By Austria Arnold

Our lives are made up of moments—big and small.

When we look back, some snippets become defining pieces in the building blocks of who we become. I was a young girl sitting at a Texas Quarter Horse Association banquet when my catalyst-filled moment occurred. This was my first banquet winning a state level award and I felt slightly out of place, unsure of where to sit or how to handle the small reception.

That day, Nancy Cahill, the pinnacle of elite equestrians, spoke about what it meant for her to coach Team USA. I listened intently to every word she said. I still remember walking to the car with my family after that reception. As we hopped in the car, I told them that one day I was going to ride for Team USA. Being their most supportive selves, my parents explained that was a great goal, but would be incredibly difficult to achieve.

For nearly a decade, that dream fueled me. It forced me to push a little harder when obstacles appeared and reminded me to constantly stay humble in the face of success. It became a shared family dream.  

Austria Arnold with her family | Photo courtesy of Austria Arnold

Without question, my family always mounted me on the best horse we owned, making my dreams the priority. My mom would spend hours researching the best routes, allowing us to hit two or three competitions in one day. Sometimes nerves would get the best of me, but over time, I learned how to shut the world out and focus on the two and a half minutes of competition.

In 2013, I qualified for my first World Finals and I felt like I was growing closer to my dream. The next year, I clenched a World Championship. That victory propelled my desire for a spot on Team USA.

The qualification time for Team USA finally arrived in early 2016. I nervously anticipated the news. As I sat in the car next to my mom, I answered a call from an unknown number. Nancy Cahill introduced herself on the other end of the line. I will never forget her asking me, “What are your plans for June?” She asked me to represent Team USA in Australia in the Youth World Cup. There were lots of happy tears.

Austria Arnold with Nancy Cahill | Photo courtesy of Austria Arnold

For two weeks, I kept the secret as I waited for the team to be officially announced.

Fast forward to June 2016. I am on the longest flight in operation from Dallas / Ft. Worth International Airport to Sydney International Airport. Upon arriving, we traveled to Tamworth where I meet my team and begin training. It is an incredible feeling to walk with the flag of the United States of America during the parade of teams. A few days later, I drew two random horses to compete on. They were both incredible for me and I won a gold medal both rounds.

Tears streamed down my face as they hung the medal around my neck and played the national anthem. Up to this point, I rode for myself and my family, but now I rode for the United States of America.

For once, it was about so much more than riding a horse. My coaches were emotional, my teammates cheered and hugged me. These are memories that I come back to often. With every tough day of training or failed dream, I thank God for letting this one come true. 

Austria with Team USA | Photo courtesy of Austria Arnold