Partnership, communication, and confidence are just a few of the life skills young rider, Henley McCutchen, has gleaned from her equestrian career. At just thirteen years old, Henley has been riding for the majority of her young life: nine years. She was first introduced to horses as a toddler; a few years later she began taking a lesson here and there.
That led to leasing a pony and finally owning a pony…or three.
Although she is predominantly an Eventer, Henley does compete in Jumper Classes a couple of times a year. Her favorite of the three phases in Eventing is Cross Country. “Even though it’s a lot of thinking, it kind of clears your mind, and you become one with your horse in the field,” she states. Henley was first introduced to Eventing by participating in a camp, invited by her friend. She and her pony, Roman (bought off of a kill truck and trained by Henley herself), were hooked. Described by her mom, Jordan, as an “adrenaline junky,” it is not surprising the thrill and speed of Cross Country enticed Henley.
According to Henley, her biggest accomplishment thus far has been moving up to Beginner Novice. She has also won many hard-earned ribbons throughout her career, including the West Tennessee Hunter Jumper Year End Champion Grand Champion Division Award with her pony, Roman. By October 2022, she already achieved two out of three qualifications for the American Eventing Championships (AEC’s) with her new horse, Sunny. Henley is a C1 member of the United States Pony Club and is qualified for the 2023 US Pony Club Championships. She previously won first place in Equitation at the 2021 US Pony Club Championships out of over fifty riders from all over the US and Canada.
Henley’s short-term goal is to achieve the final qualification for AEC’s at Beginner Novice this year. By the end of the year she hopes to go Novice. Henley is likely well on her way to achieving this goal; next month she heads to Ocala, FL to train with a 4* rider who has invited her to her Dallas facility as well. Competing at the top levels as a 5* Eventer and retraining Off the Track Thoroughbreds (OTTB) are her long-term goals.
Challenges over the last year include overcoming a concussion and some health complications Sunny experienced as well, such as ulcers, hoof problems, and weight issues. Progressing with Sunny and building confidence and trust as partners have also been challenges, but in a good way. Going from a 13.3hh pony to a 16.1hh OTTB over the last year is no easy feat. However, Henley credits her relationship with Sunny with helping her gain important life skills. Learning to “communicate without really talking” to Sunny carries through to socialization with people as well, she says. Her time management, goal setting, and social skills are also enhanced by teamwork with her equine partner. Henley states, “Riding helps me set my goals and not wanting to let Sunny down pushes me to achieve them.”
Sunny is a ten year old OTTB. Purchased over a year ago from Second Chance Thoroughbreds in Jackson, Tenn., he is “calm, extremely athletic, and likes to keep you on your toes,” Henley’s mom, Jordan, states. Sunny raced for six years with over $100,000 in winnings. His thick build and chill personality make him an ideal mount in the Eventing world. Encouraged by Henley, he has had to overcome his own challenges over the past year. Realizing the water complexes are not as terrifying as he thought they were has been a big accomplishment for Sunny.
When asked who has helped her get this far so quickly, Henley credits her parents, Paul Glenn and Jordan McCutchen. She states from the very beginning, “they have always been there supporting me- even through rough shows.” At only thirteen years old, Henley’s maturity is apparent as she recognizes and appreciates her parents’ involvement in helping her achieve her goals. Her first Hunter trainer who taught her everything about horses, Jamie Kroh-Jones, and her Eventing trainer, Meredith Wilkes-Tipton, are also regarded as influential in getting Henley where she is today.
Of course, there is more to Henley than being a stellar, young equestrian. Jordan describes her daughter as “smart, kind, determined, and excellent at time management.” It takes a lot of work to balance school, extracurricular activities, and the equestrian world, but somehow Henley does it all. She is a straight A student involved in both student council and athletics. In her spare time, Henley enjoys working out to clear her head and spending time with Sunny- not riding or preparing for a competition but continuing to get to know him through grooming and bonding.
Henley’s advice to other young riders is to just keep fighting. She says, “If you fall off, you get back on. Keep trying. Never give up because you’ll want to get back on in the future. Never get mad at your horse.” These are words Henley lives by, as she has experienced first-hand the determination it takes to learn on what she calls “stubborn, little ponies.” However, if it wasn’t for these naughty ponies she doesn’t think she would have the grit she does today. It takes dedication to continue to ride ponies who may want to run you into a fence or tree, Henley states. Although all her experiences combined have made her such a tough rider today, perhaps one of the biggest reasons she’s such an exceptional, young rider is because Henley realizes, “The reward is the love of the horse. It’s not always about the competition.”