2 had eight faults each, allowing Alec and Taylor to finish the day with each posting four fault rounds, giving us a worst case scenario score of 8 and Zone 2 a best case scenario score of 12, meaning that it was not necessary for either Kaitlin or I to jump off. With a total of 8 faults in the jump off, Zone 10’s Junior team won a gold medal for the third year in a row. The hard fought victory left me, Taylor, Sam and Alec hungry for more, and each of us will undoubtedly be back to the championships in years to come.

Ricky Neal is 17 years old and has been riding since age 5.  He trains with Dick Carvin and Susie Schroer at Meadow Grove Farm and currently has three horses – Texas, Larina, and Luke Skywalker S.  Ricky recently won an individual bronze medal as well as a team gold medal at the NAJYRC aboard Luke Skywalker.

Luke is a 9 yo Oldenburg gelding, bought in September of 2008 but not shown until 2009 HITS DC because of an injury.  He qualified behind Larina for YR, so Ricky originally planned to leave him at home, but when he performed well at Spruce Meadows he decided to bring him instead, despite his lesser experience. Good decision!



By Katie Kotarak & Jackie McFarland

The time has come for the anticipated 2009 Adequan FEI North American Junior / Young Rider Championships (NAYJRC), presented by Gotham North, at the Kentucky Horse Park. After undergoing a complete redesign for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG), qualified young riders have the honor of competing on the same turf as the 2010 WEG competitors.

2009 Young Riders Team – Zone 10
Amongst the ten, four on the Young Rider Team plus an alternate and four on the Junior Rider Team plus an alternate, three of the riders who train with Dick Carvin and Susie Schroer – Ricky Neal, Paris Sellon and Lucy Davis – took time to talk with us.

Although each of them had garnered qualifying points before the show, all were acutely aware how important their results were at the Blenheim June Classic I, June 23-27, 2009. With the chance to gain valuable points, Sunday’s class was mandatory, scored at 1.5x and consisted of two rounds. All agreed Linda Allen’s course was big and technical. Professional Jenni Martin McAllister concurred. Also competing in the 1.45m class that served as a qualifier, she commented, “It was a difficult course. My mare who shows at this level was impressed, as was I.”

Ricky: Although intense, it’s nice to compete in a similar format to NAJYRC. No other zone does qualifying like ours, so we are prepared for what’s to come and I think it shows.

Lucy: It’s nice to be rewarded for consistency and make the team, as well as for riding well under pressure. Last year I qualified because I won on Sunday, this year today was not my best day.

Paris: I was leading coming into this week, but I had a rough time Thursday and Friday. Today was my best day and it was similar to what we’ll see at Young Riders, so that feels good.

About making the team: 
Qualifying was a top priority for all three riders – they planned their 2009 show schedules around it. They all look forward to competing at the WEG facility.

Ricky: It’s nice to see who made the teams. The competition was tough and I think we have some of our best on both teams. Paris: We did go through a lot this year to qualify, but I think it will pay off.

Lucy: Last year I learned so much. It’s one of the few shows where we get to be there the entire week (no school) and we are able to spend more time with our horses, our friends and focus on just the one event.

And one more…
LEG Up News shared teammate Adriene Dixon’s excitement about making it to NAJYRC.  “This is my first and last shot,” said Dixon who is riding at the maximum age of 21.  “It was make or break and I am so excited. I feel like Young Riders is a really important step to being a legitimate jumper rider.  If you can get to the Championships then you have really accomplished something,” commented the U.C. Davis student.

To prepare for the rigors of the championship, Dixon said that she and her trainer, Buddy Brown focused on endurance for Pom Pom.  “Buddy really focuses on all the details.  He knows I can ride, so he helps me with the little things.” Dixon hopes that all those little things will add up to big performances this week.

About the NAYJRC course designer, Olaf Petersen Jr.:
Olaf designed last year and will return this year. All riders agreed Olaf builds tough and technical courses. Lucy and Mister Mind did not drop a single rail in 2008 – the pair rode five clean rounds and were the only ones to do so.

More About NAJYRC:
Since 1979, these Championships have showcased the best young rider and junior horse/rider combinations in the three Olympic disciplines of Dressage, Eventing and Jumping. In 2008, the Western discipline of Reining was added, bringing the best young athletes, ages 14-21, in four of the high performance equestrian disciplines together for the first time.

Show jumping teams are invited from the twelve Zones in the United States, each Canadian Province, Mexico and the Caribbean to compete for team and individual medals. The Championships are designed to mirror the competition format used at the Olympic and Pan American Games. In addition, the Championships offer riders the opportunity and experience of competing as a member of a team. (Adapted from &

Zone 10 Rules!


YR Team Gold: Karl Cook, Hannah Selleck, Paige Dotson, Sophie Benjamin
Individual Medal Sweep: Gold: Hannah Selleck; Silver: Karl Cook; Bronze: Paige Dotson
JR Team Gold: Lucy Davis, Alec Lawler, Savannah Carr, Annie Laurie Cook
Individual Medal: Gold: Lucy Davis



YR Team Gold: Karl Cook, Aurora Griffin, Katie Harris, Megan Edrick
Individual Medals: Gold: Karl Cook; Bronze: Aurora Griffin
JR Team Gold: Paige Dotson, Danielle Korsh, Meredith Harris, Saer Coulter