Bandit Makes off with the Gold

Interview with 17 year old, Hanna Weightman, after winning the Junior Division of the 2015 North American Endurance Team Challenge (NAETC).

How did you get involved with endurance riding?

I started riding when I was 8 years old, training in dressage and jumping. About two years ago, I started riding at Holly MacDonald’s farm in Shamong, New Jersey. I was working with a young Morgan horse named Gomez, and Holly's Farm brought me out on trail a few times. I loved it! Gomez and I grew and learned on trail together.

In 2013, I did my first endurance ride at the Mustang Memorial ride, managed by Holly. I rode a little morgan horse named Eric who used to be an Amish driving horse. From then on I was hooked! I competed with Dr. Meg Sleeper’s horses: Syrocco Harmony (Harmon) and Syrocco Rabia (Rabi). Rabi and I won silver at NAJYRC this year, which was an amazing experience.

What do you love most about endurance riding?

I love the bond you develop with the horse you ride. Even if it is your first time riding the horse, after 50, 75, or 100 miles you get to know them pretty well! I also love how it is all about the horse and the care of the horse. I love how much time in the saddle you get, the places you get to go, all the people you get to meet, and the community—very tight knit, nice, and welcoming.

What is it like being a competitive endurance rider?

Being a competitive endurance rider is something that never crossed my mind two or three years ago. I only did dressage and jumping shows. When I heard of the sport of endurance I thought “those people are insane!” Even when I started doing 25’s and 30’s I never saw myself doing 50’s or 75’s! But now I love it and am so happy I started endurance.

Since I'm still in high school, I had to be selective about training. During the school year, I could only ride on the weekends because the farms were about an hour from my house. Once school was out, I went 3 to 4 times a week. At Meg's farm, Meg and Dave helped me get and keep Rabi in shape. At Holly's farm, I'm currently riding a 22 year old Arabian mare named Dancer. She is so sweet and loves her job! Sometimes I have to miss school to go to qualifier rides, but not often.

How did the NAETC ride go? 

My experience at NAETC was amazing! It was my first time competing outside of the United States. I was asked to ride Valerie Kanavy's horse, Bandit, not long before the event. I started the ride with Kelsey Russell and Eilish Connor. We rode together for the first and second phase.

At the last hold, I was about 22 minutes behind the first place youth rider. I went out of the last hold with two young riders from Canada. During the last loop (approx 15 miles) one of the riders fell back. We passed the first place youth rider about a mile from the finish. Then we raced to the finish! Bandit had a lot left in him and felt great! It was awesome getting to race off! 

What was Bandit like during the ride?

He is such a sweet little horse. He has the nicest personality, and is the comfiest horse I think I have ever ridden! Our ride went pretty smoothly. He had so much energy left at the end of the ride, and I think he enjoyed racing off as much as I did. I am very thankful that I had the chance to ride such a nice horse at an event like this.

Who would you like to thank for making this experience possible?

I would like to thank Valerie for letting me ride her horse. My parents for allowing me to go, paying my expenses, supporting me in everything I do and crewing. I would like to thank the rest of my crew, Holly and Hugh MacDonald, my brother Jeff, and many more. Also, Meg and Dave for bringing me, supporting me, teaching me, and giving me opportunities to ride such wonderful horses. Finally, the organizing committee for hosting an awesome ride.

What advice would you give young riders looking to get into endurance?

Work hard every day, ask questions, and most importantly, have fun! Riding is a very humbling sport and things don’t always go as planned. Remember it is a partnership between the horse and rider. There are highs and lows but the highs are well worth the lows.

Congratulations Hanna! Thanks for sharing your endurance adventures and insights with the community.

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