(first appeared in the May 2014 issue of  The Equiery)
by Katherine O. Rizzo

Ten-year-old Summerlynd Nelson has officially become the youngest Maryland equestrian to win an Equiery award. And although she is only 10, this McDonogh School fourth grader has already proven that she is focused, determined and ready to face whatever life throws at her inside the show ring and out.

“She is just a really tough kind of kid. The kind of kid who never sheds a tear no matter how many times she might fall off or if she places or not,” trainer Amy Dawson Moore stated. “She has got to be the toughest kid I have had for sure and it shows.”

Summerlynd first sat on a pony when she was at J Mar Stables summer camp. She was barely four years old at the time but her mother MaryRose said she had already been asking for a pony. “She seems to have been born wanting to be on a farm. Not just wanting to be around ponies. She loves all animals. By the time she was three, she was asking for a pony. I’ll never forget it, when she was four she said, ‘How long will it take to get my bottom on a pony!’ so we got her riding lessons for her birthday.”

Summerlynd with her trainer Amy Moore and Logan in May of 2013

When Summerlynd started kindergarten at McDonogh, she began taking regular formal riding lessons with Amy. “I don’t normally take kids that young but she just begged for lessons. She was really little but determined,” Amy remembered. Summerlynd’s parents started leasing her a pony and the showing began, first with leadline classes before moving “off line” into children’s pony divisions. Now, the entire family is fully immersed in the horse show world, and loving it!

It Takes a Village
“Riding is so good for kids. It teaches them responsibility and confidence, things that help Summerlynd in life too. She is very independent and level-headed about everything,” MaryRose commented.

With shows practically every weekend, balancing schoolwork, family time and riding can be a challenge, but somehow Summerlynd finds ways to do it all. “I used to ride just once a week but since joining the team, I ride four days a week,” she said, adding, “During lacrosse season, though, I drop back to three days.” Because Summerlynd excelled at riding so quickly and rides with kids twice her age, her parents encouraged her to join another sport where she would be interacting with children her own age. “She rids with all the big kids in lessons so we feel it is important for her to join a team with her peers as well,” MaryRose explained. “School always comes first but the rewards from riding are worth all the juggling.”

Summerlynd aboard In A Pinch at McDonogh when she was only 7

“She has ridden with the older kids from the beginning and it has been good for her. It really made her learn faster because she had to keep up. And she always kept up,” Amy proudly stated.

“I like riding with the older girls. It really has helped me a lot being able to watch and learn from them,” Summerlynd said. “Amy challenges me and can teach me a lot of things. I’ve also taken lessons from other instructors at McDonogh and learn different things from everyone. Amy works hard every year to find the right pony for me to learn from and be challenged with.”

MaryRose agrees with her daughter, saying, “It really is like a big family here at McDonogh. The older kids have helped Summerlynd and all of the instructors have guided us through the show world.”

“Summerlynd’s whole family is really devoted. She has huge family support, which is great!” Amy added. Even Summerlynd’s older brother Price, who doesn’t ride himself, spends a lot of time at the barn, which is helpful in its own way; MaryRose comments, “If he weren’t willing to hang out at the barn with Summerlynd, I’m not sure what we’d do.”

That Special Pony
By coming up through the McDonogh ranks, Summerlynd was very aware of The Equiery trophy, as McDonogh students have won this award for the past three years. “I was really excited when I found out I won because that was my goal for the year. I’m just happy that I was able to do it,” Summerlynd said. Her mom added, “I’m so proud of her. To follow in the footsteps of the riders here is very special.”

Summerlynd and Logan competing at home last April

And now that Sham’s Loganberry has carried his third rider to win this trophy, one might ask, what is so special about Logan? Summerlynd feels it is his personality: “He never bites, is really good about being brushed and tacked up. He’s just really great in general! I’m learning so much from him.” Amy adds, “Logan is by far our best pony. He is so versatile and just a good guy. And we don’t just put anyone up on him. You have to work really hard for years and earn the ride on that pony.”

Summerlynd began leasing Logan at the end of the 2012 season, spending the winter getting to know him. “She was still very little when she first started riding him. He can jump hard off the ground and she fell off a few times,” Amy said. “But that never stopped her and she never cried. I’m telling you, she’s tough.”

Summerlynd and Logan traveled around the Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania circuits for most of the 2013 season, competing at the Prince George’s Equestrian Center, James River, Swan Lake, Penn State and at home at McDonogh. “Penn State was really fun but so muddy! It rained so much!” Summerlynd remembered, laughing. “I got to do the pony derby there which was really fun. They had all the jumps set up to make it look like it was outdoors.”

“I think a lot of people thought I was crazy for entering her in the derby classes but she showed everyone she could keep up and do well. She had one of the highest scores at State College and qualified to go back in the ring for the final round,” Amy stated. “That is where everything sort of came together for her. She had grown into Logan a bit more and after that, she was just super consistent no matter where we took her.”

Life’s Lessons
Now with the super pony 19 years old, he and Summerlynd are entering their second competition year together. “I want to learn as much as I can from him and just have some fun,” Summerlynd said of her 2014 competition goals. Fun is also a goal of Amy’s for Summerlynd this year. “I want to take the pressure off a bit and go to bigger shows with the goal to just do better than last year. She already won in the Classics at PG last weekend [April 5-6], which is better than she did last year.”

Before leasing Logan, Summerlynd was the 2012 Short Stirrup Champion at the WIHS Local Day aboard Braddock.

This season, now that Summerlynd is a bit older and a bit taller, she has been able to start showing some different ponies and schooling ponies for the younger kids. “When Summerlynd was younger, the older girls like Sarah and Grace Boston would hop on and school her ponies for her and now Amy allows Summerlynd to do the same thing for the younger riders at the barn,” MaryRose explained. “Summerlynd is very appreciative of that opportunity and really enjoys it. It makes her feel proud that Amy trust her to do that.”

Summerlynd has learned how hard showing is–“sometimes we get up at 4:30 to get to the far shows”–and has learned all it takes to get herself and her pony ready to compete, “I need to get my hair braided and bows done, and I need to clean Logan and give him a bath and get all my show stuff ready and everything packed.” She said the best tip she can give other young riders is “try and always have fun. It really is about having fun.”

“We have no regrets in terms of getting Summerlynd into this sport. Even an ER visit for a concussion can be scary but horses are her passion and we cannot ignore that,” MaryRose said. “It brings joy to us. There is no turning back. She wants to ride forever and would like to be a veterinarian some day.”

“She’s just a really good kid. Tries really hard and I never have to ask her to anything more than she already has been doing,” Amy concluded.

McDonogh pony riders Sarah Boston, Grace Nabit, Summerlynd Nelson, Izzy Wheaton, Piper Borz, Grace Boston, Deni Wheaton and Serena Wheaton last October