Knowledge powers an Olympic pursuit.
Kim F Miller
Equestrian writer | July 9, 2020
The Young Riders Academy isn't well-known in the United States. However, at the highest levels of international show jumping, being a student or alumnus of this European Equestrian Federation-supported development endeavour signifies the highest expectations. Karen Polle, 27, is one such rider and Haygain is proud to have this Tokyo Olympic hopeful as a new believer in the benefits of high-temperature steamed hay.
Karen is based in America and represents Japan in international competition. She rides her own horses and campaigns those owned by the Kinoshita Group, for whom she is the mainstream sports sponsor's sole equestrian.
In 2014, Karen began managing her own string of horses, a task that expanded greatly during 2017's extensive study with the Young Riders Academy. While competing throughout Europe, Karen and her fellow students attended four, three-day sessions of intense riding and horsemanship presentations and opportunities for hands-on experience. Several of the world's most respected horsemen were their coaches.
Beyond Riding Skills
"It was amazing how much we learned," Karen reflects. "I know that being a top rider involves more than just riding skills. It also involves lots of veterinary knowledge, business expertise, mental strength and more. I'm very grateful to have had the chance to learn more about these aspects of being a top rider in the YRA sessions." Those benefits continue with a growing YRA family tree of contemporaries and seasoned veterans available for guidance.
Since graduating from Yale University, Karen has focused full time on her show jumping career, with training facilities in Florida and Connecticut. Riding for Japan in the 2018 World Equestrian Games reflects how well she has parlayed that focus and the educational opportunities. The fitness of her top horse, With Wings, is another example.
Now 17, Karen's WEG partner drew comparisons to a feisty 4-year-old when they contested the Split Rock Jumping Tour in mid-June in Lexington, KY. "It's great to see that he feels so fresh and fit and excited about what he's doing," Karen notes. "He's so bright all the time. He doesn't seem to feel his age at all."
Like all six horses in Karen's current string, "Wings" follows an individual care, feeding and training program tailored to his needs and tendencies. Since May, however, all six have something in common in being fed Haygain Steamed Hay. Karen had heard of steamed hay's benefits from vets and fellow equestrians for some time and the show circuit pause finally afforded time to investigate further.
High-temperature hay steaming removes up to 99% of the dust, bacteria, mould and allergens found even in hay of top nutrient content. Along with respiratory problems, these breathable microscopic bits can trigger skin issues that are often allergic reactions. Coming off an extended winter in Welllington, Florida, Karen says, "It can be hard to keep their skin good here, and I've been really impressed with how nice their coats are now. The only thing we've changed is going to steamed hay. One horse in particular regularly got patches of irritated skin and those are fully gone."
More Appetite - Fewer Skin Issues
Multiple studies have proven that most horses prefer steamed hay to dry hay and Karen's horses have borne that out. "They all eat it well and really seem to enjoy it," she observes. One horse in particular had been on the skinny side and was a picky eater. "Now he's eating all of it. There must have been something in the hay he didn't like before. But steamed hay smells so good and must make it more appealing."
Wings is a little allergy-prone, Karen reports, resulting in the occasional wheeze or cough. In the recent weeks of quiet schooling at home, Karen hasn't noticed any of that.
Karen was as disappointed as other top contenders by the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics. The selection process for Japan's show jumping team had yet to narrow down before the pandemic hit and has yet to be determined as of mid-June. One of Karen's coaches, Dutch Olympian Wim Schröder, also coaches Japan's team and is helping Karen plot her course and stay abreast of selection news.
"Three quiet months to step back and think about what I can do to keep Wings in his best physical shape and make a plan for him and all my horses," is an upside to the show cancellations, she says. Along with Wings, Karen has two other horses in the Grand Prix ring: Jet Run and Kino, and three coming up the levels.
Whatever's next for Karen and her horses, the path will be guided by an ever-growing base of horsemanship knowledge and always doing what's best for the horses.