Adrianne Weldum is not only a senior at Jamesville-DeWitt High School, but will also be a competitor at the United States Dressage Finals this weekend. She and her horse, Sam, will be traveling over 10 hours to Lexington, KY where they will be competing against the best dressage riders in the country.
A Lifelong Passion:
Horseback riding is a tradition in the Weldum family, with her mother and even her great-grandmother riding during their lifetimes. Weldum started her horseback riding career when she was only four years old and her earliest memory of riding was the first time she fell off of a horse. “I remember that very clearly, and I remember being, like, five, and I was crying and my trainer gave me a lollipop and I felt better,” Weldum recounted. Unlike her siblings, she was the one who fell in love with horseback riding the most and, as she grew older, she became more and more involved, now riding almost every single day.
Although she will be competing in dressage at the national competition, for most of her life, she has competed in Hunter/Jumper, which, as Weldum describes it, is basically “a fancy type of jumping.” It was only last year that Weldum started dressage, which, for the non-equestrian savvy, is most commonly described as horse dancing. “It’s basically like you’re getting [the horse] to use their entire body—all these different muscles—and you’re kind of applying those all into different movements as you go along,” Weldum said. During tests, the judges give the riders a specific pattern to perform, described with different movements, speeds, and gaits (i.e. walk, trot, canter, etc.). It is then the rider’s job to communicate that pattern to their horse and get the horse to perform the pattern as accurately as possible.
Weldum went to her first dressage show over the summer and performed well. After another show, she qualified for Regionals, where, in September, she competed against the best riders in New England at her level, Training Level. “It was a little stressful but the nice thing about dressage is that when you go and do tests, you’re completely alone,” Weldum said. “Overall, [Regionals were] a little chaotic and a little crazy, but the moments that I needed to be calm and ready were perfect.” Despite being much less experienced in dressage than many of her competitors, Weldum saw success at Regionals, qualifying to compete at the national level.
Not Horsing Around: The Challenges of Horseback Riding:
According to Weldum, the biggest misconception surrounding horseback riding is that the sport is easy and that the horse is the only one doing any work. Weldum explains that, while the horse does play a large role, the rider is also very involved and their job is not easy: “You have to be able to use basically every part of your body independently. Like multitasking, that’s basically all I’m doing when I’m on a horse. I’m constantly thinking about where all their legs are, where their head is, what they’re doing, what my body’s doing that impacts that, [all] while trying to stay on it.”
While having a horse as your teammate is one of the most special parts of the sport, it also poses a lot of difficulties, especially financially. Coming from a middle class family, Weldum works two jobs—both at Panera and at her stable—in order to afford to continue training and competing. In addition, unlike some of her competitors, she does not own her own horse. Currently, she is leasing horses as she moves up the levels, which is both due to the speed at which she is improving, but also because the horse she owned got injured so she had to retire him. Although the financial aspect of the sport can be frustrating, Weldum stated, “It just taught me that things are going to be unfair and you just have to, you know, get past that, get past those moments, and keep working to even out the odds a little bit.”
Another challenging aspect of horseback riding is the mental aspect. In the sport, there are a lot of issues with body image due to the misconception that riders must be skinny, with some trainers trying to lower their riders’ weights and some judges judging based on it. In addition, just due to the nature of the sport, the competition itself can take a toll on riders’ mental health. Unlike in other sports where you’re competing against one person or one team, in horseback riding, you’re sometimes competing against 20 people at once. “So, having a bad round and getting, like, 18th is not fun, and there aren’t that many chances because of how limited the sport is,” Weldum said.
A Distinctly Unique Sport:
Weldum has played a lot of different sports in her life, ranging from basketball to track and field to tennis. However, the fact that, in horseback riding, your teammate is a horse is both one of the most different and most interesting aspects of the sport for Weldum. Unlike in other sports where you’re more closely dealing with people, when working with horses, there’s just less drama. “They’re not going to think that you’re a horrible person if you didn’t do well in one round. They’re just going to kind of accept you and what happened and just keep going,” Weldum explained. “They kind of just let it breeze past them because they’re animals.”
In addition, riders and horses have a special kind of connection. Animals can feel humans’ emotions, whether it’s stress, happiness, or anything in between, and they’re able to respond to those emotions. “I just think it’s really cool that, unlike any other sport, you have more communication with your partner past speaking. It’s completely body language, which I think is really cool,” Weldum said. And the relationship goes both ways, as Weldum explained: “I really learned how to be responsible for myself and my health and also this animal’s self and health.”
A rider’s stable and trainers, however, are some of the most influential parts of a rider’s experience. In her life, Weldum has been to eight or nine different barns and has trained with many different people. Some environments were better than others, of course, and, at one point, the environment of one barn was so poor that she briefly began to hate the sport and almost quit. Fortunately, at the current barn she rides at, Spruce Valley Stables in Cazenovia, the trainers are very positive. “[My trainers are] probably the most confidence-boosting, self-assured people I have ever met. They just teach horseback riding in a way that is very uplifting and very hopeful,” Weldum said. After previous experiences, she said, “[The stable’s environment] was very incredible to experience. I didn’t really think it was possible, yet it was.”
Plans for the Future:
Right now, Weldum is mainly focused on performing the best that she can at Nationals. However, looking towards the future, she plans to keep horseback riding in her life. Although, academically, her main interest is in creative writing, she hopes to be able to ride on a collegiate equestrian team and, after she graduates, she plans to look for grooming jobs and/or assistant jobs, if possible. “I think I will definitely be pursuing horseback riding and I want to pursue it for the rest of my life,” Weldum said.
Although Weldum likes to keep her horseback riding self separate from her school self, the experiences she’s had and the lessons she’s learned influence her every day. As she competes in the U.S. Dressage Finals this Saturday and Sunday, she represents to the J-D community—and the whole country—the success that is possible through hard work and perseverance, along a path that may not be typical but is distinctly your own.