Winning the title of Champion at the CP National Horse Show is a grand feat for any rider, but that win means much more for 13-year-old Mackenzie Altheimer.
After sweeping the class with two blues and a red in the over fences rounds, Mackenzie and her own 7 year old Dutch Warmblood Emperador ( “Benji” at home) earned the title of Champion in the 3’3” Junior Hunter Division on Friday, November 4th. What about this particular win is so special to the team? It is a tribute to their hard work and dedication to this sport that they love.
Watch Mackezie’s winning stakes round here:
Mackenzie acquired Benji when he was five years old and still fairly green. She has had the opportunity to bring him along under the guidance of her coaches Sarah Mechlin-Duhon and Tiffany Stageman of Mechlin Farm.
Benji was Mackenzie’s first horse after closing out her career in the ponies. “Benji is a naturally really quiet horse, but he has such a fun personality,” says Altheimer. “He’s game for almost anything, just last week when we were practicing at home I jumped him around a full course without a bridle on!” Not quite what you would expect from a green horse.
Regarding her big win with the horse she has watched grow and progress along with her, Altheimer tells JN, “Having a young, green horse means there will be ups and downs, but it would be too easy to just buy a made horse and win everything. Winning on Benji makes me feel like I have accomplished more than just ribbons and trophies, but I’ve also become a better horseman in the process and really established a connection with Benji.”
Having ridden for five years, Mackenzie has found her heart within the hunters and the smooth, quality rounds that she has on Benji. She is still sorting out what her next goals are, but aims to try and qualify for Devon and WIHS in the 3’6” Junior Hunters and to gain strength in the 3’6” Equitation on her other mount, Gran Rey. After having also qualified for and shown at the Pessoa Medal Finals this year, Mackenzie has definitely shown her talent in the arena but wants to see herself become more consistent in her rides overall.
When asked what she would tell her fellow Juniors, Mackenzie offered this sage piece of advice, “Just go out there and have fun! We do this not only because we want to win, but because we love it, too. No matter what the class is, just ride the horse you have that day and make the best of it.”
Mackenzie’s head coach, Sarah Mechlin-Duhon watched from home as she celebrated the birth of her new son, Benjamin. Sarah was torn to not be there, but says she knew she was sending Mackenzie well prepared and with excellent coaching from Tiffany Stageman and help from the team at Hillside Farm. “My heart was pounding each round!” Claimed Sarah.
Having worked with Mackenzie since the summer of 2013, she acknowledges Mackenzie’s hard work in preparing Benji for the show ring and learning how to work with those expected green moments. “My favorite part has been watching Mackenzie become a horseman instead of just a rider,” says Mechlin-Duhon, “She thinks about what is best for him now. She cares about him and his well-being over ribbons.”
A Strong Flatwork Program Raises the Game at Michlen
In Sarah’s absence this week, Tiffany Stageman took over the reins as coach and helped guide Mackenzie to the win. An active dressage rider, Tiffany has learned to incorporate her skill set on the flat into the Hunter Jumper program at Mechlin Farm and has seen promising results.
“What I do like about working with students over fences is being able to guide them every step of the way to the jump with the proper flatwork to get the horse straight, balanced, connected, and on his hocks to get the best quality jump possible.”
Both Sarah and Tiffany stress the importance of proper flat work in their program at Mechlin Farm, so much so that Tiffany even teaches a lot of their clients on her Prix St. George’s dressage horse so they can see how they can apply that correctness of riding to the Hunters. “To me, this win can show that Hunter riders and Dressage riders can collaborate with great results and I am excited for all of our team,” says Stageman.
Again, the importance of horsemanship reiterates itself in every member of the Mechlin team. When asked for her advice for Junior or Adult Amateurs who dream of becoming a professional, Tiffany advised they never stop trying! “Being a professional not only means you’re a quality rider, but you also need to be a quality horseman. That in itself is an extremely important aspect that I think some people tend to forget.”
Those strong skills and all of the hours dedicated to Mackenzie and Benji most definitely paid off in the ring Friday. Mackenzie was all smiles clutching the tri-color as she posed with the handsome Emperador, content with the knowledge that she had the work ethic, the perfect horse and the team of supporters to make her dreams come true.