O’Neal Grad Is Force on Eventing Circuit
Eventing enthusiasts who have seen Lizzie Snow ride cross-country would say she has a good eye for reading a course.
And they’d be right.
A recent graduate of The O’Neal School, Snow, 18, is one of the nation’s top young event riders, and the recipient of the United States Eventing Association’s 2009 Junior Preliminary Rider of the Year award.
Since moving to Southern Pines from Oregon three years ago, Snow has proven to be a force on the East Coast eventing circuit. Last year, Snow and her 13-year-old thoroughbred gelding, Pop Star, won four preliminary events and capped their season with a victory in the CCI* division at Poplar Place.
Snow also scored her first intermediate win — in her first attempt at that level — at the Five Points Horse Trials last September. Ably assisted in victory by Olympic rider John Williams’ veteran event horse Sloopy, Snow added only four penalties (a dropped rail in stadium) to her dressage score.
This week, Snow and Pop Star will travel to Lexington, Ky., for the North American Young Riders Championship. Snow will ride for the Area VII team, as she did last year.
Snow made the decision to defer college for a year to establish residency and focus on her riding. “This (Southern Pines) is so much better for the horses,” said Snow, who works part-time for equine veterinarian Mitch Byrd. “It’s much easier to live and train here, because of all the events close by.”
It was Williams who persuaded Snow’s mother, Diane, to send the talented young rider 3,000 miles away to pursue her eventing aspirations. Williams met Snow six years ago while teaching a clinic in Bend, Oregon, and was instantly struck by her cool, calm demeanor on the cross-country course.
“She was only 12 or 13, and I assumed she was 16, maybe even 18,” Williams said. “Even at 18 she would have stood out. She has a lot of natural talent. She sees the jumps very well and is almost always in the right place in the saddle.”
For Diane, just watching her youngest daughter (Lizzie’s sister Hannah is 22) navigate a cross-country course is a small miracle. Snow was born with a cataract in her left eye, and, despite two surgeries, has virtually no sight in it.
“If I put my hand over my right eye, I can barely see shapes,” Snow said. “It’s OK; I don’t know what I’m missing.”
Diane, a co-owner of the Portland-based Gallops Saddlery, never coddled Snow because of her sight limitations.
“She was on a horse with me by the time she was two,” said Diane, who has competed up through preliminary. “I vowed to always make sure she did everything the other kids were doing.”
Snow learned to ride on her mother’s old eventer, a 17.2 hand quarter horse named Brooks. After Brooks came Peter Pan, a pony Snow credits with making her a fearless rider.
“I did my first events with him,” said Snow, whose early instructors included Julie Hook, Anna Collier and John Camlin. “He was a little bit of a stopper but he showed me how to ride.”
Joe Cool, a thoroughbred gelding, took Snow to her first one-star. Now 25, Joey lives in Southern Pines at the private farm where Snow boards her horses. Pop Star was originally Diane’s horse, but a knee injury forced her to relinquish him.
“He is one of the best jumpers,” Diane said. “And he absolutely loves his job.”
Pop has only one functioning kidney, which obliges Snow to keep him on a special diet consisting of organic grain and very little protein — alfalfa is forbidden. She monitors him carefully during the longer events, and especially when the temperature soars.
Before he began training Snow, Williams said he would never have considered letting Sloopy compete with another rider. When Snow was getting ready for the move up to intermediate, Williams decided to put her in Sloopy’s capable hooves.
“Right away, I thought they’d be a good match,” Williams said. “If I have to fault her at all, it’s that maybe sometimes she won’t be aggressive enough, whether it’s to the jump or to press a point in the flat work. Both Pop and Sloopy are the kind of horses you want to keep sharp for jumping, and Sloopy’s got enough different controls where I think it’s given her a feeling where now she could ask another horse to go. It’s made her a little more ambitious with Pop.”
Snow wound up winning eight events with Sloopy, who was recently retired at 18. In addition to her own horses — Snow recently acquired two thoroughbreds, Franklin Square and Enzo — she occasionally rides advanced eventer Sweepea Dean for Williams when he’s out of town.
“An awful lot of what she’s got is natural talent,” Williams said. “But someone in her past did instill some good habits.”
Williams laughed. “It’s not fair,” he said. “She should have to work at it a little harder.”
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