Former WIHS champion Stephanie King returns to the top of the leaderboard after a riding accident results in physical injury and loss of confidence.
By Evie Stettin, WIHS Intern, published Aug. 24, 2020
Stephanie King and friends, Lexus (left) and Ringo. Photo by Anne Gittins Photography
Stephanie King, from St. Augustine, Fla., is currently at the top of the leaderboard in the WIHS Adult Jumper Championship standings with Lexus, her 16-year-old Swedish Warmblood gelding.
She's been at the top before and eventually went on to win the WIHS Adult Jumper Championship in 2018. But during the intervening year, she was sidelined by injury from a fall while competing and has had to work her way back both physically and mentally.
King's riding career began as a young child competing under the tutelage of her mother in lead line classes and later in pony jumpers, where she showed early success.
“One of my favorite childhood memories was showing three pony jumpers when that division first started,” she said. "Chuckie Waters, a very close family friend, coached me and we ended up first, second and third in the first pony jumper classic in our area.”
Though King knew she wanted to continue riding as an adult, her mom felt differently. “My mom always was adamant that I go to college and pursue other interests before committing myself to riding,” she said. “I did that, and had a full-time career for over 10 years during which I did not ride but missed it like crazy.”
Back on the Circuit
Since returning to the sport several years ago, she's consistently placed at some of the most competitive shows in the country, proving her 10-year break was far from a setback.
A high point in her career was the 2018 win the $10,000 WIHS Adult Jumper Championship aboard her gelding, Co-Starr, better know as Ringo, a 13-year-old Belgian Warmblood.
“I was second to last in the jump off, and I knew the person coming behind me was not just good, but great." she said. "We laid down a fast time, good round, and took the lead. I was beyond happy. I remember walking Ringo around the schooling ring and thinking ‘second place at Washington is amazing.’ I was completely content with it.
"But a few minutes later my trainer was coming toward me with that iconic red cooler. He said one sentence: 'You just won Washington.' That was one of the most amazing moments of my riding career."
In the Winner's Circle: Stephanie King and Co-Starr, 2018 WIHS Adult Jumper Championship. Photo: Shawn McMillen Photography
From High to Low
Five months later at the end of the Winter Equestrian Festival season, King had a serious fall from Ringo that left her with a “broken rib and fractured confidence,” as she puts it. “We were in a bending line and just weren’t getting there to an oxer out. He made the right choice pulling up. I just wasn’t ready for it.”
It was devastating, in part because King had never had a fall from Ringo in the four years she had owned him. “It took a lot of work, both physical and mental, and a lot of time to get back into the show ring comfortably,” she said.
Photo: Jeff King
King attributes her recovery in part to her trainers, Chad and Brooke Watridge, of Ridgewater Show Stables in St. Augustine, Fla., who were patient and understanding even when things were tough.
They referred her to equestrian sports psychologist Annette Paterakis. “I worked with her for several weeks and I still work with her on an as-needed basis,” King said. “She was able to help with the confidence issues I was experiencing after my fall and also general showing issues.”
King's advice to other riders facing the same challenges: “Talk it out. Don’t keep your insecurities or fears inside. Be vocal about how you feel. You’ll be amazed at how many others are experiencing the same thing or who have experienced it before. You are not alone.”
Before long King, Ringo and Lexus were back on the show circuit and winning. She and Ringo were first in the $7,500 NAL/WIHS Adult Amateur Jumper Classic at the 2019 Devon Horse Show.
King says that some days are better than others in terms of her confidence. “That’s the thing about this sport we do. It only takes one moment, one ‘oops’ for us to realize we aren’t invincible. That doesn’t keep us from doing it. When you love the sound of hoof beats and the smell of horse flesh, you’re never going to stop, no matter what has happened.”
The coronavirus pandemic has had a big impact on the horse industry, cancelling many shows nationwide and relocating others. “Quarantine was definitely a bummer for everyone," said King. "But the horses and I did pretty well. It was actually nice to be home for a bit since we keep a pretty busy show schedule. My husband was happy to have me around!
"We did a lot of back-to-basics work, both on the flat and over small jumps. Aside from missing the last two weeks of WEF and having the obvious time off, it hasn’t affected our plan much. We are back to showing now in Tryon and everyone seems to be respecting the new rules. I’m looking forward to a great rest of the summer and getting back to indoors in the fall.”
WIHS Update: The 2020 WIHS Equitation and Pony Equitation Finals and WIHS Children's and Adult Hunter and Jumper Championships presented by MARS Equestrian have relocated to Tryon International Equestrian Center, Oct. 20-25. Read the details.