When was the first time you ever rode a horse by yourself?
For my 4th birthday, my present was our (my twin sister Heather and I) first pony, and riding lessons began soon after. It was a year later that my sister and I rode and competed unassisted.
At such an early age, did you have any fears, or were you confident and at ease on a horse at once?
I can never remember being afraid on the horses, even though, starting as such a small child, perhaps I should have been! As far as I can recall, my sister and I always felt comfortable and right at home riding the horses. We loved it right off the bat.
How long did you ride a pony before graduating to riding horses?
I had ponies from the start of my riding at 4 years old until I was around 10 or 11. I was always tall for my age and grew out of ponies at an early age for most riders.
Do you have names for your horses?
Oh yes, I have multiple names for my horses actually. They all have what we call “show names,” the names that their original breeders or owners give them. And then from those we give them “barn names,” or nicknames for short that we use around the barn.
Which was and is now your favorite horse?
My favorite horse has been and still is VDL Lotus Excel (“Lotus”). He is my longest time partner. I started riding him four years ago in the junior divisions, and we have built a very special relationship over the years. Horses are just like humans in that they get along with some people and not with others—whether it is in the show ring or just around the barn. Lotus and I just click: he pricks his ears and runs over to me when I make a kissing sound. He is happy to see me when I walk in the barn in the morning. Horses will let you know if they like you or not, and Lotus and I are definitely friends.
In your estimation, has there ever been a horse or a number of horses that are equally/remotely comparable to Sea Biscuit in performance, skill, charisma and legend, say? we are all learning and gaining experience.
“I don’t know enough about racing to make any comparisons to Sea Biscuit, but I do know that there have been a number of tremendous show jumpers with all of the charisma and talent and impressive records that deserve the attention of the general public. Remarkable show jumping superstars –riders and horses–sometimes go unnoticed by the American public. Most recently, McLain Ward and Beezie Madden, along with their 2-time Olympic partners in 2004 and 2008, Sapphire and Authentic, have earned the United States consecutive team gold medals. My hope for the sport is that someday these terrific athletes–riders and horses alike–will have the notice and recognition they deserve.”
we are all learning and gaining experience.
How do you communicate with your horses?
When I am riding and jumping my horses, there are many ways I communicate with them. In showjumping, you use your legs, your hands, your seat (shifting your weight), and even your voice. You would be surprised how responsive horses are to the sounds of your voice. Depending on how you use your voice, you can calm and relax the horses, or you can encourage them. Horses are remarkable in that the slightest movements or noises can send them various signals or commands. Additionally, when I am not jumping my horses, but simply exercising them on the flat, I am still involved in their training and fitness. The better you exercise your horse, the more fit and responsive he or she will become. In showjumping at this top level, the horses are the athletes: they are fit, strong, fast, and competitive. They have the top care that an athlete would as well. At the end of the day, my horses have magnetic blankets that relax and soothe the muscles in their bodies, their legs are wrapped to support their tendons, and they even have a chiropractor!
To what degree, are you involved with the training of your horses?
As a young rider who is competing on horses less experienced than many of the top international horses, every time my horses and I go into the ring, we are all learning and gaining experience. Essentially, with the instruction of my trainers, I am “training” my horses whenever I compete. Especially since I have started to compete internationally, each top competition is a learning experience.
What is a thoroughbred horse, and what breed do you favor the most?
A “thoroughbred” is an American breed of horse most commonly associated with horse racing. Thoroughbreds are refined, slender, and built for speed. Most top showjumpers, on the other hand, are of European descent and are referred to as “warmbloods.” I favor warmbloods because they are larger, brave and jump more powerfully. Two of my horses are German warmbloods (Holsteiners), and three are Dutch warmbloods.
What was your most terrifying experience on a horse?
My most terrifying riding experience came last summer when my horse jumped into what we call a combination—two jumps separated by either one or two strides (essentially, steps). When I landed from the first jump, my horse misjudged the distance and thought the two-stride was a one-stride and took off without my asking him to. Since we were too far away, my horse and I flipped over the second jump, and I hit the ground like a missile! Luckily neither of us was injured, but it was still a terrible feeling knowing that upon take-off it would end with us flipping over.
What are the most renown competitions you’ve been in, so far?
Last year, I was lucky to have been selected to represent the United States as a member of our Nations Cup team that was competing in Buenos Aires, and in Wellington, Florida at the Winter Equestrian Festival. This summer I was a member of our Nations Cups teams competing in Falsterbo, Sweden, Hickstead, England and Dublin. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to ride in such traditional, historic showjumping stadiums.