Rebecca Kuc is an 18-year-old senior at the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts. She rides and teaches lessons at her family’s stable, Hidden Creek Equestrian Center, in Kunkletown, Pennsylvania. Becky has two horses, an 11-year-old Haflinger cross named Rufus, and a coming-four-year-old rescue pony named Harley , that she self-trains in dressage under the instruction of Heather Mason and her mother, Jill Kuc.
Becky is a four-star USEF High School Equestrian Athete, and advocates the program to other young riders. She is a USDF Bronze Medalist, and an ESDCTA Bronze and Silver Medalist. She has been an active member on the ESDCTA Youth Team for 11 years. Most recently, Becky was the Third Level Reserve Champion for the American Haflinger Registry through the Adequan/USDF All-Breeds Award program. She also won Third Level Reserve Champion Junior at the 2011 Colonel Benjt Linguist Memorial Championships, and won multiple Champion ESDCTA Year End Awards this past year at third level and for her second level Lady GaGa musical freestyle! Becky also enjoys participating in and competing on a quadrille team, and was instrumental in creating the Ride 4 Hope Quadrille Challenge, an annual event held to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
When Becky isn’t riding, she is usually playing her violin. She is a Music major at her performing arts high school, and is also in her 9th and final year in the Pocono Youth Orchestra. Becky is also passionate about her school work, and is an honors student and Treasurer of the National Honor Society. She will be attending Wilkes University in the fall with a major in Mathematics and a double minor in Music and Statistics.
Our interview with Becky:
1.When was the first time you saw a rider and horse performing Dressage?
When I was around eight years old, my mom started showing her horse in Dressage. That year I got to watch some of the tests at the shows she competed at. We also went and watched the Festival of Champions that year which was probably the first time I saw that level of Dressage.
2.When did you first start riding Dressage?
I began riding when I was seven years old and I began showing Dressage at age nine on our first pony WK Fadl Atraction. He was a little Arab pony that I shared with my sister and we both tried out Dressage on him. He was a great way to ease us into the sport and give us positive show experiences. The next year, I got my own horse, a QH gelding which is when I started enjoying Dressage and showing even more.
3.Who was your first trainer and who are you currently training with?
My first real Dressage instruction was from my mom, Jill Kuc. I still take lessons with my mom every week and she usually will coach me at shows when needed. In addition to my mom, I train with Heather Mason. I took lessons off and on with her when I was younger, but the past few years I’ve trained with her regularly and it’s really helped my riding. I love her approach to riding and training and she always pushes me to be the best I can be and always helps me get over the issues I’m having.
4.What training advice has been the most influential in your riding?
I’d have to say that the most influential advice given to me, has been to always look out for my horse as my first priority and always have fun and try my best. If you’re not having fun, there is no reason to waste all the time we put into the sport. I’m not saying if you have one bad day to quit, however you will only ever truly do your best if both you and your horse are happy doing what you’re doing. Your horse can’t tell you everything going on for him, and he may have a bad day just as people can, but we need to always remember to have a positive attitude and realize we are dealing with a living animal and they should be the number one priority.
5.How do you warm up your horse and why do you think it is important for warm-up?
My warm up schedule changes depending on what horse I’m riding. My pony takes 5 minutes to warm up and then he’s fine, whereas my young horse takes longer. I always stretch my horse out on long reins at a trot both directions and try and loosen up their neck and back. We will spiral in and out on the circle at a trot and canter and really use the time to get them listening and to get them, and me, focused and get us working together. I think warming your horse up is very important. It allows you to know what type of mood your horse is in, if he’s tight somewhere that may make you want to stretch him out more, if he’s really spooky, or if either of you is having a bad day it gives you the time to relax and focus. Also, you and your horse are both athletes. Professional athletes of every discipline warm up, so therefore you and your horse should as well to have a fun, productive work.
6.Do you follow the Pyramid of Training scale?
I have learned about the Training Pyramid at multiple lectures at Lendon Gray’s Weekend Educational Program over the past few years. I definitely use it some to help me get a sense of where me and my horse are verses where we should be. I think that even if you don’t use it regularly, you should at least know the levels of it and understand it because the Training Pyramid will help you understand where you should be in relation to where you are and will help you understand the educational value of what you’re doing. It gives you the intellectual and “book” knowledge to truly understand what it is you are actually doing.
7.Do you include rest breaks in your training sessions?
Yes, I find it really important to give my horse(s) breaks throughout my rides. Especially in training, we do much harder work than we would at shows. It is a true workout for both horse and rider and your horse shouldn’t have to go non-stop for your entire ride. They need to catch their breath and walk for a minute to recuperate and to let what you just accomplished “sink in”. I generally give my horses a break after our warm up, and then two or so other breaks throughout our rides.
8.Do you watch your peers ride in lessons and what do you learn?
I’m constantly at the barn to watch my friends’ lessons. I also will watch my trainer give some lessons to other people as well. I find it really helpful to watch the lessons because every bit of education you can gather will help you in the long run. Sometimes I can watch the lesson and you can see what the trainer saw and you hear how to overcome it, improve on it and by watching the wrong and the wrong turn to right, it helps you develop a better eye for the sport. We never know everything about the sport, and if you love something enough, you’ll want to know everything you can about it. Therefore, watching the lessons can even sometimes be more beneficial than riding yourself.
9.How often do you show?
In PA, our show season runs from the end of April until beginning of November. Generally I show from May through mid October, more over the summer months when I don’t have school. I’m usually at shows about every weekend over the summer, some that I ride in, and others that I groom for others at.
10.Who grooms for you at your shows?
My dad always helps me out at shows with whatever horse I am competing. He knows how to deal with me and is a favorite of every horse. If my dad is helping someone else or needs to help my mom, then my older sister helps me. A lot of times the two of us will help each other and can get everything done according to plan and as least stressful and possible.
11.Do you braid your own horse?
Yes, I always braid my own horse. I find it very important to be able to do every aspect of showing, from the actually riding part, to the getting ready. Even when I did my first show, my mom made me braid my pony. Sure the braids didn’t look great, but I had done them myself and it makes the entire experience more important. On the various horses I’ve shown over the years, I can do most types of braids and have had lots of practice for my own shows, and showing lesson kids at our barn how to braid for shows.
12.What is your horse’s personality like and what is his/her favorite goodie?
Currently, I’m consistently riding two horses. My pony, Rufus, is the cutest little thing ever. He is so sweet and is always trying to please, and trying to find food. He gets himself worked up sometimes if we’re training hard and he gets himself frustrated when he can’t do things which is very cute. He also finds it fun to leap sometimes in our flying changes just to add a little extra personality. He loves all types of food, but his absolute favorite food is Gobstoppers. In addition to Rufus, I also have a young three, coming four year old named Harley. Harley has a very memorable personality. He is still very little and is always so proud of himself for what he’s doing. We always use the analogy that when he gets himself nice he looks like a little boy dressing up in his daddy’s suit. Harley eats pretty much everything and anything but really enjoys candy canes.
13.Do you trail ride and how often?
Yes I do trail ride, probably once a week during the summer. I like to let my pony walk around the outside of the barn and I’ll take him up to the house sometimes. We also have a trail that leads to a creek which the horses enjoy going down. I’m not a big fan of trail rides, my horses love them but I don’t always find them relaxing, so I’ll let my dad get on and take them for trail rides. I find it really important that the horse gets out of the dressage ring and can have a different sense of scenery every now and then. It’s definitely good for them mentally.
14.What are your goals for you and your horse?
I plan on competing my pony at Third level this year and possibly try a Third level freestyle. He loves his music(which is a string quartet version of Lady Gaga music) and we always have fun with it, so I’m hoping we can do one this year as well. Long term, I plan on seeing just how far I can get him while having fun. With Harley, we’re hoping to do Training level and maybe try First level at the end of the year. I want to get him much more show experience and let him have some fun showing off. Long term goals for me, I want to eventually get my USDF Silver and Gold Medals and compete at Grand Prix at the national level. If I ever get farther than that, even better.
15.What is your favorite Dressage music freestyle performed?
I don’t have one specific freestyle I like more than others. I really like when the horse and rider do it as a performance and when you can tell they are having a good time. Musical freestyles are so much fun to ride and are fun for the audience to watch as well and it’s always nice to see when the horse and rider and really getting into what they’re doing and you can tell they love their music and choreography.
16.Who is your favorite rider?
I admire many riders such as Edward Gal, Steffen Peters, Courtney King-Dye, Heather Mason, etc. Those are the riders who make everything look effortless. They are truly one with their horse and you will hardly see an obvious aid. They are connected with the horse and the horse understands everything asked of them. The horse is trained well and the rider shows off the true partnership between horse and rider. Even when things don’t go well, the riders keep their composure and are always the quickest to praise their horses when things go well which is why they’re most admirable to me. To be able to put anything bad behind you and only look to the good is amazing.
17.What can you tell other junior riders about reaching their goals in dressage?
Never give up. If you are really passionate about something, you’ll find a way to make it happen. Your determination and drive will help you be noticed and will help you overcome the obstacles you face. Also remember that nothing happens over night. You have to give it time to progress and you can’t get frustrated when it isn’t perfect the first or second time. You and horse need to figure it out together without getting mad and one another. You both have off days and you both have minds of your own, you need to accept that and continue to work and put the time in because then you will improve and meet your goals.
18.What can you share with other riders the most important advice of learning Dressage?
Learning Dressage is good for every one in every discipline. It teaches you dedication, hard work, and to actually form a bond and partnership with your horse. It is really important to watch as much as you can and to learn every time you get the chance to. Watching others will help you in your own riding and by learning you will understand everything you’re trying to do. The more you understand, the more you’ll succeed. My biggest advice to anyone learning Dressage is to never be afraid to ask questions and to talk to people. You’ll learn a lot from getting your questions answered by trainers or riders. Also, the more people you talk to and connections you get, can only help you. They may have past experiences and stories that will help you go a long way and may know people who can help you achieve your goals. Remember that no question is a stupid question and everyone in the sport wants to learn and understands.