With a picture perfect smile, 14-year-old Marian Sykes earned a big win and turned heads in the HITS Balmoral Back on Track Children’s Medal with a brand new mount, and got everyone talking. JN caught up with Marian, who shared with us her story of persistence, finding balance in a competitive sport, and reflected on her winning rounds.

Photo by Andrew Ryback photography

Marian’s mother laughs recalling that her daughter’s first word might have actually been ‘horse.’ When she finally got the chance to ride at the age of four, Marian began with a Shetland Pony named Tyco and knew immediately that there was no place she would rather be than on top of a horse. She moved up to an Arabian mare by the name of Peatree when she was five, and by all appearances looked to be heading upward and onward in the horse world.

Fortune would challenge her dedication to the sport that same year, however, when Marian’s doctors determined that she would greatly benefit from a process known as serial casting — a procedure which utilizes fiberglass casts to stretch the body and its muscles in hopes of increasing a person’s range of motion — on both legs. The whole process meant several months of limitations and physical therapy, and initially some time away from horses.

“I always knew that someday I would be back riding but it was not fun having casts on both legs,” shared Marian. Luckily, her physical therapist felt that riding would be a great exercise to allow Marian to build her core and develop flexibility in her ankles. “I was so happy to finally throw those casts away, and that’s when we found Judgment Farm in Oswego and have been riding there ever since.”

Trainers Tina Judge-Boyle and Lori Hollands of Judgement Farm became a haven not only for Marian’s rehabilitation, but also her competitive career in hunters and equitation, and her riding truly began to soar.

At the age of 11, Marian began competing on her charming gray pony Blue James Blue. During their career together, the duo finished first in Children’s Pony, second in Ages 12-14, and third in Large Pony in their region. Thanks to a magnificent partnership and years of hard work, they had the chance to attend Pony Finals in 2016.

Marian has since outgrown Blue, but he still lives at Judgement farms with a new rider, so her beloved first showing partner didn’t go far. Marian has gone on to expand her string and test her horsemanship abilities with a diverse bunch: Talledaga – a seven-year-old warmblood, Claudius – a nine-year-old Holsteiner, Letano – a Belgian Warmblood yearling that will be a dreamboat in the future – and her newest mount, Amour De La Vallee.

The two had only been matched for a few weeks heading into HITS Balmoral, and Marion was eager to test the seven-year-old’s strengths and weaknesses in a show setting and determine what their homework should be in the off-season.

“He is seven years old, but we call him an old-soul-seven,” said Marian of the recently imported Selle Francais gelding, who has been in the states for a little over seven months now. Marian and Amour packed up and made their way to the newest HITS newest location and decided to enter the Age 12-14 Equitation, IHJA Children’s Medal Qualifier, and the Back on Track Children’s Medal Finals.

Marian and Amour jumping their way around the course at HITS Balmoral. Photo by Andrew Ryback Photography

“The whole course was actually kind of like a big figure 8,” Marian said of the Back on Track Children’s Medal Finals. “There were some hard turns, but I knew that Amour wouldn’t have a problem with them.” Despite their new partnership, the pair navigated their first round beautifully and seemed to find their rhythm together.

“For the second round, my trainer didn’t tell me my score for the first because I’m a very competitive person.” Little did Marian know, but after the first round she and Amour were holding strong in second place.

Going into the test she was a little concerned about the trot jump and halt as the pair hadn’t had the opportunity to practice those technical questions at home, but Amour held up his end of the deal and executed his second round just as nicely as the first.

When the announcement was made that Marian and Amour had secured the win, she couldn’t hold back her excitement. “It was a great weekend and to win the Back on Track was amazing. The rides we had felt so great, so it was nice to see that judges thought so, too. I couldn’t stop smiling!” That smile decorated every photo from that weekend.

Enjoying their first victory gallop as a team. Photo by Andrew Ryback Photography

Marian has one more show at the World Equestrian Center on her schedule for the year and she plans to take each class one round at a time. “I just get so excited and tend to put a lot of pressure on myself. Unfortunately I learned that lesson not too long ago and to just do my best and not think about the ribbons. Because in the end, it’s just for fun!”

With a positive attitude and a ton of grit, Marian hopes to qualify for the NCEA Hunt Seat Medal Final on Amour in 2018 and then maybe pursue Devon and the Maclay the year after. For now, however, she is happy just being on top of a horse.