Young Riders: Sponsored by Meadowthorpe Farm, offering lessons, horsemanship education, events and boarding. Benson's road to Tryon and Las Vegas
The blisteringly hot days of June did not keep Kayla Benson, a decorated show jumper from Collierville, TN, from conditioning and training Corville Z for the Markel/USHJA Zone Jumper Championships in Tryon, NC in late July, 2022. Even with the hot temperatures at home, Kayla and Corville Z have been working extremely hard to be in the best possible shape for the competition.
Corville Z, owned by Pam Hill, is a 13- year- old Zangersheide gelding from Canada. He has a heart of gold and a desire to compete. Kayla and Zee have been a team for 5 years and have developed a strong relationship, both in and out of the ring. They both work very hard all year long to compete at top form. “Zee doesn’t love the heat, “ Kayla, a 20 - year -old equestrian at Oak View Stables in Olive Branch, MS, said in a recent interview. “I’m doing lots of conditioning with him to prepare him so we are at our best in Tryon.”
This is Kayla’s second year being invited to the prestigious event, but last year, her invitation came as a surprise. She qualified both Corville Z and her other mount Reba – owned by Trey Lawson – in 2021 and 2022. “I honestly didn’t even know anything about this competition until I got the email and read up on it,” Kayla said. Although she can only take one horse to the show due to the format of the competition, it is a huge testament to Kayla’s hard work that she has qualified both of her rides two years in a row.
Not only did Kayla take Corville Zee to a gold-medal team win at the jumper team championships last year, but she also qualified him for an invitation to the Marshall & Sterling Insurance USHJA 1.10/1.15M Adult Jumper National Championships and the Las Vegas National Horse Show in November 2021. “I never dreamed I would get an email that was like ‘Kayla Benson you’ve been invited to compete across the country in Las Vegas as one of the top 30 riders in the country.’ That was crazy to me.”
Kayla is also hoping to qualify both Corville Z and Reba for the national championships in Las Vegas again in 2022.
TWO Completely different rides:
Corville Z has been at Oak View for about 8 years, after Pam Hill and Trey Lawson traveled to Canada to try him. Pam had brought her then 5- yearold granddaughter, Lois, and Zee reached over to pull the girl’s cap off, subsequently winning Pam’s heart. Trey remarked at the time that he hoped the horse could jump, because he was pretty sure Lois picked him based on that alone.
Trey Lawson successfully rode him to many wins in the years he competed with Zee across the southeast. Most notably, earning great ribbons at venues like the Rolex stadium in Kentucky, Gulf Coast Classics at the Harrison County Fair Grounds, and several Jumper Classics. Eventually, Pam and Trey felt it was time for Zee to branch out into the hunter ring in preparation to become Lois’ mount. That is when Pam looked to Kayla, who has been riding at Oak View most of her life. “From the time I met her, when she was little, I just saw this courage she had,” Pam remembered. “And I thought, you know what? She can get this out of him. When she started riding him, I could tell they had a connection and Trey worked with her and the horse absolutely loved her. And you can see it.” However, as Kayla and Trey trained with Zee, it became obvious his heart was in the jumper ring, and Kayla’s was right there with him. They just light up when they are in the jumper ring. Indeed, even strangers who see Kayla and Zee in the ring can see what a good team they make.
“I think that horse would walk through fire if I asked him to,” Kayla explained, adding that there’s never been a hint of hesitation. In fact, at the Germantown Charity Horse Show, she competed in sidesaddle events, even though she had not been training Zee for them.
“I have to brag on that a little bit,” Kayla said with her wide smile. “I had not sat on him sidesaddle since the Nashoba Carriage Classic in September, 2021. I just pulled him out on the first night and thought, ‘all right, bud, here we go.’ And he gave me his all.”
Kayla has the same connection with Reba, although the mare is a bit of a “wild child” compared to Zee. “They are two completely different rides,” she said. “I started riding Reba years ago after my personal horse was injured and had to be retired. It meant the world to me that Trey trusted me enough to share his horse with me.” When Reba and Kayla are in the ring, the bond between them is almost tangible. “I definitely put Reba in some sticky situations when I first started riding her, but she always got us out. She’s pushed me so far in my riding ability and I trust her with my life,” Kayla noted.
“I love watching Kayla ride and compete. Both Zee and Reba are such amazing horses,” Dottie Benson, Kayla’s mother and a regular volunteer at local shows, said. “Kayla and Zee are the epitome of elegance and grace and I’m drawn to them when they are in the ring. Reba and Kayla are fiery in the ring. I can’t take my eyes off of them. Reba and Kayla are beautiful to watch. Kayla has such a great connection with both horses. And it’s partly because of Trey and Rose Marie - they have been training Kayla since she was four. They are some of the best people and the best trainers that I’ve ever known, we are family. I know Kayla has achieved all that she has knowing she has wonderful group of people supporting her dreams.”
The Next Level:
Benson’s success with Zee and Reba is a testament to how hard she works. Riding since she was little, Kayla has always had a passion for horses and loves riding and competing. She has always worked hard to achieve her goals, always striving to learn more and be better. Not only does she put in the hours at Oak View and compete regularly throughout the region, she is also a rising junior at The University of Mississippi, where she is the president of the Ole Miss Equestrian Club. The group regularly trains together and travels to competitions at the IHSA level. Kayla loves that not only does she get to be a part of the riding and competing side of the club, but also that they do a lot of charity work. As President, she is hoping to continue to grow the club over her final two years at the university.
“My goals leading up to championships are keeping Zee in the best shape possible while also maintaining Reba’s fitness level. I would love to be able to qualify them both to go to nationals this year,” Kayla said as they prepare for Tryon. “I’m a bit more comfortable going into it this year; it’s not such an unfamiliar place and I know how the competition works. I want to do better in the individual side of the championship competition, but win or lose it’s an honor to be invited, especially two years in a row. It’s still a big deal, and I’m not going to take anything for granted.”