JN Exclusive: Going for the Gold with Mattie Hatcher, Junior Team Gold Medalist at NAJYRC


Mattie and her horse Cumana. Photo by Captured Moments Photography

Sixteen-year-old Mattie Hatcher wasn’t sure what to expect of her first time competing at NAJYRC with a team of talented junior riders she didn’t know outside of social media. Yet the team from Zone 7 – comprised of Anna Beth Athey, Carson Grisham, Mattie Hatcher and Briley Koerner – managed cause a ripple in the competition when they earned the Junior Jumper Team Gold Medal. A huge accolade despite the fact that none of them had competed at NAJYRC before. JN caught up with Zone 7 team member, Mattie Hatcher to share her experience preparing for that incredible moment atop the North American Championships podium.

JN: Mattie, when and how did you first start riding?

M: I got my first pony to start when I was 2 years old… really just a mini pony for me to play with, like brush and braid its mane and tail. That led to me to riding him and then I started competing in western rodeos and horse shows. I did barrel racing and poles mainly. Then I started doing Western and English at the same because my mom shows English, as well. In 2012 I switched over to only jumping and got my first pony jumper. I went to pony finals that year and I loved it more than anything! I never showed in the hunters or equitation at the beginning. I did my first equitation class this summer.

JN: Where and who do you ride/train with now?

M: I live on my farm at home and I have a few local trainers that will help me school or flat at home along with my mom and I helping each other. Our trainer, Michael Tokaruk with Tokaruk Show Stables, lives in Memphis and he travels to train the both of us at home 1 to 2 times a month. Otherwise we just meet him at shows, which works out perfect for us.

JN: When did you decide that you wanted to compete at NAJYRC?

M: In 2016 I was working to get qualified for NAJYRC with my other horse Hands Free. I got him in the summer of 2015, so that was something I wanted to work towards with him the coming year. We qualified, but about two weeks before we were going to leave for NAJYRC, he was injured. It was heartbreaking for me, but I wanted to make sure his injury did not worsen, so we did not go that year. I realized I needed another horse to jump with since he would be out for a while. In August of 2016 I got Cumana with the hopes of qualifying for the 2017 championships. We made it happen and it was one of the best experiences I’ve had! My other horse, Hands Free, is recovered now and showing in the 1.40s again and continuing to move back up.

JN: We all know that Young Riders is quite a challenge, what did you do to prepare for competing with your zone there?

M: I honestly did not know what to expect! Everyone kept saying “oh it’s really tough on your horse, make sure they are really fit” and “you have to do the juniors the first year, it’s harder than you think it would be.” I really tried to work on Cumana’s conditioning at home to make sure he was in the best jumping shape so I asked one of my good riding friends what she did to condition her horses for cross country. Obviously, I did nothing like galloping like the cross country horses do, but I tried to increase his work gradually. I also jumped longer courses at home over smaller jumps to help prepare.

JN: Did you know your other Zone teammates prior to competing together?

M: I knew of all of my teammates, following them on Instagram and things like that, but I had not ever talked to any of them. I could not have been happier with the girls on my team! They were the most humble and kind and most of all fun-to-be around girls. It was a blast with them. We all got along so well and worked together great!

JN: Tell us a bit about your horse that you rode, Cumana.

M: Cumana is a character! He’s so funny and sweet and crazy at the same time. He was an orphan and became very spoiled. Reminding him of boundaries is a constant battle. He likes to bite and play, he’s not meaning it in a mean way at all, but it’s all a game to him. His personality is like the cool-kid in school who is a little too cocky and is extremely funny! I always laugh at him at some point every day.

He tries his heart out for me and the amount of scope he has is unreal. It’s the most comforting feeling when I’m cantering up to a big jump and knowing that he doesn’t even have to try that hard. He’s also extremely brave! It’s so nice to have a horse like that, so that you can be more confident going in the ring.

Mattie and Cumana. PC: Captured Moments Photography

JN: What were your plans for your rounds? Did you see any lines where you wanted to add or leave out? Were there any fences you knew you would have to prepare for?

M: For my rounds, I had a plan based on how I wanted to jump into a line; when I needed to lengthen or shorten in the line, which turns would be harder or easier and when I would have more or less trouble getting his balance where it needed to be to jump clear.

Cumana has a huge step, so any line that walked normal would be a bit tight for me. I always have a back up plan if I do not find the distance or have the correct momentum or balance as what would be my first choice. Also, I would always leave out a stride if I thought it would make more sense for what was following in the course or for the time. In one line we did 9 strides in the first team round and 8 stride in the second team round.

I always have to prepare more for right turns because he always bulges left during a right turn if I don’t have my outside leg on. So I always have to be careful of right hand turns going to big verticals.

JN: And of course, we all want to know exactly what you felt when you found out that your Zone took home the gold!

M: Honestly, I think our team was not expecting to win it or place higher up because it was all our first time competing there. I knew all the girls on the team were great riders and that they had great horses, so I knew we were capable. I just don’t try and get my hopes too high. I try and just ride the best I can and let everything else work itself out. It was so exciting, I just started hugging all of them! They all did amazing and led us to the victory. It was one of the best riding moments I’ve had. My favorite part was holding up the flowers on the podium, I was smiling so big! It was just so fun with Anna Beth, Briley, and Carson- I wouldn’t have wanted to do it with anyone else!

Mattie and her Junior Jumper Zone 7 Teammates on the winners Podium at NAJYRC. Photo by Kaitlyn Karssen Photography

JN: What are your future plans for your education and your riding career?

M: I go to high school in Little Rock, Arkansas at Pulaski Academy. I play soccer and basketball for school teams and traveling teams, so it’s hard to juggle it all! Because of my other sports, I am going to stay in public school rather than doing home school. I love riding way more than my other sports but, the other sports help me with riding. It can be a huge advantage but it sometimes holds me back from showing as much as I want to.

My plans are to keep riding and working towards more championships like NAJYRC and I want to go to Prix De States this year and keep doing lots of U25 classes! I want to start showing in bigger Grand Prix classes and get my other two horses jumping that level. I just want to go as far as I possibly can with this sport. It’s addicting and I would rather be at the barn all day working than doing anything else.

I hope to go to college in Florida somewhere, maybe Miami or university of Florida, so that I can take my horses with me and show at WEF or Ocala. I really want to keep competing at a higher level like this, international and really fun things like Young Riders!

Congratulations to Zone 7 on their great successes and best of luck to all of the riders who hope to compete next year!