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08/23/2010 - By Tobi Drucker Tesoriero
Photo: Linda Rowe (lindarowephotography.com)
Horses, with their exquisite physiques and soulful eyes, possess certain magic. People watch their grace and observe their serenity with awe. Others see that magic and have a spell cast upon them as they become enchanted with the regal beasts. One such young lady who has been charmed by horses is Karen Polle.
Karen Polle is a competitor on the national level in the equestrian sports of equitation and jumping. Karen has truly dedicated herself to her sport. Escaping NewYork City, she spends every weekend and most of her the summer in Colts Neck in pursuit of perfecting her skills. She also travels all over the country competing and is focused on her performance. But what is particularly fascinating about Karen is that, although she has this incredible drive to do well in her sport, she never has lost the joy. She remarks over and over again on how much fun it is and how much she enjoys riding.
Karen truly loves horses and is Zen-like in describing her connection to them. This love has carried over to her involvement in an organization called Helping Hearts, dedicated to horse rescue. Karen actively fund raises for them as well as tries to raise awareness of their mission. In addition to her equestrian pursuits Karen is a student at the prestigious Spence School in New York City.
Living in Colts Neck met with Karen right before she headed down to Kentucky for a show. She graciously told us about her sport, her passion and her life as an accomplished young woman.
LICN: Letís start with some basic background and information. How old are you?
KP: Just turned 18.
LICN: What grade?
KP: Iím going to be a senior in the Fall.
LICN: Where do you go to school?
KP: The Spence School in New York City.
LICN: So, starting with the college visits?
KP: Yes, my dad andmy sister, andme are going on a million college visits (laughs).
LICN: Any special subjects you like in school?
KP: Science is my favorite; but also math.
LICN: Do you think your career path will be in the scientific field?
KP: I donít really know yet. But I was thinking maybe something in science, also thinking for a little bit maybe engineering, maybe economics or business.
LICN: How long has your family had a home in Colts Neck?
KP: Around three to four years.
LICN: We know you are an equestrian. What exactly is your involvement in the sport?
KP: Well, I do show jumping. Within show jumping there are two different disciplines or divisions that I compete in. One is equitation.
LICN: What is equitation?
KP: It is when the riderís position is judged. The judge watches you and your horse. You do a course that is a set of eight to twelve jumps that usually have a determined order that you are supposed to do them in. The judge watches you and your horse do it. You have to make it look smooth and easy. They are watching the general fluidity as well as your position. I also do jumpers.
LICN: And that is?
KP: It is the same thing with a course. There is no judge and most of the time it is really about going faster than everyone else and not knocking down anything during the jumps. The fences in jumpers are higher than those in equation.
LICN: Do most riders compete in both these types of events?
KP: A lot of people that I compete against do equitation and jumpers. Then there is also another discipline called hunters that I do not compete in. There are a lot of kids who do both. The equitation is only for junior riders, people 18 and under so this is my last year, which is so sad.Alot of adults do jumpers.With riding you can compete until you are pretty old. So equitation is mostly kids and jumpers is kids and adults.
LICN: How do you qualify in competitions? What are the steps to compete in these events?
KP: In the equitation that I amdoing you qualify in different ways throughout the year. Mostly it is just based on points. If you win you get a certain number of points and you get more points for beating more people. So if you win a class with 30 people you get more points than if you win a class with ten.
LICN: A class means people who register for that specific event?
KP: Yes. The class is one course and everyone rides that same course and the judges decide who gets first, second, and third.
LICN: Any other details for those of us not familiar with the sport?
KP: The different classes have different points required and different systems of qualifying. The goal is to qualify for all of them. For one of the finals there is a regional competition in September, I think, where you compete in a zone. You have to get through that to get to the national final. But all four of them wind up being in the national final. Then, in jumpers you can compete for money. So there are different finals and competitions through out the year. You qualify for those based on prize money won throughout the year.
LICN: When you say it is regional, I assume then there is a counterpoint to ďyouĒ in letís says California competing.Are there set locations where these events are held? Is there a required amount of events in which you are required to compete?
KP: There are horse shows. There are lots of different horse shows. Some are bigger than the others so the bigger horse shows get people fromall over the country. There is also more local shows where, you know, you get mostly New Jersey kids or New Jersey, Pennsylvania or New York kids that show up. But there are a lot of shows in California, but we donít really see them. Pretty much people compete locally and at finals we see them.
LICN: Are there more competitive regions?
KP: Zone 2 is probably one of the more competitive. California is pretty competitive in jumpers, equitation a little less. Florida is also competitive. We go to Florida in the winter to compete.Yes, zone two is one of the most competitive zones.
LICN: Do you have a training regimen? What is it that you specifically do?
KP: Okay, you mean when I practice?
KP: Well, I am at one of the top barns for junior equitation riders and they also have a very good jumper program, by the way.
LICN: And the name of that is Ö?
KP: Beacon Hill Show Stable here in Colts Neck. It is really intense there, so my training schedule changes based on horse shows and school. But in the summer I am riding every day except for Monday when the barn is closed. I just try to ride as much as I can. I love it. We travel around for horse shows in the fall. When there are finals we are getting ready for that so I canít ride as much as I do in the summer but I definitely ride Friday, Saturday and Sunday and I try to come during the week but I canít always because of school. Then during the winter we go to Florida, so our horses all move down and they live there the whole season. My family leaves Thursday night to go down. I miss school on Friday. I compete Friday, Saturday and Sunday and we come back Sunday night.
LICN: Wow. That is quite a rigorous schedule! So you travel a lot?
KP: Every weekend.
LICN: That is through the whole winter?
KP: Yes, January, February, and March
LICN: You mentioned you bring the horses down. How many horses do you have?
KP: Right now I have six.
LICN: So do you use different or specific horses for the different competitions?
KP: Yes, for the jumper horse I use different.
LICN: When you do this riding is there a set of drills? Special training? For instance, a marathon runner or football player cross trains. What is it that you do?
KP: The thing is, you donít usually jump everyday.Alot of the time when I go to the barn I am just flatting my horses which is when you usually wind up not having any instruction.We walk, trot, canter, we do different movements to keep my horses fit and soft and listening to me, my legs, my aid, my seat, so they stay responsive to me because all of that comes into play when you are jumping. You need a horse that is listening, that is not being kind of stiff, if you are putting your legs together you want it to go forward. You donít want your horse to be not listening to you so when you are flatting you are really making sure your horse is listening to you, staying fit. Sometimes we have lessons. My trainer will set a course and then we will jump and she will give us training and then we will jump.
LICN: Do you rotate which horses you use?
KP: I have a lot of horses so they are on different schedules. They canít jump every day so they will flat during the week and only jump one or two days a week.
LICN: Do you do any of the direct care of the horse? Any brushing, grooming so on? Give them treats or sugar cubes?
KP: I am lucky. We do feed our horses treats like carrots and stuff. Our horses are so spoiled. There are grooms that take care of my horses. I do not have the time to take care of all of them - between riding them and going to school - but I do try to help when I can. I do brush the horses and make sure that they have enough water.We usually stop by at night to check on their water, to make sure that they are okay, not too hot, that they are doing well.We feed them so much.
LICN: What was it that initially drew you to the sport?
KP: My family has no background with horses.We were going to our country house that was in a different part of New Jersey at the time. We drove by this really small little local barn. I saw this girl riding a horse and I said I wanted to do that. And then I started riding.
LICN: How old were you?
KP: Seven. My dad called the barn and set up one weekend lesson for me. I really liked it so I started taking lessons every weekend and then we started to go to a few horse shows. But nothing that big. Back then my mom and I would think that people who went to horse shows every weekend were crazy (laughs). We had no idea that we would ever be doing what we do now! So I guess we are crazy, too.
LICN: You can say passionate instead!
KP: It is so much fun.
LICN: The next question is, what do you like best about it?
KP: Um, I think I like best the relationship between me and each of my horses because you have to know your horse really well. Each horse has different tendencies. You might find one extra aggressive. Your horse might tend to do something in the ring like jump a certain way and you have to know your horse really well to have smooth equitation trick or to go clear (clear is when you donít knock anything down on a jump). To go clear you need to have a really strong bond with your horse to have it go well. I have a strong connection with all of my horses. Each one is really different; they all have different personalities, tendencies, strengths and weaknesses. You have to know a lot about your horse to get the best out of him or her and I think I like that the best.
LICN: Very interesting. Then what do you like least?
KP: I think what I like least is probably, hmm, there is a lot of traveling involved so, maybe it is because I have school, that it is difficult to juggle riding cause I want to do well. I am competing on a national level. I try to do really well then I have to juggle school. It can get stressful sometimes.
LICN: So I assume your school does not have an equestrian team?
KP: No it does not.
LICN: So it is all on your own?
KP: Yes. So my least favorite thing is that it can be rough to juggle school and riding, to compete at this high level - and my school is really rigorous.
LICN: Is there ranking in the sports? Do certain riders participate at certain competitions? I know you mentioned a point system; are there other qualifiers? Or are events open?
KP: Technically, unless it is one of those final shows, where you have had to qualify, basically anyone could enter but I donít think that a trainer would enter you if it were not something you were ready for. Most of the shows you can just enter, but the more competitive or final shows you have to qualify.
LICN: You have mentioned you have done a lot of traveling. Can you please share some of the places you have been to compete?
KP: Sure. Most of our competitions are probably in New Jersey.We also go to Lake Placid for two weeks in the summer. We are going to Kentucky; we go to Syracuse for a year-end final. We got to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for a year-end final; there is one inWashington, D.C. Last summer I went to Canada for five weeks.
LICN: Was that a camp?
KP: No, there was a huge horse show there. There were international riders. There was a humongous jumper show. I was able to train with an Olympian and her husband trainer, which was a great experience. I learned so much. It was awesome.
LICN: What kind of things did you do there?
KP: Well, I was showing mostly. The Olympian was also riding. Her name is Beezie Madden. I competed when I got there which was great and then I got to watch her compete and all these other top Olympic international riders compete and I watched her get her horses ready. I learned a lot about her thinking, how she plans, how her trainer works with her to manage all of her horses to make sure they are healthy and competing in the right classes. Learned so much from her. It was a great opportunity.
LICN: Do you hope to compete on an Olympic level?
KP: Right now I am doing 40 -45 meter jumps.
LICN: Can you explain that?
KP: There are different heights; what I jump now is near 40 or meter 45 jumpers. Olympics are like meter 60. So I am not quite there yet but my dream is to do the Grand Prix that is the meter 50, 60 level that is kind of high. Maybe one day I can enter some international competition - that would be insane (big smile) - but that would be a long way away. The good thing about riding is that you can keep doing it for a long time. Most of the Olympians on the US team are in their 40s.
LICN: Really? That is interesting.
KP: I have time. It is a dream, I donít know if it is realistic at all, but Ö
LICN: Hey if you donít dream it, it canít be. So that is the first step. Do you have any special preparations before an event?
KP: Other than making sure my horses are fit?
LICN: Yes, you personally, do you do stretching, do you exercise?
KP: I try to ride without stirrups, which really strengthens your legs. It is good for your balance. That is something I try to do when I flat my horses. My sister and I have a personal trainer who helps with strengthening our muscles. The horses are 1,200 Ė 1,500 pounds so you have to be pretty strong. So what I try to do the night before a competition is, I try to get a good nightís sleep. Sometimes it is hard if I have schoolwork. I try to eat breakfast and eat during the day and try to stay hydrated. I always polish my boots so they look good and also that kind of gets me in the zone.
LICN: That was my next question, any rituals, and superstitions?
KP: I polish my boots. I have this bracelet made of one of my horseís tails.
LICN: That is so cool. So did you braid it or craft it some way?
KP: One of my horses had to be put down, unfortunately, years ago. My trainer took a lock of his hair. Then he got someone who braided it. I wear it as a good luck charm. Sometimes my sister helps get me in the zone.
LICN: You sister rides as well? How old is she?
KP: She is 15. We talk about the course; we plan it together. That helps me a lot. She knows so much. She is so detail oriented.
LICN: Do you ever have to compete against each other?
KP: Yes, in the equitation. We compete against each other like every weekend (laughs).
LICN: Talk about sibling rivalry!
KP: Right! Actually, one class in Florida we were first and second.
LICN: Serena and Venus?
KP: We are both happy for each other, even when she beats me (big smile).
LICN: Do you have any other hobbies or interests?
KP: I am also involved with a horse rescue. It is called Helping Hearts Horse Rescue, based in New Jersey. They save horses from abuse neglect and slaughter. There is a kill weekly and if the horses are not bought out of there they get sent to Mexico and Canada. They try to take horses, give them proper vet work, time to heal, try to place them with caring owners when and if they are ready to leave. I helped them to raise money for a quarantine center. When the horses come in from the kill pen they have been with a bunch of other horses and you donít want to introduce them to the other horses at their park so they have to go into quarantine to make sure they do not have any disease. I helped raise funds by selling helping hearts caps. I also raised awareness in both the show jumping and in my school community. It is such a great cause and I wanted everyone to know about it. So right now they are building the quarantine center.
LICN: Is there a website?
KP: Itís www.hher.webs.com. There is updated information about their horses, the horses that need to be saved in the kill pen every week, also upcoming fund raising events that we have. In terms of what I am going to be doing, at school I am having a bake sale to raise money and awareness about the cause. I think they are wonderful. I keep selling caps cause I have some left over (laughs) and I help anyway I can, as it is such a great cause.
LICN: Anything you would like to discuss that we didnít mention, about the horses, about anything really. Career aspirations? Goals personally or regarding your sport? General thoughts of a young woman such as yourself?
KP: The thing that is the most relevant in my life right now is juggling school and riding to be competitive on a national level of this sport. Also, thinking about college and standardized testing and academics. I think a lot of kids are going through that. I also have a close relationship with my sister and my parents; they go to all the shows with me. And my grandparents; they go to the shows sometimes. My other grandparents live in Japan and were able to see my sister and I compete in Lake Placid. I also speak a little Japanese. I have a close relationship with my family, which I donít know if everyone does, but it is very important to me.
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