byNina Fedrizzi| Oct 3, 2017
There is an old proverb that says, “When the pupil is ready, the teacher will appear.
How old that proverb appears to be a matter of some dispute, but regardless of who coined it, it has resonance in many different facets of life, and certainly in the equestrian sphere. Though there are plenty of students who stick with the same trainer and program for decades, many—if not most of us—find ourselves moving around for one reason or another, and often how and when those new trainers enter our lives can make all the difference.
That has certainly been the case for Molly Hay. Life, and a continued quest to broaden her own horizons in the sport, have brought the 27-year-old rider from Ridgefield, Conn., to two of the top show stables in the country and then on to Europe, where she’s currently competing in the CSI2* and 3* level at shows such as Lier and Beervelde.
Here, Molly reflects on the six key lessons, trainers, and experiences that have played an important role in where she is today.
1. Wendy Pola: The value of hands-on horsemanship.
My first six years in the saddle were spent with Wendy Pola, owner of Ridgefield Equestrian Center in my home state of Connecticut. It was there that I developed not only a strong grasp of the fundamentals of riding but also a huge appreciation for horsemanship and the importance of being involved in the care of my horses. I was my own groom from the time I had my first pony at age 7 until I started competing at a higher level at age 13, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the knowledge I obtained in those “hands-on” years. In fact, I am still my own groom today, and I enjoy every minute of it because it allows me to get to know my horse on a much more personal level.
2. Frank & Bonnie Cunniffe: Riding the horse you have.
From age 12-17, I rode with Frank and Bonnie Cunniffe at Whipstick Farm in South Salem, NY. This is where I made the transition from ponies to horses (more like “horse”). It was made very clear to me at a young age that I would never have a string of horses for myself, it just wasn’t financially possible for my family. So, naturally, I competed the one horse I had in all three divisions: the hunters, the jumpers, and the equitation, to get a taste of it all and make my riding as well-rounded as possible.
3.Val Renihan: The joy (and pain) of equitation.
I enjoyed competing in all three rings, but I had a strong (and weird) appreciation for the equitation, which ultimately led me to train with Val Renihan in my last junior year. Val completely changed me as a rider; she used every trick in the book: tied my leg to the girth, put braces on my wrists to make them straight, threw a crop behind my back, and even put a balloon under my chin to keep my head up. All of this, at the same time, while on the lunge line jumping bareback. She put her all into the short time she had to prepare me for my first and last set of equitation finals, and it paid off: I finished in the top-25 at Medal Finals and 10th at NEHC Finals.
4. Andre Dignelli & Heritage Farm: The ins and outs of a top show barn.
After I aged out, I realized that one year of equitation torture just wasn’t enough, and in the spring/summer before my first year of college, I became a working student for Andre Dignelli at Heritage Farm. This was by far one of the best experiences of my riding career; the operation at Heritage is truly in a league of its own, and I learned not only about what it takes to win in the ring, but how to succeed in the business as a whole.
5. Various trainers: How to earn it on your own.
When I graduated from high school, my parents told me that if I wanted to continue riding it would have to be on my own bill. I did a bit of catch riding in the hunters with the help of Val Renihan, Amanda Lyerly, and Louise Serio, and soon after, found myself halfway across the world in Florence, Italy, where I completed my last three years of college and trained with Claudio Baroni. He expanded my knowledge of the jumpers and helped me to purchase and produce my very first sale horse.
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