Twenty-three-year-old Californian Chandler Meadows traded the Newport seaside for the flower-filled meadows of Amsterdam, the pastoral manors of Germany and the cypress villas of Italy on her showjumping tour this summer.
WH: What was your childhood like and how were you introduced to riding?
CM: I started riding when I was about 10 years old, after my family moved into an equestrian neighborhood. My first few years of riding were all about horsemanship, riding bareback and really understanding how to take care of a horse. I spent every day during the summer at the barn and any chance I could get, I was around horses. I started competing in the hunters a few years after that.
WH: How did you come to have a passion for the sport? Through your parents or trainers?
CM: My late aunt Karen Price and uncle Tony Price rode at the Flintridge Riding Club in Pasadena for about 20 years with trainer Liz Denny. Other than that, my family wasn’t involved in the sport at all. After my sister Alexis and I started to get serious with our riding, my entire family became more involved and now we all enjoy it.
WH: Did you do the equitation? What are your thoughts on equitation as a foundation for show jumping?
CM: When I first started riding, I was doing the hunters and some equitation. Compared to other riders my age, I always felt like I was playing catch up in the equitation, especially my last few junior years. However, I kept working at it and eventually made it to Maclay finals my last junior year. After that, it’s been all about the jumpers. Equitation taught important basics about riding and it has made me a better jumper rider for sure. You have to learn how to use your leg, seat and hands properly and how to maintain a balanced position, especially when the jumps start to get bigger.
WH: Was California an advantage or disadvantage for your junior show career?
CM: I was doing the equitation during my junior show career, which made California a great place to show. There were local shows every weekend, which offered opportunities to accumulate points for indoors. I was also in high school at the time, so showing close to home was a major benefit.
WH: You are spending the summer competing in Europe. Please tell us how this came about, the high points and what you’ve learned from this experience.
CM: I have always wanted to show in Europe from the first time I traveled there. We had planned this trip for almost a year and the timing was right. I just graduated Chapman University and I have amazing, experienced horses that I feel comfortable on. One of my trainers, Joie Gatlin, has competed in Europe several times and represented the USA on many occasions, so she really encouraged me and my barnmate, Laura Hite, to show in Europe as well.
The experience I have gained in just a few short weeks is tremendous. Getting outside of my comfort zone by not showing at familiar venues has already made me a better rider. In Europe, showjumping is a true sport and the crowds are proof of that. Not only are the venues amazing, the footing is great and the shows are very efficient with the way they run. You only show Thursday – Sunday, which makes each day more special, and the weeks less tiring for both the horses and humans.
Throughout my experience so far, I have learned how to ride faster and to think on my own more. It has also been fun to compete against different people, especially when you’re the only one from the USA in your class, there is a bit of extra excitement about ribboning. So far it has been great, and I hope this won’t be my last trip showing here.
WH: You must have a very supportive family – please tell us about them. Do they travel with you?
CM: I am so lucky to have an incredibly supportive family. My sister also rides and competes in the Amateur Owner hunter divisions, so it is fun to share our passion and love of horses. My parents are the best- they try to come to every horse show and they love to take my horses for hand-walks and grazes. As far as riding them, they both prefer to stay on the ground. My parents also enjoy investing in young horses, which is exciting to watch as they develop with my trainer, Joie Gatlin.
WH: What did you do between high school and college? If you took a break did it help?
CM: I went straight into college after high school. Luckily for me, I was able to continue riding and go to school, because both my barn and college were close by. It wasn’t easy juggling my time between my studies and horse shows, but it certainly taught me a lot about time management. This summer is the first time I won’t be going back to school in the fall, which is weird feeling. However, I’m looking into getting my master’s degree starting next year.
WH: Do you think what you study impacts your view of the sport or the training plan and path you chose for you and your horses?
CM: In college, I studied health science, which was a very broad major and offered me the opportunity to explore various subjects. I found that I have a passion for sports nutrition, which is what I am aiming to get my master’s degree in. It definitely plays a major role in my riding because nutrition is an important part of being an athlete. I love sharing my knowledge of nutrition with others, and I hope to be able to tie it into the showjumping world soon. Traveling to Europe has also opened my eyes to the different diets and lifestyles of countries, which is fun to learn about and experience myself.
WH: How do you manage the peripatetic lifestyle of an equestrian and the stress of traveling to horse shows?
CM: You have to learn how to live out of suitcase at times. One thing I have learned is that no matter where I am or where I am traveling, I always try to keep my same routine. Taking vitamins, getting exercise, drinking enough water is all doable if you make time for it. I feel the most stressed when I am not in my routine, so starting my day the same way is important for me. When it comes to schoolwork, that was also a challenge because it was hard to fit in the time to sit down and study, when all you want to be doing is riding or watching others ride. But, I also felt much more relaxed when the weekend came around if I knew that most of my work was already completed.
WH: What are your thoughts on the current state of show jumping in the USA and the rest of the world?
CM: Showing in Europe has really opened my eyes to how different it is in the USA vs. abroad. There are FEI shows every weekend in Europe, within only a few hours drive. At home, and especially on the West Coast, it is hard to gain experience jumping bigger tracks. I am hopeful that the West Coast can catch up with the rest of the world and offer more opportunities for both younger riders like myself and world ranking points so that we don’t always have to travel far from home.
WH: What is your favorite piece of equestrian equipment for horse? For rider?
CM: Oh that is a tough one! For horses, I love our Equifit boots, especially designing custom ones. For the rider, I am pretty basic, but I love wearing my Kastel shirts because they protect me from the sun but are also very breathable.
WH: What advice do you have for ambitious young riders?
CM: You might have more bad days than good, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t progressing. I have to constantly remind myself that I can’t expect top ribbons in every class, especially when the majority of the riders have much more experience than I do. This sport can be so challenging at times, and it will test every ounce of patience you have, so do enjoy the little victories, even if it is something very small. Be consistent in your routine, show up every day with a good attitude and eventually it will pay off.
WH: What is your day like? Please describe for the readers your training program.
CM: I am definitely a morning person, so my most productive hours are before noon. At home, I like to workout at least 5 times a week. It keeps me both physically and mentally fit and I love the endorphins after a workout. I think cross-training is important to work on core strength, flexibility and endurance. Riding at home is also very different than at shows. My trainers emphasize flat work and pole work, which keeps the horses in excellent condition. Before a show, we usually include a day of gymnastics and some light jumping.
At shows, and especially this summer, we are at the show all day, so it has been a bit different. We like to hack the horses in the morning (granted it’s not too hot) before we show and get them out of their stall at least twice a day. Traveling is tiring for horses, so keeping their routine the same is an important part of their program.
WH: You have outstanding horses, please tell us a little about each one and what qualities you favor in a show jumper? What were the high points of the past year?
CM: My two horses are both amazing. Damian is a 10-year-old KWPN gelding that I’ve had for about 1.5 years. He has the best personality and is the friendliest and happiest horse I have ever met. He begs for attention from anyone that walks by his stall and loves a big crowd in the show ring. He is a very careful and fast horse and he has taught me how to win. When he’s not in the show ring, he wants to be. We won our first grand prix together this past winter and he is my U25 and speed horse.
My newer horse, Soleil de Cornu CH (“Sosso’) is a 12-year-old Swiss Warmblood gelding. He is an amazing, experienced jumper that has done it all. I got him a few months ago and it has taken some time to figure each other out, but every round gets better. He is very scopey and can jump the moon, so I am learning to jump the bigger tracks on him. Sosso loves his sugar cubes, but other than that, he doesn’t enjoy the attention as much as Damian does.
The qualities I look for in a jumper are carefulness, scope and quick feet. I want a horse to be able to react quickly when I call upon them and doing so requires athleticism. Both of my horses also have a good mind and are very safe, which I am grateful for.
WH: How did you transition to the jumper division and what do you love about it?
CM: I have only been doing the jumpers for about 5 years, but I knew I always wanted to try it. I grew up playing many different sports, so I am no stranger to some good competition. It took me a few years to learn how to ride fast, but it’s been a great journey. I love the jumpers because it is very objective and unpredictable.
WH: How do your trainers prepare you and your horses? How does their coaching differ from the program you were in before? What do they have you practice?
CM: I am lucky to have my amazing trainers, Joie Gatlin and Morley Abe, who have taught me a tremendous amount in a short period of time. They both dedicate a lot of time and effort towards making me a better rider and I definitely wouldn’t be where I am without the help of them both. I love to watch one of my trainers, Joie Gatlin, when she rides because she always gets the most out of every horse. No matter if she is sitting on her own horse, a 5-year-old or a client’s horse, her position is flawless yet effective and I try to mimic that as much as possible.
At home, we work on a lot of flat work, poles, cavalettis and some jumping before a show if needed. I’ve learned I can get to know my horses the best when I work with them on the flat and over poles, because I have to work on the little things that may slip my mind when I’m showing.
WH: You must have a routine to prepare yourself mentally before you go in the ring – what is it?
CM: My mental routine is very important to prepare myself for the ring, so I try to practice it every day. I like to walk the course at least once or twice with my trainers and use visualization practices to help remember the course and to ride effectively.
WH: What are your plans for the future?
CM: Right now, my focus is on riding, so in regards to that, I hope to continue to compete in the grand prix and U25 classes (until I age out) and become more competitive in time. I like to set goals for myself but I also need to be realistic and continue to learn as much as I can.
WH: What do you look for in a jumper prospect ?
CM: Being in Europe has made me much more aware of how important it is to look for young talent wherever you are. I love watching the young horse classes and looking for potential talents. I am always impressed by the horses that have good balance at a young age and good technique. It is hard to come across the next Big Star type of horse, but it is also fun to keep an eye out wherever I am.
WH: Please describe your favorite place to visit and ride on the West Coast or another part of the world?
CM: On the West Coast, I really enjoy showing at Thunderbird Showpark. The facility is beautiful, the staff and hospitality are amazing and the competition is fierce. We love to travel up there every year and support those shows. My second favorite place may be Europe now!
WH: Who is your favorite amateur jumper rider and your favorite international rider and why?
CM: My favorite international rider is McLain Ward. He has such a strong position and he rides every horse the same, which is hard to do.
WH: Who is your favorite international horse and why?
CM: I love Adrienne Sternlicht’s horse Cristalline. The mare has so much scope and I love the way she soars over the jumps.
WH: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions Chandler.
About the author: with a background in filmmaking , fashion and contemporary art, Winter Hoffman brings a unique perspective to the equestrian world. A life long horsewoman she helped her daughter, Zazou Hoffman (now a professional with Meadow Grove Farm) navigate her way to a successful Junior career culminating in 1st place in the 2009 ASPCA Maclay Equitation Championship at the National Horse Show and second in the USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final with East Coast trainers Missy Clark and John Brennan.