When amateur rider Amanda Schweitzer, age 24, sat down with trainer Everardo Hegewisch to make a plan for Desert Horse Park in November 2021, they agreed to start in the 1.10 division. The idea was to start off easy and just have fun: it was her first and only show in 2021, and it had been over a year since Schweitzer had shown her horse Novak after a jaw injury in 2019. But by the end of the week, Schweitzer found herself riding around in the 1.20/1.25 division.
“I like to call it my comeback show,” Schweitzer says. “When I got to the show my trainer had tricked me and put me in a bigger division. That was nerve-wracking as an amateur. But it went really well, and between all the trainers I knew at the show and friends, they peer-pressured me to move up and it just kept going up and up and up.”
The end-of-year show was the culmination of a year of juggling a new job in audit accounting with recovering from the accident. In December of 2019, Schweitzer was injured while hand-walking Novak on a rainy day. “There were children or something spooky right around a bush and he just freaked out, went forward, and bucked and kicked my jaw,” she explains.
Back in The Saddle
After six months of intensive recovery, Schweitzer wasted no time getting back in the saddle as soon as she was cleared for riding in June 2020. “Hey, it taught me a lot, and I didn’t give up riding after that,” she says. “It honestly made me more excited to get back after all that time off.”
Schweitzer, who currently resides in the South Bay, trains with Hegewisch out of Temecula. She rode and showed one of trainer Hegewisch’s horses “just for fun to get one more show before [she] started working full time in January.” She began her accounting career in 2021, marking a transition from balancing student life with horses to navigating a new job and recalibrating riding goals.
“When I was in school, my job was my grades and I knew how I could plan out midterms and adjust things so I was able to go to the barn more often and refine my flatwork and jumping. When I was in school my goals were I want to do this division, I want to do this class, and now it’s more, I just kind of want to have fun and not fall off.”
In true weekend warrior fashion, Schweitzer spends long Saturdays and Sundays at the barn. “There’s a reason I drive an hour each way to the barn on weekends to ride with my current trainer. It’s so worth it. It’s not ideal, but I make the most of my time at the barn,” Schweitzer said. “I watch lessons when I’m done, help my trainer film and set jumps, and do anything that needs to get done around the barn.”
Schweitzer gets the most out of her time in the saddle by working out on the days when she doesn’t ride. “It’s tough figuring out the workout routine that keeps me strong so I can make the most of my riding time, so that I don’t feel like I’m going backwards. I always want to feel like there’s an end goal and that I’m improving. It may not be as fast improving, but still improving.”
Schweitzer likes to do a mix of cardio and weights. “In the past year and a half, I’ve become obsessed with Peloton on their bikes and their tread workouts. It helps me stay fit in general, but the best way to stay riding fit is to ride.”
Working out also helps Schweitzer relieve the stress that melts away when she spends time with horses. “The hardest transition was going through the learning curve of a new job and a whole new part of my life without being able to go to the barn for five minutes and pet my horse if I had a really bad day,” Schweitzer said. “I had to find that other outlet during the week that would get me calm, refocused, and ready to kick butt in a meeting or finish up something that I just could not figure out on Excel.”
Small But Mighty
Apart from her meticulous work-riding balancing act, Schweitzer is a unique rider in another way. At 4’8”, she proves size has nothing to do with strength when it comes to riding.
“No one, no matter if you’re a 6’4” guy or a little seven-year-old on a pony, you’re not going to win a tug of war battle with a horse,” Schweitzer says. “It’s just not possible. If they want to be strong, they can be strong, and they don’t have to listen to you. So it’s all about using the leverage and finding ways to have that perceived authority.”
“I think obviously every short little girl loves Margie Engle because she rides 17.3 hand horses and they are big and they are strong and she’s just a little nugget on them, but she kicks butt.”
Schweitzer’s smaller frame is no obstacle to her confidence or effectiveness as a rider. But there are certain aspects of the sport that she approaches a little differently with her height in mind. Finding the right equipment—and the right horse—can be challenging.
“There are definitely some things that are a little special about being a shorter rider. With a normal horse-sized saddle pad, my leg is so short that sometimes when I need to put my leg behind where it normally is and dig in my spur I’m spurring the saddle pad and not my horse. It can be hard from the equipment side of things, but fitting into kids sizes can save you a lot of money, which is fantastic,” Schweitzer jokes.
The Art of Horse-and-Rider Matchmaking
That’s why Schweitzer prioritized trying horses before buying them when searching for her current mount Novak.
“With the horses sometimes your leg doesn’t hit them in the right way, and that’s why trying horses is really important,” she says. “I need to sit on the horse and see, am I actually going to be able to ride this horse? Because where your leg is on a horse and how your leg wraps around the horse is important for balance.”
When Schweitzer and her mother got to the barn in Europe to try horses, all the horses they had planned for her to ride were too big. “We show up and they look at me and they’re like, uh oh, you’re too small for all the horses we thought were going to work.” Instead, she hopped on a new six-year-old they’d gotten in just a few days before, and it ended up being the perfect match—despite her plan to get an experienced 1.40 horse.
“I was looking for a horse that would take me into the 1.40s, and I ended up with a green six-year-old. There were one or two horses that, on paper, I loved. I looked at their record, their bloodlines, and what they did with other riders. And then I got there, and Novak jumped like a freak of nature but it didn’t feel insane.”
“If I was choosing off a video, I would’ve ended up with something completely different, which is crazy, because I thought I knew what I wanted when I went into that trip,” she says. Schweitzer and Hegewish have been developing the coming 10-year-old Westaphalian for about three and a half years. While he was pretty green at first, they saw that he had the scope and the talent. “He had the skill, he had everything we were looking for, and we could just finish him off in a way that would be perfect for an amateur.”
Novak has a “puppy dog personality in the barn, and he always demands cookies and puts up with my shenanigans with amateur life, like photo shoots and all of those fun adventures,” Schweitzer says. “As far as riding he’s a dream horse. He’s very adjustable, but likes to go forward naturally, so once I get him going it’s just keeping the pace and he has that power built in.”
For The Love of Horses
Just as she strategizes her horse search with her shorter stature in mind, Schweitzer finds the silver lining in her limited barn time. “My top-secret weapon is that I’m a working amateur, and I’m only at the barn two days a week, so my horse is perfectly schooled every time I get there because I give him to the pros to fine-tune and play around with,” Schweitzer says.
“Everyone knows him so well at the barn because they sit on him every week that they know exactly what I’m feeling in the moment, so they can tell me what they use to correct the behavior or what I need to do to get him performing at his best, which is awesome.”
We all go through our own riding journey and relationship with horses as we get older—whether you’re a barrel racer who decided to open your own business, or a show jumper who remains involved in the sport as an adult amateur working outside the industry.
“Now, as an amateur, I think it evolved to let’s just see how everything goes. I only get to do this every so often so let’s make it fun instead of stressing myself out over doing a division that I’ve been trying to get into,” Schweitzer says. “Who cares about the height of the jumps and who I’m competing against? I pay all this money to have fun, so let’s just have fun.”
While her competitive goals have shifted, Schweitzer stays connected with what’s really behind her love of equestrian sport. “The reason I stay so disciplined is because I love the horses and even if I didn’t jump or compete, I would still have the same love for the animals,” she says.
“It all comes back to the reasons behind why I ride and it’s honestly because I love being with the horses, I love the quiet little moments at the barn. It makes all the crazy meetings and all the work days worth it.”
Photos by Sara Shier Photography.