Frankie and McKenzie - BFF
On one of her visits to our store, McKenzie Rollins mentioned she was an equestrian (English style) rider and that she currently competes and teaches out of The Mill Creek Equestrian Center in Topanga Canyon. We thought “How cool is that?” and that it would make a good setting for our next shoot. She was game and it was on! FYI, McKenzie is currently ranked #1 Adult Rider and Frankie is #1 in the US Training division (US Eventing Association, American Eventing Championships - 2018. A definite power couple!
McKenzie was introduced to riding at age 5. Her mother had wanted to ride but her parents didn’t encourage it. “Maybe if I’d been allowed to ride I wouldn’t have gotten into so much trouble!” her mom says. “One riding lesson and that was it,” McKenzie says. Other than a short post college stint in NYC (“It’s one of the loneliest places.”) she’s been riding ever since.
An agent introduced her to Frankie 4 years ago. “I watched online videos of him in action and knew we were soul mates.” Like equestrian online match-making. That he had been born and raised in Ireland was no problem – there are jets used solely for transporting horses (who knew?).
She calls him Frankie - named after Franklin & Co., the restaurant on Franklin Ave. a few doors down from The Canyon store where McKenzie and her boyfriend met. "Also I grew up on Franklin St. in Franklin County, Massachusetts, so it fit him completely." His competition name is Excel - the agent’s designation - Star Lord, named for the farm where he was raised. You might remember “Star Lord” as Chris Pratt’s preferred super hero title in Guardians of the Galaxy. Pratt came across news of Frankie’s recent Training Division win and left a congratulatory video shoutout on her facebook page. From one Starlord to another - eventing goes Hollywood!
Welcome to the world of Eventing (is that a real word?)
Basically an equestrian triathlon that originated as a way to test the ability of cavalry riders, there are three phases to the Eventing competition: dressage, cross-country and show jumping. In the Dressage phase, horse and rider show their rapport, grace and precision in making delicate prescribed sequences of movements. Cross-Country is a timed event where the pair show their fitness, skill and endurance at navigating obstacles like fences, ponds, ditches and other obstacles found in the countryside. In the final Show Jumping phase, horse and rider show their technical skills as they jump a series of closely arranged fences without knocking off any of the strategically placed rails. Each pair is judged by the number of penalty points they accrue during each phase – the lowest score at the end of the event wins. Eventing is one of the few Olympic sports where men and women compete as equals.
When asked what the horses get out of it, she says “These days they’re no longer needed for work but they’re like us, they need stimulation and purpose, a reason to get out of bed in the morning. They enjoy expressing themselves through the events and competition.”
"The barn is like church.
"It’s where my sense of self is. I come here even on my days off. It’s not really work, it’s a lifestyle.
"Riding is a language that is unspoken. It requires a massive amount of concentration and is a delicate relationship of multitasking on numerous levels--mentally, physically, emotionally.
"You have to be almost meditative in your practice and in your patience. It requires you to be very present, very forgiving and very understanding. When I am riding, I don't have room in my brain to think about anything other than what is happening at that second. When a horse is happy to see you, and nickers, and finds comfort in your company and care, it is just magical. These are the moments that make this the best job in the world.
She also loves teaching. “It's so rewarding when my students make a connection to what I am describing and are then able to execute that and have a positive outcome. I love watching them grow and learn how to prioritize by what they’ve been taught in the barn. The goal of every day is to have a student come out of the ring with a smile on their face.”
Equine Therapy is a thing
Being in the presence of horses has been known to have beneficial effects but psychotherapy programs involving interactions with horses (typically on the ground - not riding) became widely adopted in the ‘90’s. Horses are herd animals and have to be extremely sensitive to their surroundings to be safe from predators - they can sense a human heartbeat from 4 feet away and can synchronize their heartbeat with a human’s(!) Because of a horse’s sheer size, strength and power, patients lose the sense of physical dominance they’d have with smaller animals. Yet as powerful as they are, domesticated horses are still dependent on humans for their well-being. This nurturing, interdependent relationship can give those with emotional or developmental disabilities a sense of self-confidence, empathy and self-awareness. Just being in the presence of a horse can be life-changing.
“They touch people in a very deep and magical way. We rely more on non-verbal cues than what a person is saying to understand what they’re communicating. Through interactions with horses, people with difficulties communicating can get a sense of their capability of communicating non-verbally.
“Personally, riding is very therapeutic. It keeps me grounded and honest with my emotions. Horses interpret everything at face value and constantly work off of first impressions without judgement.”
Even now weeks after the shoot we vividly remember the mysteriously calming, - magical - experience we had. Our own Equine Therapy session!