December 3, 2020 by Joshua Ross
Hingham is known for many things, especially its excellent sports programs, but producing world-class equestrian riders has not been one of them...until now.
Hingham High School sophomore Francesca Guidi, or Franki as most people call her, is making quite a name for herself in the world of equestrian competitors. Even in the time of COVID, Franki and her horses travel all over the country competing with the best riders in the world, and in most cases, placing amongst the top in each competition she enters.
A few weeks back, in her last big show of the season at the National Horse Show in Lexington, Kentucky, Guidi finished 5th out of 178th riders nationally. Like most high-level athletes, success comes with many sacrifices and ungodly time management skills, and for Guidi, lots and lots of time with her four-legged friends.
It all started when Franki, who's now 15, was around 4 years old and fell in love with riding at a family friend's barn in Chicago. As soon as she got home, the lessons began. For the first few years, all the competitions were small, local western shows to build confidence and gain experience. As her abilities grew, she moved on to Holly Hill Show Stable in Hanover. This allowed her to compete on a bigger circuit against better riders. Unlike traditional New England sports, say like hockey (which Guidi played up until a few years ago), equestrians need to travel to find worthy competition. So, 5.5 years ago, the traveling began to places like Lake Placid, Wellington, Fl, and Vermont. And also, unlike traditional sports, which might have a travel tournament over a weekend, horse shows are for weeks at a time. Being gone for several weeks, especially during the school year, requires dedication, discipline, and, unfortunately, some pretty hard decisions.
"Two years ago, I had to make a choice between hockey and equestrian," Guidi says. "I couldn't do both. To be really competitive in hockey, you need to put a lot of time into it and not just do it as a hobby. I decided to sacrifice hockey and transition to equestrian full time."
The decision to take up equestrian full-time also came with the decision to switch barns again. This time the move was to Grazing Fields Farm in Buzzards Bay, which gave her more opportunities, but the 45 minute drive each way also took up more of her time each day.
"I'm at the barn every day after school, except for Mondays, for at least 3 hours," Guidi explains. "I'll do my homework or study in the car on the ride down or back, get home and have dinner, finish the rest of my homework and go to bed."
She spends anywhere between 24-30 hours a week training when not traveling weeks at a time, which leaves little time for anything else. The phrase she continuously uses is "time management." There's also a fair amount of cooperation with her teachers, guidance counselor, and, sometimes, tutors. The effort she's put into to balance school and training has not gone unnoticed by her teachers. A recent recommendation by a former teacher describes Franki as "loyal, hard-working, and dedicated to her community and friends." The recommendation also comments on how she "takes responsibility" and is a "humble and kind leader."
"I definitely don't want to isolate myself in the horse world so that I'm completely consumed, although I love it so much, I do have to balance it out," Guidi explains as she talks about her friends and how it's difficult to spend much time with them.
"I'm fortunate enough to have such great friends that are supportive of me and won't forget about me, and whenever I have any extra time, I try and hang out with them," she adds.
Her impressive placing last month at the National Horse Show has accelerated an already aggressive college recruitment timeline. A typical high school sophomore wouldn't even start thinking about college choices until junior year. In fact, college coaches aren't allowed to have personal contact with high school students until June 15th of their sophomore year. That's not stopping Franki from preparing now. She already has an active Instagram account, a YouTube channel, and a recently launched website to showcase her talents, abilities, and achievements. Some colleges and universities that actively recruit riders are Cornell, Auburn, Baylor, Georgia, and the University of South Carolina. Two of her current teammates attend Baylor University on equestrian scholarships.
"Starting June 15th, you can start recruiting, and you can commit (to a program)," Guidi explains. "It's definitely something I'm hoping to do. I've started the process of reaching out to coaches with my YouTube channel and website. Even though the coaches can't respond to you, you can email them, do unofficial visits, and to camps and clinics at the schools to get some recognition."
The process also includes a variety of recommendations from teachers and coaches. Kathryn Fletcher, Guidi's current coach and owner of Grazing Fields Farm said the following in her submission.
"She shows up at the barn after a fifty-minute commute with a smile and hello to everyone she comes across. She comes prepared for lessons, ready to learn and quick to do just that. The progress she has made in her riding within a year speaks volumes of her ability to adapt and learn and leaves me excited for her future as a young horsewoman. Franki has started to bring along a green mare, which she plans to develop into her final equitation horse, no easy task but one that she has the patience and perseverance for."
That patience and perseverance may also put her on track for an Olympic run one day. Olympic equestrian riders reach their prime after college age, unlike most Olympic athletes who peak before their twenties. Part of her college selection process will be finding a program that enables her to continue to grow and gives her the ability to take either the Olympic or professional rider path.
Her rapid progress and advancements in the sport have also led to the need for a variety of horses. Currently, Guidi owns 3 horses (her new mare coming from the Netherlands will meet her in Wellington,Fl in January), and all are needed for her competitions and shows. For an outsider, it can be challenging to understand the different classifications and categories of equestrian competitions. The best way to describe the sport is a cross between the high jump, gymnastics, and figure skating, where the height of jumps, required technics, and presentation all count in scoring, and different horses are needed for certain routines. Cash, the horse she's had the longest, is getting older and won't be able to do the jumps at the next level. The other horses can do the height of 3'6" that she jumps at now and will make the 3'9" height that's the next level up.
In addition to training for competition, Guidi is also taking on training one of her untrained or green horses, which she plans to ride for her last 3 years of juniors competitions.
Regardless of what the future holds and what pressure she might be feeling, Guidi is taking advantage of the opportunities presented to her. She may be missing out on some of the usual teenage stuff, but she's grateful for the unique experiences she's having now with her riding family.
"I'm really lucky to have a close group of friends in juniors that are all ages. I have a bunch of friends that are younger than me, that are older than me that are like my big sisters and little sisters. We are all competitive in our own ways and there is friendly competition, but everyone is supportive and at the end of the day, we are all best friends no matter what happens."