Durango’s Amy Leonard is rising through the ranks of equestrian riding.
Last month at the United States Hunter and Jumper Association’s Zone 7 and 8 championships in Parker, Leonard and her horse, Bongo, an Argentinian warmblood, came home with a gold medal in the jumper team competition.
“I think that over the course of the two days I got better each day,” Leonard said. “I had to make some changes with my coach, Pie Lafferty, who’s from Pagosa Springs. The changes we made worked well and my horse and I kept improving.”
Jumper competitions, also known as show jumping, are scored on time. A typical course consists of 12 to 16 jumps, and the objective is to complete the course as quickly as possible without incurring any faults – mistakes such as knocking down a rail during a jump or finishing the course slower than the allotted time. The horse with the fastest time and fewest number of faults wins.
Zone 7 is made up of Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas, while Zone 8 consists of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. There were 13 riders competing in the competition.
Leonard was joined on her team by Kiley McCullough of San Tan Valley, Arizona, Alyson Ranucci from Centennial and Sydney Stephenson of Youngsville, Louisiana. Each member of the team competed in a different section during the championships, and all four members of the team won their sections.
Leonard competed in Section B and completed the course in 91.928 seconds with six faults.
Everyone competing at the zone championships had already proved they belonged after going through qualifying. Knowing everyone and their horses could perform at a high level, Leonard knew there was a chance her team could win. Although there were a lot of unknowns with the team.
“I wasn’t sure how it would go because I had never met any of the girls on my team before,” the 18-year-old said. “... I’m sure we have crossed paths at competitions before, but we had never actually met.”
To qualify for the zone championships, riders must accumulate enough points at United States Equestrian Federation competitions during the season.
Riders train year round for the sanctioned event and can enter as many competitions as they like to earn enough points. Leonard, however, only needed one competition. She traveled to Tucson, Arizona, in October for a show, where she earned all the qualifying points for the zone championships.
The team win at the zone championships does not qualify Leonard and the other three girls from her team a spot at nationals, as riders have to compete as individuals to earn a spot at nationals. But it does open doors for gold star clinics – high level camps that are taught by some of the top riders in the nation. Leonard said that with the team win she is now eligible to apply for a gold star clinic.
Leonard began riding and competing when she was 4 years old. She trains for a few hours five days a week. Two of those training days are spent with Lafferty, while the other three days she works on the drills Lafferty assigns. Fortunately for Leonard, she doesn’t have to travel far to get her training in, as her family has an arena at their home and she only needs to walk into her backyard to practice.
Leonard graduated from Southwest Colorado eSchool in Durango this fall and will take online classes through Southern New Hampshire University while she continues competing with Bongo and the two try to reach higher and higher levels.
“My ultimate goal with jumpers is to perfect the basics,” Leonard said. “... We’ll see where it goes from there.”