Wilmington, Ohio – This week’s Wilmington Sunday Spotlight shines on Vanessa McCaughley of Lexington, Kentucky. The vibrant young junior rider can be found making her fellow exhibitors, trainers, and staff laugh in between rounds in the R+L Arena and the Standlee Sanctuary! McCaughley has worked from the ground up at World Equestrian Center – Wilmington and has recently celebrated major career milestones, such as committing to the NCAA Division I Equestrian Team at the University of South Carolina. We caught up with McCaughley between showing her two mounts, Capitol Hill and Eldorado’s Edition, to learn more about her riding journey.
WEC: How did you get started riding?
Both of my parents grew up riding, so it was kind of expected that I’d get the bug too. I sat on a pony for the first time when I was four and after three years of begging I got to start taking lessons! Once I started, I was hooked. I feel very fortunate to have parents who love horses and the sport as much as I do, I really couldn’t do it without them! It’s definitely a family affair.
WEC: Who do you ride with now?
I ride with Diana Conlon out of Olive Hill Sporthorses in Lexington, Kentucky. I started working with Diana a little over 2 years ago and she has been really influential in my riding career. She has put me on a ton of different horses to ride at home and show. She got me into the jumpers after doing the hunters and the equitation for pretty much my whole life. She’s taught me a lot about adapting to different types of horses and learning to ride the horse I have that day. She’s also helped me start my three-year-old that I bred with my dad. I’m super thankful to be able to work with Diana every day.
I also work with Lindsay Yinger at some shows and will be going to Wellington with her for the winter season. I rode with her for the first time at Junior Hunter Finals last year and she’s fantastic! I feel super lucky to be able to work with two amazing trainers – it’s definitely had a huge impact on my riding.
WEC: How do you manage school and riding?
I go to traditional school, but I’m fortunate enough to go to a school that is supportive of my riding and is super flexible when it comes to leaving for horse shows. It’s definitely a lot to balance school and riding, but it’s taught me to be very organized and diligent with my time. I think every junior has to sacrifice some of the traditional high school experience for riding one way or another, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I rarely have free time but when I do, it is at the barn.
WEC: How has WEC been influential in your junior career?
I have been showing at WEC – Wilmington since I was doing the cross rails. It is by far my favorite horse show and I love everything about it. I’ve grown up here and I feel very lucky to have such a great facility just two hours down the road. Moving into the jumpers a little over a year ago, it was nice to have a place where I was so comfortable to move up and get experience. This time last year I was doing the modified childrens, and last month I jumped my first Welcome Stake here! Everyone is so nice, the courses are always fantastic, and the horses are always happy here.
WEC: Tell us about the horses that you have been showing here.
I have two personal horses that I show in the hunters and the jumpers. Capitol Hill, or Henry as we call him in the barn, is my hunter/derby horse. I have had him for a little over three years now and if you know me, you know how much this horse means to me. I originally leased him just to do Capital Challenge in 2020. I fell in love with him and my parents surprised me and bought him! For the past two years, we’ve been doing the 3’6 Junior Hunters and national derbies. I won my first derby with him here at WEC! He has taught me so much. He is a total cuddle bug and is so adorable and loving. He can be a little sensitive and nervous sometimes, so he’s really taught me how to be a confident rider. Now that I’m aging out, we’re going to step down into the 3’3 AOs. He’s been so good to me the past three years, I decided I wanted him to have an easier year before I go to school.
Eldorado’s Edition, or Eddy, is my jumper. I went to Europe with Diana [Conlon] in June of 2022 to find my first jumper, and I knew from the first video I watched of him he was going to be the one I came home with. I definitely feel like he will be the most influential horse in my jumper career. He has a huge personality and is super funny. He has some separation anxiety so I can’t leave him in the cross ties unless I am within five feet of him, or he has a temper tantrum. He can be a little quirky sometimes (hand walking is very scary for him!) but never puts a foot wrong. He is much more powerful and scopey than anything I’ve ever ridden. He truly puts 100% into everything he does and I feel like I can do anything on him. He is super confident in himself and that has been perfect for me to move into the bigger jumpers on. I love him, he is the best horse ever.
WEC: What are your show plans for 2024?
Next month we will come back here for two weeks, then I will be going to Florida for three months. I’m excited to be surrounded by some great riders and I think I will learn a ton from being in that environment. Henry will do the 3’3 AO’s next year and we will try to qualify for indoors. We might do some adult equitation too. I will continue to do the Medium AO’s on Eddy and I am hoping to start jumping some 1.40ms and small grands prix. I’ve always wanted to jump my first grand rrix at WEC, so I’m working to make that happen by next year!
WEC: Tell us about committing to the University of South Carolina to ride for their NCAA team.
This past Wednesday I signed to ride on the D1 team at the University of South Carolina! The team and girls are amazing and it’s a great environment. I’m super excited to be on the team and discover the new format. I also love riding different types of horses so I’m looking forward to that aspect of it. I think it is going to be very fun and I am looking forward to it!