In the Ring with Ariana Marnell
Meet Ariana Marnell, Winner of USEF Junior Hunter Finals 2021 and 2022, Junior Hunter Champion at Devon, The National Horse Show, Capital Challenge, and WIHS 2022, and Seventh place at USEF Medal Finals 2022. Ariana successfully competes in all three rings and is going to be riding for Auburn’s equestrian team. Now, let’s take a peek into Ariana’s life.
What does a typical day in your life look like for you?
On a non-show day, I’ll usually start the day at eight o’clock and ride until early afternoon.
Some of my horses I will jump and lesson on. The others, I flat on my own.
Then, I go back to our house, have a late lunch and do school work.
Some days, my school could be done in a few hours. On others, I’m doing school until dinner time.
On the days I finish school early, I like to meet up with some friends for dinner.
I try to go to bed early if I’m showing the next day, especially at the championship shows.
At indoors, most nights, I aimed to be asleep by 8:30 or 9, at the latest.
How did you balance school and competitive riding? Do you go to an Online High School?
Last year, I made the transition to full-time online high school, and it was definitely challenging for me (not going every day in person). I really enjoyed school and being with my peers, but I needed the flexibility of an online program to be able to work ahead. With the amount of travel this sport takes, unfortunately, there was no way for me to continue in person.
What is it like riding, showing, and working with Babylon? Tell us about your partnership!
Babylon is perfect! He’s a really fun horse, and he definitely keeps things interesting. He can be a little fresh at home, which can make for some amusing lessons, but he has a great heart. It’s been amazing to develop him. I feel like we have grown up a lot together. We have a lot of wins that I owe to him.
Who was/is the most influential horse in your career?
Ocean Road will always have a very special place in my heart. I got him after coming off of two injuries and having to early-retire my best horse at the time.
From the moment I tried him, we were a perfect match. He’s so smart and so much fun to be around. I love taking him on trails and spending time with him on the ground.
Roady definitely knows how special he is to me.
Does your riding change between the hunters, jumpers, and equitation? And if so, how?
I try and keep it all the same for the most part.
On my jumpers, I try to think about moving away from the jumps a little more. My horses are all pretty different, so I change my ride more horse-to-horse than ring-to-ring.
What exercises do you do while hacking/riding to improve consistency within the show ring?
I do a ton of poles. It’s easier on the horse's legs, but you can get many of the same benefits as jumping. More than anything, I try and make sure my horses are super adjustable… that the collection and extension at the canter are as fluid as they can be. Especially with the hunters and equitation horses, you want to try to make it look like you’re doing as little as possible. My hunters have gotten really good with voice commands.
What mental or physical strategies do you use for bouncing back from a round that didn’t go the way you planned?
I know I can’t fix what already happened, so I try to make everything a learning experience. Instead of thinking negatively about what I did wrong, I try to focus on why that mistake happened and what I can do to prevent it next time. At the end of the day, mistakes happen and you learn the most from them. The rounds I’ve learned the most from were not pretty.
Do you feel pressure or nerves when walking into the show ring? How do you cope with them?
I do get nervous, but it’s in a good way, more of an excitement than anything else. I am super competitive, and that can catch up to me mentally sometimes.
Before we bought Babylon, my parents said we weren’t going to buy a horse like this if I can’t handle the pressure. I made the commitment that I was going to make the most of the opportunity they were giving me. From that day on, something changed for me in a good way, but, I think it’s totally normal to get nervous.
What was your D1 process that lead you to commit to Auburn?
I went back and forth on whether I wanted to ride in college for a long time! Now being a junior in high school, when it’s decision time, I thought I would look at some riding schools. When I went to Auburn, I loved the energy and how competitive the team is. I played a lot of team sports growing up, so I’m really excited to get back into that atmosphere next year.
What is the best advice or tip you have ever received, in the equestrian world or just in life in general?
I was sitting on top going into the last round of Junior Hunter Finals 21’, and John said “if you don’t make it happen, someone else will,” and that has really stuck with me. Even outside of riding, I think it can apply to any situation.
Top 5 things you can always find in your trunk/locker at a horse show?
Chapstick, water, boot polish, sunscreen, gloves
Favorite thing to do outside of riding?
Spending time with friends
Go-to food and/or snack when at a horse show?
Chicken tenders for sure
Go-to TV show or movie?
Favorite horse show you’ve been to?
GCT Miami, it was so unreal showing on the beach.