by Sophie St.Clair
Southern California horse show management company, West Palms Events, has created an exciting opportunity for young riders on the West Coast. The Michael Nyuis Scholarship is a program designed to help serious, dedicated young riders who lack financial resources to show at high-level equestrian competitions consistently throughout the year.
Supporting these riders will help them gain important show miles in their quest towards becoming professionals in the equestrian industry. Dale Harvey of West Palms Events named the scholarship for his nephew who passed away earlier this year. Michael Nyuis was an energetic, athletic person who loved to help people whenever he could.
Dale said, “He had a vibrant personality that you could not forget and was always trying to make an impact in others’ lives. This scholarship is a wonderful way to remember his giving nature and what an amazing man he was to everyone he met. He worked on the Thunderbird ring crew as a teenager, and loved the sport because I loved it.”
In remembrance of this special young man, West Palms Events aims to help young dedicated riders who can benefit from additional monetary resources to help them succeed. With only the exceptions of the Del Mar National and the LA Masters, the scholarship awards three deserving equestrians a financial award of up to $10,000 to be used at any West Palms Events show.
The winners of the 2015 Michael Nyuis Scholarship are Ariel Black, Payton Smith and Ian McFarlane. All of these riders truly have an interest in becoming professionals in the equestrian industry and want to improve their knowledge and abilities in a way that only consistent experience can provide.
For Ariel Black, a 22-year-old professional rider from Scottsdale, Arizona, juggling work, school and training is all in a day’s work. She finances herself to attend shows with her own horse and pays for her own school expenses while attending Arizona State University. Between all of these expenses, finding the resources to show consistently can be a real challenge. When the chance to apply for the scholarship presented itself, it seemed like a golden opportunity to help offset the expenses of showing.
Ariel began her love of horses like many young girls. Growing up in Salt Lake City, she attended a horse camp at Alta Hills Farms for her 10th birthday. Hooked from the start, she continued her training there.
Ariel was a multi-discipline rider showing in the hunter, jumper and equitation rings. Today, she continues to compete on her horse Zamira, a 13-year-old Oldenburg. She trains and works at Smoke Tree Ranch under the guidance of trainer Betty Beran.
Working at Smoke Tree Ranch has also provided opportunities to earn additional income from riding, braiding and grooming for clients. For a rider who’s working her way up the levels in the jumper ring, recently entering her first Grand Prix, Ariel believes that consistently attending shows is a necessity to continue improving. She said, “I really enjoy working at the barn and I get to go to the shows but I don’t always get to take my horse to the show. This scholarship will help me to have fewer gaps between horse shows.”
When asked why it’s important to have a scholarship like this available to riders, Ariel commented, “It opens up great opportunities for people who may not have the financial backing because it’s a very expensive sport. There are people who have the passion to do it but they haven’t had the opportunities they need.” West Palms Events hopes to bridge this gap.
Payton Smith is a 15-year-old rider from Woodinville, Washington. She projects a friendly personality full of enthusiasm for her equestrian passion. It’s evident from speaking with her that she has real goals and the determination to succeed. When faced with a challenge, she seems to apply good, old-fashioned practicality and hard work to meet her goals. It was this practicality and determination that led her to apply for the scholarship.
Payton began riding at the age of 4 on her family farm, Archway Stables. Her mother, Corene Smith, and grandmother, Clare Warren, have always been her trainers. Payton competes on her horse Skyline, a Hanoverian mare owned by Archway Stables.
Earlier this year, she planned to attend HITS horse shows at Thermal. But when the stables weren’t able to provide the funds necessary to travel, that didn’t stop Payton. “I was really looking forward to it,” said Payton. “Skyline was just coming back from an injury and it was going to be our first show back together.”
No stranger to body clipping at the family farm, she devised a plan to clip all the horses stabled there and raise the money herself. Just in the nick of time, she was able to earn the money and get herself and her horse to Thermal.
Though she has competed in hunters and jumpers, she focuses her efforts on the 3’6” medal classes. She does well at Washington State but what Payton really wants to do is test herself against top equitation riders in California. Payton said, “I want to learn what it takes to succeed in the higher ranks of the 3’6” medals. It’s really going to put my riding and skills to the test. I’m sure it will form an even better bond with me and my horse as well.”
An aspiring professional, when Payton learned that she had won the scholarship, she was in total disbelief. She said, “I thought my mom was pulling a joke on me. I was beyond ecstatic. I was so grateful and blown away!”
Rising star rider Ian McFarlane, 17, found the opportunity to offset the cost of showing was a real motivator to apply for the scholarship. For Ian, the scholarship was a two-fold solution. The scholarship funds help with the expenses and provide a way to keep showing consistently. Ian said, “It’s a sport of experience as well as talent and hard work. You have to get in the ring a lot and keep going. I want to keep progressing in my riding at a constant rate and keep going up.”
Surprisingly, Ian says of his early riding years that he didn’t like to show. It wasn’t until the age of 8 or 9 that he picked up the reins again in the pony ring and began enjoying it. He spent little time in the hunter and equitation ranks and went straight to the jumpers. Faced with the challenge of the jumper courses and excited by the adrenaline rush he gets from competing, he had found his love of riding.
Ian trains out of Windfall Farms in Grass Valley, California, under the direction of accomplished trainer Gry McFarlane. Gry has been creating successful partnerships with horses and riders for over 30 years. She’s one of very few USHJA-certified trainers and is also, more importantly, Ian’s mother. No surprise then that this young talent has the drive and ambition to campaign for the North American Junior and Young Riders team on his mount Celio Cruise, an 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse out of Cruising. This is his first year trying to qualify for the NAJYRC.
Ian hopes to turn professional one day but only after getting a “sensible degree” in business or finance. He says his good math skills lend themselves naturally to these sorts of degrees and hopes they will help him manage a business as a future professional.
Ian commented on the importance of the kind of support this scholarship provides. “It’s an extremely expensive sport. It helps young professionals with the bills so they get more show experience. Experience is key.”
Partners for a Good Cause
Southern California horse show management company Blenheim Equisports was excited to hear about this program too and later partnered with West Palms Events to increase both the scholarship funds and the opportunities to show. “We welcome the opportunity to work with Blenheim EquiSports and are so happy to partner with them for such a great cause,” Dale said. Now, recipients will be able to show at most any Blenheim Equisports horse shows to increase their options to compete consistently. Also, recipients will work in the office during the shows they attend, learning more about horse show management from behind the scenes. And, if you’re a Canadian rider, the scholarship will now be offered as well. Dale, originally from Ontario, Canada, has promoted cross-national participation with Canadian show jumpers for many years.
It’ll be exciting to see how each of these talented riders will utilize their funds to meet their goals this year. Watch for updates about them throughout the year at www.westpalmsevents.com. For any young rider who has talent, ambition and a real desire to become a professional, this opportunity should not be missed. If you’re on the West Coast or want to spend some time there competing and improving your skills, consider applying next year. The scholarship will be offered on an annual basis. More information can be found at: www.westpalmsevents.com/2015-scholarship/
About the writer: Sophie St.Clair is a high school sophomore from Southern California. She has an interest in the psychology of high-performance athletes. She’s also a Junior Ambassador for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles where she works to raise funds and awareness for the hospital. Sophie is working toward becoming a professional show jumper but is taking it “one jump at a time.”