Freshman Benjamin Noonan leaps over the competition


Courtesy of Benjamin Noonan

Winning second place at the Jump Star Horse Trials Sept. 27-28, freshman Benjamin Noonan and his horse jump over obstacles on a set course. Noonan rode for two hours that day in preparation for the first part of the competition. “I messed up my dressage score, I scored a 33.1, but you want to be anywhere in the low 20’s. For my next competition, I had to sit down and tell myself to relax once I started riding, so I don’t overthink and mess up this score,” Noonan said.

Braiding his horses hair, freshmen Benjamin Noonan listens to classical music to calm his nerves and get his head into the game before the dressage, the first phase of the horseback riding competition. As the dressage begins, Noonan must forget everything. He must stay calm in hopes of keeping his horse calm so that they qualify for the North American Youth Championship.

Noonan began riding horses at the age of eight, but did not begin training for the Junior Olympics until the age of 12 when he got Keep Kitty, a Hanoverian horse.

“My horse is very talented, but she still needs to learn all the new commands,” Noonan said. “As I’m training her, I’m also getting trained by my coaches. Just being able to learn all the new commands was a challenge for the both of us.”

To train for the event, Noonan’s coaches Karen O’Connor and David O’Connor have Noonan do manual labor. For example, Noonan carries dirt-filled wheelbarrows up hills or carries one water buckets per arm to the barn and back. This adds up to approximately 10 Gallons, building Noonan’s legs muscles.

“These workouts help me for if my horse does something wrong during a competition or training and I have to hold on tight,” Noonan said. “Although the workouts are hard, I see the end result and I get this immediate satisfaction when my horse does what I’ve been training her to do for months. Although I’m tired and my muscles hurt, as soon as I see my horse do that I get this intense motivation to keep going and continue on with this training.”

JJ Silliman
Gliding over a hurdle, freshman Benjamin Noonan and his horse race to outscore their opponents in a horseback riding competition.

Noonan is participating in this event at the highest level in his age group. Next year he plans to compete at a higher level. After he turns 16 he will be able to compete in the 16-21 year level at the Young Riders competition. Noonan believes his greatest achievement was when he moved up to the level he’s riding at now and winning his first competition at that level.

“Typically people do not do very well their first time moving up, so when I actually won it was very surprising to me because it was something I wasn’t trying to achieve,” Noonan said. “It gave me a huge sense of pride because it doesn’t normally happen to people.”

The North American Youth Championship is a multi-day event with numerous competitions for both Noonan and Kitty.

“The days leading up to the competitions I get super excited and sometimes can’t sleep, not because I’m nervous, but because I’m just so excited about riding in the competition, kind of like a kid on Christmas morning. I get so excited,” Noonan said.

Noonan hopes this event will help him get sponsors who will help pay for new equipment, horses and getting recognized by higher competition. He also hopes his training and dedication might secure him a spot on the 2024 or 2028 Olympic team.

“The Olympics, in my opinion, is the last thing all countries can go to and put aside their differences. As soon as we start losing the Olympics, we start losing the sense of community throughout the world,” Noonan said. “My dad used to always tell me: ‘if they have to put someone on the team, why shouldn’t it be you?’ and that’s a big thing to me because he’s right, why shouldn’t it be me? So I try as hard as I can to make it me.”