By Marty Gordon
Austin Skeens of Riner started riding a horse when he was just five years old. The hobby quickly turned into competitive events at the age of 10, and now, he’s ready to take the competition to the next level.
Skeens has received notice he will a part of the 2019 U.S. Equestrian Eventing Sport Committee’s “Emerging Athlete” program.
“I am very excited about this list. We’re looking for talented riders; we want riders that ride well and compete well and those we feel have what it takes to make the next step, whether on a current horse or one in the future. The real key is the rider’s talent in all three phases. Hopefully, they have a good horse, but if they have a marginal horse, part of their education in this program is to teach them about the kind of horse they are looking for and learning what the standard is,” said Mike Huber, Chairman of the USEF Eventing Sport Committee and Emerging Athlete Working Group. “This is the pipeline to progress them past their current level and ultimately become a potential candidate to represent the U.S. on any given team.”
Twelve athletes were named to the program. Talent advisors evaluated current form, competition results and the potential to make a valuable contribution in team competition.
Being invited to the Eventing 18 Training Sessions, according to Skeens, makes him feel like he is doing everything the correct way.
“For the USEF to choose myself and only 11 other kids from across the country to ride at the sessions is just incredible. I am really honored to have been chosen among a group of such talented young riders. It feels great to be on the radar,” he said.
Skeens started horse events because of his love of competition. “I once watched the most prestigious competition in the U.S. and remember falling in love with the atmosphere around it; that excitement and love of the horse is why I started to compete,” he said.
Since then, he has been name Bit of Britain’s Next Top Rider 2018, the U.S. Eventing Association (USEA) Area II 2018 Preliminary Year End Champion, the USEA Training Level Year End Champion 2017 and reached five Training Level wins.
Horse competition is in his blood so to speak as his mother was a national champion at Hollins University. Skeens rides almost every day and spends as much as six hours a week riding.
The competition typically consists of three phases—dressage, cross country and show jumping.
Day one is the dressage competition. Horses and riders are asked to complete a set pattern of movements in a small arena. The combinations are judged on movement and expression of the horse, accuracy of the pattern, and overall harmony of horse and rider.
A good dressage rider will look effortless and still on the horse, but is constantly giving cues. The combination is given a penalty score for their pattern.
The next day is cross country. A sharp contrast from the dressage, cross country is the test of strength, stamina, and athleticism from both horse and rider. Combinations are asked to run a course full of solid obstacles, like logs or tables, combinations of some, like a log to a corner or narrow fence (accuracy combinations) and sometimes through water and over ditches and banks.
Failing to jump the obstacles result in 20 points added to your dressage score, as well as points added for going over the time limit.
The last phase is show jumping. Pairs are asked to jump a course in an arena of jumps that will fall if hit. Knocking a rail down results in four points added to your score. Lowest score wins.
Skeens will compete in seven or eight events this coming year.
His horse, Rocmaster (aka Rocky) is a 14-year-old Canadian Sport Horse.
“Basically, he is a cross between an English Thoroughbred and an Irish Draft Horse. Combining the TB speed and the Draft Horse power is a good combination for event horses,” Skeens said.
For the long term, Skeens would like to open his own business, training and competing horses professionally.
“I want to represent the United States in international competitions and compete at the highest level of the sport,” he said.
Those plans including riding competitively in college upon his graduation from Auburn High School.
The U.S. Equestrian winter training session will be January 7-10 in Ocala, Florida.