Question about Grand Prix show jumping

Hello there!

I’m here on this forum to ask a question on the behalf of a younger friend of mine. After years of convincing her parents to get her on the saddle, she was finally able to pull it off roughly a year and a half ago. Initially, she has a set goal of competing in Grand Prix show jumping; this is something she is taking seriously. Currently, she is 16 years old, and has private lessons 3 days a week, every week. I’m not entirely sure about the following, but I do believe parents are planning on full or half leasing a horse soon to further advance her riding. At this rate, assuming she’ll soon move to a full lease, would there be chances of her successfully reaching that Grand Prix level despite the fact that she’s a late starter? She currently has a solid canter, and will soon begin cross rails. Furthermore, she is set on going to a college which would allow her to continue her jumping career, and she is hoping to join collegiate teams in the sport.

Any input at all would be greatly appreciated. Kids are crazy ambitious these days, got to love it haha!

Reach the Grand Prix in what time frame? And what do you and her understand the term to mean? I don’t see why starting at 16 is a hindrance to becoming a competent rider eventually. Much depends on raw talent, on time and focus and on the money available to throw at the sport.

Grand Prix is in general an adult level of competition. Ambitious juniors trend to focus on things like the medals series and she’s pribably too late for that.

My guess is that neither she, her parents or you really understand the path and progression between here and competing on the international circuit. And you know what? That’s perfectly OK. Many children start a sport with starry eyes and dreams of the big leagues, get a decent level of skill, become lifelong lovers of the sport, play in adult recreational leagues, and that’s a great lifelong outcome. There are so many goals between here and even participating in her first local show at 2 foot six.

Some young folks, especially young men who are already fit multisport athletes and fearless extreme sports types, can go up the show jumping ranks surprisingly fast in the right environment.

At this point we know nothing about this girl’s innate abilities.

If you want to be a supportive adult friend, smile at her dreams and fantasies, be supportive of her short term goals and milestones, and encourage her overall horsemanship and love of horses.

As far as college equestrian competition programs, they are not a path to “pro sports” like football is. Equestrian runs very differently and does not track towards being a Grand Prix competitor. However, college equestrian has slots for different levels of rider including beginner.

If money is no problem she could be best off choosing the top academic college for her interest and then taking lessons at the best hunter jumper barn in the area. But there is no hurry on this.

In other words it doesn’t matter if her dreams are reasonable or not. The important thing is that she enjoy the journey. If her parents are willing to pay she’s very lucky.

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First of all, @Scribbler, you’re a lovely human. Nice, supportive post. Good to see here on COTH.

OP, the road to any horse-related goal is fraught with obstacles. I think a beginner setting sights on grand prix is a setup for frustration. Best case scenario, it will take 10+++ years of riding multiple horses every day, all day for a person to get from beginner status to grand prix ability. And it would take millions of dollars (I’m not exaggerating). Not to say it can’t be done, but the time/effort/financial commitment is extreme.

Instead, I would encourage the use of SMART goals. Specific, measurable, attainable, reasonable, and time-bound. So, instead of “I want to ride in a prix someday,” it might be, “I want to attend a show this year” or “I want to be cantering a course of crossrails in 6 months.” Conquering these goals creates a sense of achievement, instead of constant frustration of not being at GP level yet.

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Great advice in the above posts.
Hoping to see the adult posters here who compete in GP IRL add some info.
IIRC: @PNWjumper & @shorty…something(sorry :grimacing:)

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That’s a long way from crossrails, but the good news is there’s no time/age limit on it, unlike some of the other things juniors aim for.

If she has the athleticism/talent, the next thing she will need is a bunch of money. Instead of focusing on a collegiate equestrian team, she should probably be looking at which career will rake in the dollars while still allowing her time to ride extensively. Then choose a good school for that career, in an area with barns that can help her pursue her riding goals, and learn to manage her time extremely well.

In the meantime, she should take as many lessons and get as much saddle time as she can afford. Set many, many smaller goals along the way. She may make it or not, but a full lease is a good start…

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Great advice so far. It’s also important to understand there’s Grand Prix like you see international competitors and Olympians doing on TV, then there are the local Grand Prix classes, which aren’t at maxed heights and are more doable by the strong amateur jumper rider.

She should continue to ride as much as she can, on many different horses, with a very competent trainer. The quality of her instruction, horses and her own innate talent and drive will play a large role. This sport is also expensive, no matter the level one is in, or wants to achieve. Adulthood and a career make reaching goals more difficult as well, so she should figure that into plans.

I know PNWJumper who posts here has ridden at that level, and did so at a young age. She rides from home, and is insanely talented and fearless. That’s a trait that need to be there in abundance to compete in the jumpers at Grand Prix fence size. Good luck to her and thank you for supporting her dreams!

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No reason she cant reach the GP level of the sport. Its the top rung of the ladder and OK as an EVENTUAL goal.

The best way to mentor this teen is to center her ( and her parents) aspirations on the rungs of the ladder needing to be climbed in order to reach the top. Right now, focus needs to be on moving up from crossrails to 2’ then 2’6” managing pace, straightness, basic distances, lead changes and spreads/oxers then up to 3’ with more complicated course questions and fences that start requiring more precision, control and are less forgiving of mistakes.

Each level adds more control, strength and balance which must be mastered before adding more challenges for the safety of both horse and rider. Both Hunter and Jumper require this basic foundation up to this level.

It will be highly unlikely one horse and, probably, one trainer will be able to advance her to this level and certainly past it to specialize in moving up the Jumper levels. If shes serious and dedicated, just a guess, 3-5 years from crossrails to being competent and competitive in, say, 2.5 to 3m Jumpers. Then she can start looking at moving to the real National level GPs.

Of course, there are a million variables including individual talent, desire, ambition, willingness to really work at, financing, injury and fear, burn out…all sorts of things. Shes still a kid now, who knows, sometimes they turn out scared to jump higher ir fall in love with a step up horse and it breaks their hearts to choose between keeping it or moving up so they decide to stay on the hobby level. Parents and trainer(s) need to be prepared for this. And, horses break. Its a tough sport.

Anyway, above is kind of a map. For right mow, I would honestly try to get her and parents to set a goal of becoming competent and competitive in Childrens Jumpers before investing heavily in anything GP level related. Seen a number of teens reach that point in 2-3 years. Encourage her and parents to focus her dreams on that Child/Adult Jumper level.

Be remiss not to note many parents are satisfying own lofty ambitions and suck the joy of the sport right out of the kid leading to burn out and guilt for “ wasting money”. Often kids just want to ride and socialize, not seriously compete…and thats FINE.

Trainers can take advantage of less knowledgeable parents by pushing expensive prospects that will require many years and $$$$$$ in training fees to develop to elite levels while kid needs a schoolmaster to ride, also adding to trainers income.

With all this in mind, they need to focus on the lower rungs for now.

Ummm, just a thought, have these people ever seen a real GP? Do they have any idea what it takes to get around huge courses within the time allowed? How much strength and skill from the rider? How hard the horse pushes off and lands and those sounds? Seen a rider get stopped off into off solid wall or a horse go down into a big spread?

Make sure they know the reality under all that pixie dust of fame and fortune.

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It’s very common for beginners of all ages to announce Big Plans (Grand Prix, Going To The Olympics)…At this stage of the game, they don’t know what they don’t know. And it’s really best to leave it that way. If you start talking about all of the realities and obstacles, you’re just going to be discouraging.
The reality is what others have said above. It’s a very long haul, requires a small city of support staff/parents/vets/trainers…

The best thing you can do is to support her long-term goal, and help her focus on the baby steps to get there. Possibly have a conversation about short and mid range goals that she could associate mentally with her long-range goal. That’s what the most successful junior riders do, and their trainer can spearhead that.

I am a trainer, and I see that the Kids who personally take on the small challenges and conquer them are setting up successful mental patterns that will serve them well into the future. If I walk into the barn and I see a kid working without stirrups, or actually practicing a specific exercise that was very difficult for them in a lesson, I know that Kid is going to make great progress.

The thing that Grand Prix riders have in common is that they learned how to practice well.

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It’s always good to have big goals, as long as there are smaller, more realistic goals along the way.

The best thing she (and they) can do to facilitate those goals is saddle time, saddle time, saddle time. And WATCHING. You can learn so much from watching - warm up rings, clinics, livestreams of shows, etc. Not teenager TikTok videos or whatever the latest instagram trend is - watching how the professionals do it. Seeing how they ride through their corners. Seeing how they set up before the course even begins.

A lot of people begin with the idea that they’ll do a grand prix some day, and many of them do, and even more of them don’t. It’s fine to be starry-eyed and dream of it some day. Maybe she’ll get there! But good to be realistic too.

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Oof, you know you’ve been gone too long when… :joy:

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Great point, show me a kid taking the stirrups off their saddle for a week without being forced to and I see a kid who just might have what it takes.

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It may be easier to explain to parents/child in terms of different sports that they may be more familiar with… to level set and manage expectations properly.

For example:
Skiing- Young rider is on the bunny hill. The Grand Prix is similar to a Super G event. Encourage them to watch the Super G and ask them if they think it’s attainable in a short or long period of time? Encourage them to think about what it takes to become an elite skier? Can they do it by doing their local northeast mountain (think Hunter Mountain or Mountain Creek) or would they be expected to travel internationally to the Alps, etc? What would cost look like in terms of equipment? Now multiply that by 1000 for you and your multiple mounts that you will need to keep you sharp in the saddle, and you’ve got equestrian sports.

Distance running- Young rider is mastering running a mile. Qualifying for the Boston Marathon will take a long time to build up endurance and then get skills and speed honed enough to get the qualifying time necessary. Yes, running is a simple sport of putting on your shoes and getting out the door, but to reach the elite levels requires performance management programs, traveling around the world to masters marathons, nutritional programs, sponsorships, and at the end of the day, natural talent, body size, and ability also plays a part.

As many have said, it’s great to have big dreams, but if the wallet doesn’t match that size, smaller goals and building 6-month, 1 year, 3 years challenges seems much more attainable and more achievable. Yes, kids are very ambitious these days, but this sport can be dangerous at times and kids also lose interest very quickly rather than troubleshoot when things go wrong… so it’s important to also curate those goals and ambitions to ones that they can see some progress and not just give up when it doesn’t result in jumping 1.30M by 2023.

New riders and new equestrian parents without any frame of reference don’t always understand the nuances of what it takes.

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Yes, too everything above.

But I would only step in at this point with a true reality check if it seems there’s a huge problem in safety or being seriously gouged financially.

If the child is with a reputable trainer and is enjoying the process, support their small milestones and their horsemanship overall, which can get lost in a competitive atmosphere. Reality will start to sink in, and child may work harder and progress, may stay with horses at a noncompetitivr level, may return to riding at 35 after getting established in a career, or may quit horses in frustration after 6 months and go on to another illusion of fame pursuit.

All of those are perfectly fine outcomes. Let the child pursue her own journey with horses. As she gets real goals and milestones the fantasy goals will recede.

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Thank you so much for your input! Honestly speaking, I genuinely have no idea what the sport has to offer. I’'m still learning! I do know that her mother has gone about competing in show jumping during her younger years, and the family is overall aware of what that grand prix progression is, and the crazy lot of money it demands. Unfortunately, my limited knowledge left me to phrase the overall question a bit oddly, sorry about that :sweat_smile: She is a lucky one, her parents are supportive of her goals despite being a bit hesitant, which I assume is commonplace due to the innate risk that comes with equestrian sports. Regarding colleges; that’s her goal! College team is apparently more of her backup , if in case things get too busy shuffling between college course work and riding at a seperate barn.

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Agreed! She does have small goals set for this year as of now, and is working towards them. I am completely clueless about the sport from my end, but I’m putting on a smile and trying to look like I understand what she is talking about :sweat_smile: I believe the ability to reach that grand Prix level was more of a wonder question; “I started much later than a large majority of the kids who’re jumping now, is it too late for me to compete at the higher levels eventually?”

I can totally understand the 10+++ years of experience… The sport isn’t for everyone. I tried riding once, fell off at the canter, and refused to get back on. So much respect for those who’re able to come back to the sport with a heart full of love.

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Oh yes, she’s had the career part planned out! The family is fully aware about the financial obligations and the overall risk that the sport has to offer. I, however, am completely clueless about the Equestrian world as a whole. I’m just here for emotional support :joy: regarding riding a large variety of horses, she currently volunteers at a barn that allows her to take their horses out for hacks, as well as warm them up before lessons get here. Not sure how effective this type of riding would be to get that multiple horses experience , but it is something that she does to gain more variety!

Good to know that full leasing is a good place to start. She does have goals set currently for this year on its own; reaching that grand prix level was more of a “did I start too late to reach higher levels?” Sort of question… unfortunately I figured I may have phrased that a bit odd, apologies from my end!

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There are so many levels and higher levels in horses. Jumping is exhilarating but can be scary and many folks who were competitive juniors return to riding as adults and find they’ve lost their raw nerve and are never going to continue in big.

But the wonderful thing is there are so many routes to horses.

Dressage is an endless journey, requires enormous skill, but no jumping. The breed shows and the Western disciplines offer all kinds of competition and cash. Etc. There are also avenues to training and breeding.

Let the child progress at her own speed, celebrate the goals. And as to progress, there is no guarantee someone who startef lessons at 8 is going to be an internationally competitive athlete either.

I’m playing the Aging Memory card here :smirk:
Sorry sorry sorry! @supershorty628 - you’re the one I had in mind.

By way of Nothing:
Did you ever have a buckskin Jumper, or train with someone who did?
A niggling memory… could go back to the Equisearch BB… :thinking:

Hi there and allow me a moment of reality, not so much as a naysayer but as a “this is what it can look like” moment.

I’m 50 now. I started riding (once a week lessons) when I was 11. My parents fully supported me through the process. Got my first pony during 7th grade. Went to a private school with a riding program in 7th and 8th grade. Went to an all girls boarding school with riding through high school. Went to summer camps with riding from 5th grade on through Sophmore year of HS> Then did summer Working Student programs.

Parents paid for various horse upgrades over time and all competition bills. I (Shock) failed out of my first college and dove into horse jobs. I lived and breathed horses above all else and made it to the upper levels of eventing. Then it was on me to pay for things. Enter the backslide.

I still rode but had to find my way with paying board, vet, farrier and then shows. Trailering and so on.

Fast forward (because no one here deserves to have to read my entire life story) I figured out how to do it all and move my career forward. I am competing in jumpers now and have the best horse of my career thus far. We might make it to a regional GP this year. We might not. He’s 15 and who knows if his body and mind still want to play over big stuff after the winter off. He’ll tell me, and I will listen.

The pursuit of doing any riding discipline well, hinges on being able to listen to and understand what your horse needs. So I wouldn’t say that I am necessarily the type of person who wants to be able to hang my hat on cocktail hour with other horsey friends and saying (repeatedly) “Oh yes I am a GP rider.” I would be more likely to say “I own a GP horse and I am lucky enough to stay on…” and that’s only if we make it and I doubt I would repeat it to anyone. They don’t need to worship me. I’m doing this to challenge myself, not to gain worshippers.

So in closing, this girl may have the goal to get to GP but there’s likely a LOT of real estate between now and then, if she makes it at all. The biggest thing her family can do is be supportive and in this day and age, a bit transparent about what it takes to do it. She will get to decide how far she goes but for sure it’s a ton of work and while it sounds like she’s got the right foundation, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t happen. But for sure, celebrate if it does. It’s a big deal.

Em

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Celebrate every step of the way! Celebrate her making a round at her first 2 foot hunter schooling show. Celebrate her learning to groom, tack up, clip and braid.

As an adult, recognize the enormous benefits that come to young people, especially girls, who are allowed to cultuvate a passion and an obsession that takes them out of themselves, and comparing retouched selfies on Instagram.

If this girl goes full out for 2 years she will learn so much, about herself and others. She will learn hard work, patience, humility, sportsmanship, and how to control a 1200 lb animal. Horses done right are a huge benefit to young women.

As an adult realize the true name of the game is not to have her riding on the international circuit at age 35. It’s to instil a passion as a teenager, teach her how to focus and work, and help her grow into the best adult possible.

She’s 16. Who knows what she will want at 18 or 21 or 30?

Having a focus like this is lifesaving to many kids. The hardest teens to deal with are the bored depressed nothing interests me type. After that, the anxious socially dependent social media fixated types.

Real achievement in the tangible physical world is the antidote.

Support her for having a passion, and forgive her for having outsize fantasies. Every kid has them whether it’s be a hockey star or a famous singer etc. It’s natural and it’s fine.

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