The 2016 Rio de Janiero Olympics are right around the corner, and teams across all Olympic sports are starting to announce their squads. One of those who booked a ticket to Brazil is one of South Whidbey’s own.
Maya Black and her 11-year-old horse Cody were listed as the traveling reserves for the U.S. eventing team. As the only traveling reserve in the squad, Black will suit up in red, white and blue whether or not she actually steps in for someone to compete. The eventing squad was announced June 20.
“I feel really honored that I’ve been given this opportunity,” Black said. “It’s something my horse and I have been working towards for a long time— not necessarily this goal, but improving in general. I’m all about the growing process and building this relationship with Cody.”
Black is a South Whidbey High School graduate, and currently resides in Berryville, Va.
Eventing is the triathlon of equestrian. It covers multiple events, including cross country, dressage and show jumping. South Whidbey has stables that teach multiple disciplines of equestrian, hence the South End’s development of Olympians in equestrian sports. Black’s older cousin, Adrienne Lyle, represented the United States in dressage at the 2012 London Olympics.
Regardless of whether Black will compete or not, given her status as the traveling reserve, the opportunity to train and travel with the country’s top equestrians will prove an invaluable experience going forward in her eventing career. Some of the riders representing the United States are from around the globe and received U.S. citizenship, Black says, and are some of the top riders in the world. There are four members on the eventing team ahead of her.
“I feel like the team that was picked is the team that should have been picked, and I just hope I can help when I’m called upon,” Black said.
As a reserve, she and Cody will spend time training with the best American eventing riders and will have to be ready to step in if something happens to one of the riders or horses above her. It also will embed her with the team in the first place, which is crucial given eventing is an Olympic team sport. Black says she has an easy going personality, which she thinks will set her up well with the teamwork aspect of the Olympic preparations.
“The team has to see how you do under pressure and how you work as a team with the other riders,” Black said. “This can only be beneficial moving forward, and being able to go to the Olympics as a reserve is still such an honor.”
2016 has been Black and Cody’s breakout year. In April they placed third at Rolex in Kentucky, one of the most prestigious eventing competitions in the world. That performance caught the eye of the American eventing team, especially given her young age. To put that into perspective, the top American eventing rider is 52 years old.
Black is described as “quietly dedicated” by former South Whidbey Pony Club District Commissioner Cathy Tauscher. Black was always focused on helping others and being kind to fellow riders, Tauscher said, but underneath there was an intensity within. It often went unnoticed because Black was so reserved and focused.
“Organizing all the lessons as the district commissioner of the Pony Club could be exhausting at times, but this is what makes it all worth it,” Tauscher said. “I’m so proud of her. She is such a fine person.”
Black’s parents say what her talent comes down to is her love for horses. They tried to show her other activities as a kid, but she always ended up wanting to play with the horses in the end, William Black, her father said. As parents that weren’t into equestrian themselves, they never pushed horseback riding on her, rather they let her follow her own passions.
“She’s on a horse basically  days a year and has been doing so since she could walk,” Shelley Black, her mother, said. “We so proud that she is living her dream.”