At 17, Lakebay resident Cadence Michel knows what she wants to do. Actually, she’s known since age 11, when she began taking her horse riding lessons seriously.
She’s in pursuit of her dreams to compete at the highest level of three-day eventing — competitive horse riding that includes dressage, cross country and stadium.
The highest levels? They would be the Olympics, the Rolex or other 4-star equestrian events. She’s currently competed at 1- and 2-star events. Even that is a point that few who compete in the sport ever attain.
“If she stays dedicated, she can be one of the top riders in the country,” said Beth Ness of Starr Valley Farm in Longbranch. Ness is Cadence’s dressage coach. She first met Cadence when she was 11 and just starting to take her riding to the next level and compete.
Like any athletic sport, it takes countless hours of practice, dedication and sacrifice to become one of the best.
And with equestrian events, it also takes a fair amount of luck.
“You can invest an infinite amount of money and still the horse can get injured,” Cadence said. “It takes years to find just the right horse and then years to get the proper training for the rider and the horse to get the timing just right. It’s a carefully balanced mechanism.”
The horse she is currently care/leasing is called Moose, a Cleveland Bay thoroughbred out of Canada. The owner called Cadence up one day and mentioned that she had heard of Cadence and had an upper level horse she could work with.
She was excited about riding Moose as he had more experience than the previous horses with which she had worked. “This was the first horse that could teach me something,” Cadence said.
Moose will be going back to his owner soon and Cadence will again be on the lookout for an upper level horse.
She’s hoping to find a horse similar to Moose in experience so she won’t have to start at the beginning with the training.
As for the dedication and sacrifice — she’s all in.
“Fresh off earning her driver’s license she’s behind the wheel of a truck towing a four-horse trailer with me in the back getting some sleep on a 26-hour drive to compete in Temecula, California,” said her dad, Mark.
She first began riding when she was about 5 and the family — Mom, Traci, her dad and Cadence — moved to Lakebay. A guy who was clearing their property had a daughter the same age and she rode competitively.
“She (Cadence) got her first horse around 7, and we knew she had a passion,” Mark said. “It became more and more a priority in her life.”
She began competing and focused on jumping. She has been competing on three-day-eventings (competitors are called “eventers”) since the third grade. In eventing, day one involves Dressage — roughly translated from French to mean ballet or horse dance. The rider must take the horse through a series of memorized steps and movements.
The second day, cross country, “is why we do what we do,” Cadence said. It involves a riding course in woodsy terrain and jumps involving natural obstacles, bushes, ditches and shallow water. The run can take upward of 10 minutes to complete.
The third leg of the competition is stadium that involves jumps over rails that can fall if struck by the horse. Points are deducted for fallen rails.
“There has to be a non-verbal, continuous conversation with the horse,” Cadence said. “Every day we practice making a special bond to make it all possible.”
“It’s a cutthroat sport,” she added. She likes to use a quote from her jump trainer, Anni Grandia of Grand Farm in Vaughn: “The sport is the hardest because it has the highest highs and the lowest lows.” A rider can win and then the horse can become injured and they are done, she said.
Cadence recently competed in a North American Junior Young Riders Championship in Lexington, Kentucky, with two other riders from Washington state, Sophie Click of Sammamish and Madelynn Snoozy of Ridgefield. The three represent Area 7 which includes Washington, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Alaska. There are only 9 areas across the country and only one team from each area gets to compete. The Olympic Committee looks upon the annual event as the Junior Olympics.
Cadence isn’t even thinking of slowing down. She’s going to California to train with Dayna Lynd-Pugh, a trainer with 40-plus years of experience working with Pan-Am gold, silver and bronze medalists.
Having graduated from the Tacoma School of the Arts, she’s off to college in the fall at the University of Portland, but will continue her dressage and jump training on the Key Peninsula.
“I’ve been incredibly lucky to have the support of my parents and having amazing coaches all my life,” Cadence said.