Dec 29, 2016

Making a Difference One Stride at a Time

By Maggie Junkin
When Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others,” I feel he was promoting a life of human goodness. As 2016 comes to a close and we embark on the new year, there's no better time to take stock of what you are doing for others.
As an equestrian I have had the fortunate ability to travel this country showing. This sport has allowed me to see this country in ways I never imagined. I have met fascinating people and have toured interesting places, but I have also had my eyes opened to see those struggling across our nation.  
As junior riders we are very busy. We're balancing riding and school and spend many days away from home. But that doesn't mean we can't help others.

There are many ways to incorporate service into your life as a junior equestrian. Here are a few I've done:

1. Collect toiletries for hotel stays. For years now I have collected toiletries from our hotel stays while on the road. I pack my own supplies and collect the small bottles and soap bars the hotel provides. I accumulate large bags over the year. 

Every February my school, Ancillae-Assumpta Academy, hosts a Martin Luther King Service Day. I share my toiletries and we put together individual bags for the homeless. It’s the things we take for granted that can mean a lot to some. Imagine how many toiletries you could collect if your trainer and barn friends did the same thing!
2. Organize an at-the-show food drive and team up with a local organization. Last winter I spent February and March in Gulfport, Mississippi for the Gulf Coast Winter Classic. Staying there for several weeks we befriended one of the security guards of the condo we rented. I learned how the people of Gulfport were still to this day struggling with the effects of Hurricane Katrina. She told me how she has friends who live in tent communities under highway bypasses because they could not afford to rebuild. Upon hearing this, my mom and I collected food for her to share with her friends. I look forward to organizing a bigger food drive when I return this year. I have also reached out to a private girls Catholic high school in the Gulfport area to learn of service programs I can help with while I am there.

3. Get involved with a horse charity. I am also very excited to have joined the EQUUS Foundation Best Performance Competition by a Junior 12-14. The Equus Foundation is dedicated to equine welfare. #RidewithPurpose!  It’s not too late to join. For a small fee you can join the program and begin to earn cumulative points at member shows throughout the year and potentially win Best Performance of the Year in your division. Winners may select an equine charity in the Equine Welfare Network to receive a grant in their name. And the membership dues go to finding new homes and second careers for unwanted horses.

4. Enlist equestrian companies to join in! My favorite charity to promote is Danny and Ron’s Rescue. This summer they made a trip to Baton Rouge after the floods to help area dog shelters and took much needed food and supplies to help the horses. While showing in Gulfport I met people who lived in Baton Rouge. Thankfully they were okay after the flooding, but the area was devastated. Danny and Ron’s Rescue pulled many dogs from the shelter in Baton Rouge. Many were positive for heartworm and were in need of costly heartworm treatment. Additionally Danny and Ron’s South Carolina facility had damage this year in a storm. Although this put financial pressure on the rescue, they still went out of their way to help the Baton Rouge dogs.  

Knowing they could use additional help this year I reached out to the owner of Ruespari Belts and asked if they would donate proceeds of a belt to help Danny and Ron’s Rescue. I am excited that Ruespari has made a Danny and Ron belt available for the month of December. Please check out Ruespari and see why celebrity jumper rider Kaley Cuoco and top junior rider Emma Kurtz wear their belts. Be flexible, be Ruespari.   

The Danny & Ron belt.

Also, take a moment to visit the Danny and Ron’s Rescue website to see what great things this rescue does all year long and learn how you can donate to a great cause.
I invite my fellow junior equestrians to think of ways they can help serve their own communities or favorite charities. Think outside the box. Small efforts add up. One stride at a time!
Wishing you all the best for the New Year!

Maggie Junkin competes on the circuit with her horse, Tommy Bahama. She lives with her family, 5 dogs, and 3 cats in Jenkintown, Pa.

Dec 24, 2016

'Twas the Week Before Christmas

by Maggie Junkin

'Twas the week before Christmas
And all through the farm
Not a creature was stirring
Without an alarm

The red barn
Was adorned in boughs of holly
Looking so festive
And oh so jolly

All the horses and ponies were
Tucked in their stalls
While their riders were busy
 Shopping the malls

Ponies were munching
Quietly on hay
Seemingly enjoying
The holiday

Show horses were blanketed
All toasty and warm
With dreams of winter circuit
To arrive before the snow storm

Back in the feed room
Stockings were hung
The barn mice were gathering
As carols were sung

The barn cat was snuggled
In the tack room with care
Waiting for Santa
To soon be there

'Tis the night before Christmas
And I wish everyone
The merriest of Christmas’s

And much Holiday fun

Maggie Junkin with Tommy Bahama

Dec 20, 2016

"Nice Pony and You Ride Him Well"

The judge. 

When I was younger, I revered the judge of any horse show I attended. The judge always seemed to loom larger than life. He or she basically had celebrity status in my mind. 

I couldn't believe it when I saw the judge doing something nearly human like coming out of a porta potti or ordering something from the food booth. Stars--they're just like us!

I also distinctly recall the few times a judge spoke to me. One such time was during a test in a USEF Medal class and the judge was none other than renowned rider and trainer Victor Hugo Vidal. Victor asked the top four riders to jump a few fences and then approach for a question.

No jump on that course was as intimidating as approaching Victor. I expected stern and severe, but I was met with a wide, friendly smile. In a soft voice, he asked me to name the parts of a horse's front leg from the shoulder down.

I went through the names, grateful for my few years in Pony Club. Then, right before I departed into a canter to jump the remaining two fences, he said to me, "You have a lovely horse and you ride him quite well."

Flash forward 20-odd years and I am now the judge, walking across a horse show with a senior judge when a young girl trotted by on a pretty pony. They were well matched and she sat correctly in the saddle.

The senior judge, who had ridden in the Olympics, called out to her, "Nice pony and you ride him well!" 

"Did you know her?" I asked a few beats later. I couldn't believe this judge would take the time to compliment a rider who just happened to trot by.

He shook his head and smiled. "Nope."

I immediately reflected back to the girl I was in the Medal test long ago, and to other rare times as a young rider when a judge said something positive and personal to me.

I thought to myself, I can do that now--I can be the judge who compliments a young rider. And I did when the opportunity presented itself at the very next show I judged.

I learned more from walking across the ring with that judge than I did sitting beside him judging. I learned that judging is not all about evaluating performances in the ring.

As judges we have to be professional and often that means creating distance between us and the competitors we're judging. Distance is something we have plenty of in today's world of screens and texts yet sometimes in the judging world there's not enough distance. 

At one show, judges are judging riders and at the next show they're hanging out with them at the in-gate or selling them a horse. That is the nature of our beast. So staying separate from the riders when judging is a must.

But this senior judge and the memory of praise from the late Victor Hugo Vidal reminded me that every so often it's not just okay to compliment a rider, it's a wonderful gift of encouragement that could possibly mean more than a judge ever imagines.

Kim Ablon Whitney is a USEF 'R' judge and the author of the Show Circuit novels.