Conversations With Equestrians: Ali Nilforushan

We all know Ali Nilforushan – he’s been a part of the California equestrian scene for some years and can be a formidable force when defending his views. I caught up with this International rider earlier this year to find out more about his history as well as what’s on the horizon for this professional and his clients.

Dreaming of Horses
Ali has dual US-Iranian citizenship. Born in Tabriz, Iran, he started his riding career at the age of seven. After moving to the US at the age of 12, Ali continued his riding. “All I dreamed about was riding – no, I literally had dreams about horses – I’d close my eyes at night and imagine that I was on a horse galloping, and I knew, it was all I wanted to do.” After playing football and baseball (he excelled in both), Ali knew his passion would always be in equestrian sport.

Later, Ali moved to Holland to train for three years. During his time in Holland, he qualified for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney as the first and only equestrian competitor for Iran. “That was quite an achievement” Ali explained, “I rode a horse that I got for nothing and people had written him off. We qualified for Sydney and made the Finals, which was incredible. Unfortunately, he couldn’t pass the second vet check and was unfit to compete. Even so, it was a thrill first to make the Olympics and then make it to the Finals. It was a huge accomplishment for my career.” Ali completed his pre-Olympic training in France and then spent one season post-Sydney prior to returning to the states to compete in the West Coast League.

Talk About Formidable
There’s a new horse in Ali’s life – his new prospect Formidable (barn name “Able”). After selling both his grand prix horses, Ali purchased the approved 6-year-old, Holsteiner stallion in December 2010 (Sire is For Pleasure, with Cartago on his Dam’s side). Rebecca Lewis of Lewis Circle of Horses, LLC also owns a percentage. As a four-year-old, Able was Champion of Verband in Germany. “He’s the best horse I’ve ever been around, talent-wise. I never imagined I would have a horse this nice,” said Ali of his well-bred prospect.

Able has competed in over 35 classes this year – of those, he’s had a total of three rails. Incredibly wise beyond his years, Able is just learning how to control his big body. “The biggest thing with him is that I have to take my time and let him grow,” Ali explained.

Standing at 17h, his bravery, his jump, and apparently his personality, are all as big as he is. “When you’re walking around, he’s like a trail horse. During warm-up I have to kick him, and the minute you get into the show ring, his barrel doubles in size and you have to sit dead quiet because he becomes a machine!”

Humbled by his Formidable partner, Ali continues. “He’s the real deal. The only thing you have to do is make sure he doesn’t jump you off. He thinks it’s the coolest thing ever to launch you into the air – he really likes to jump hard.”

Steeped in California culture, it is easy to forget that Ali is from another country, speaks three languages – Farsi, Turkish and English – and has family who live in a place that the United States is at times politically at odds with. Settled in San Diego and realizing his equestrian dreams, Ali stays clear of politics. “It’s very important to respect all cultures – I respect all cultures. I’m proud to be Persian – proud of my heritage, but I also respect who and what I’m around now. I leave the politics for politicians – if you’re a good person, it doesn’t really matter where you’re from.”

Short term plans for Able include the 2011 Wild Turkey Farm Young Horse Championships. His long term plan: the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.

I inquired about Ali’s plans for his show jumping students. “We have a very good group of riders at the moment. It would be really exciting to see Francie [Snedegar] and Katie [Harris] get on a Nations Cup Team. I would love to get them on a developing riding tour to experience the international scene.” For these two “hungry and talented” competitors, Ali believes their experience in the international arena will refine them as riders and take them to the next level.

He continued explaining how riding and competing in Europe is a completely different experience. “The exciting part about competing internationally is that when you go over [to Europe] and swim in deep waters, you go to a whole different level.” Getting to that next level is every rider’s goal, and seeing progress (big or small) is Ali’s favorite part about this sport. “Watching the horse and rider progress and reach for the next training level,” said Ali, “I’m a believer that results come by a product of good work. I constantly push myself, my riders, and my horses because I was told a long time ago that it isn’t practice that makes perfect, it’s perfect practice that makes perfect.”

With a formidable attitude and a Formidable ride, the future looks phenomenal.

Conversations With Equestrians: Bernie Traurig

By Whitney Campbell and Jackie McFarland

Bernie Traurig
Bernie Traurig’s involvement with horses began early and never faltered. From his first trail ride to his genuine backyard stables, a pre-fab garage that his father made into a stall and tack room, it seemed as if a childhood passion was destined to turn into something more serious. Dedicating most of his young rider success to his experiences at Meadowbrook Pony Club in Long Island, New York, and his trainer of four years, Captain Vladimir S. Littauer, Traurig went on to win both the AHSA (now USEF) Medal Finals and the prestigious ASPCA Medal Maclay Finals at the age of 16.

Highlights of Traurig’s career included winning over 60 Show Jumping Grand Prix events and representing the United States Show Jumping Team several times including the 1982 World Championships in Dublin, Ireland. He has competed in eight World Cup Finals. Traurig mastered the high levels of Dressage, winning 15 Grand Prix and Grand Prix special classes. He was short listed for the 1986 World Championship Trials and the 1988 Olympic Games. In 2009 he was inducted into the National Show Hunter Hall of Fame. Reaching the top of the sport in three of the International Equestrian Olympic disciplines: Show Jumping, Dressage, and Eventing, he is recognized as a legend in the sport. As a teacher and trainer, he is successful and sought after clinician.

After building 53 years worth of training and riding techniques and experiences with thousands of horses, Traurig is not only driven to give back to the sport but realized the infinite value of the web as a teaching tool. He developed a virtual place,, where quality education is accessible and affordable for every equestrian online, regardless of background, level, or geographic location.

As the monumental 2010 FEI Alltech World Equestrian Games came to a close and Lexington resumed its life post-WEG, we got a chance to catch up with Bernie Traurig, George Morris’ Associate Chef d’Equipe on the West Coast for the United States Equestrian Team. Traurig was an integral member of the USET selection committee and we got the inside scoop on his lifelong journey in the sport, the team’s overall performance at the Games, a surprise Saudi association and his perspective on the future of the sport.

EQSOL: When did you know you wanted to ride at an international level?
 After I won the Maclay, I started riding jumpers with Vladimir S. Littauer (one of Traurig’s mentors). When I was eighteen I had a decision to make, college or professional rider, and of course my dad wanted me to go to college. I had an opportunity to go to Gladstone, New Jersey, headquarters of the Unites States Equestrian Team. Riders stayed there, rode team horses, squads were chosen, and I also had an open door to be a working student under Frank Chapot. It took a dinner with my coach, Vladimir S. Littauer and William Steinkraus (Captain of the United States Equestrian Show Jumping Team) to convince my Dad that going to Gladstone would be my college education. I spent two and half years riding under Stephan Von Vishy, coach of the US Eventing Team, almost a year with Bert de Nemethy and from there I went into the real world.

EQSOL: What was the transition from Bernie the rider to Bernie the trainer?
 I was second at the Olympic Trials for the 3-day Team, and my horse injured a tendon, one week before the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo so I wasn’t able to go. Soon after I had to find a way to earn a living. I tried racehorses but it wasn’t for me. So I went into business for myself. I was newly married and young, 21, but I had a ‘sheepskin’ to hang on my shingle, I had won the Maclay and trained on the US Eventing Team. We bought a nice turnkey farm in Pennsylvania. Of course I wore a lot of hats in the beginning. I drove the van, braided for shows, taught kids, including Cynthia Hankins and Cindy Weiner (USEF judges). Michael Matz was one of my working students. We also had sale horses – I sold Idle Dice to Rodney Jenkins. I specialized in hunters and equitation that was how I made a living. I went on to jumpers later, and didn’t win my first Grand Prix until I was 27.

EQSOL: What Committees do you serve on and your role in the sport?
 I have served on the Show Jumping High Performance Committee for almost four years. I have been George Morris’ Associate Chef d’Equipe on the West Coast for the United States Equestrian Team and the Chairman of the West Coast Active Riders for the past five years. This year I was one of the selectors for the 2010 World Equestrian Games Team. After all these years it’s nice to be able to take your expertise and give back to the sport through these committees. When you are competing, your focus is on yourself and your career. Serving on committees is volunteer and very time consuming, more than just a few meetings here and there. Now I’m able to spend the time and I find it very rewarding. I am also proud to be accepting the CPHA (California Professional Horseman’s Award) Lifetime Achievement Award in January 2011.

George Morris and Bernie Traurig

EQSOL: Your association with Chef D’Equipe George Morris goes back many years – give us an inside look at how his mind works.
 His mind is like a steel trap. He is quite an incredible person. I don’t know how he does it to tell you the truth. He doesn’t take it seriously, that is too light of a term. George is completely obsessed and possessed with the job. His contract is up after the next Olympics and I don’t know of anyone who could fill his shoes. He is on board at every show that the riders are at, especially the Team riders. He can tell you how many faults and scores each rider had at each show off the top of his head. No one has better insight than he does. His experience is unmatched and he is respected by everyone – riders, directors, executive committees – every level. They rely on him to put his insight into their program. He is instrumental in guiding the riders on how to be horsemen but never interferes with their individual programs. He is a master at his job.

EQSOL: How the Selection Process works – what you did in 2010 to help choose the WEG Team?
 The 2010 WEG US Show Jumping Team Selectors were Molly Ashe, Mark Leone, and myself. Alternates were Robert Ridland, Katie Prudent and Ray Texel. Everyone participated in watching the riders and in the selection of the team. After the trials in Florida the long list of fifteen was chosen, and then divided into three groups. I wanted to see each group, and went to Rome and Aachen, but I missed Dublin because I was ill. There were also many conference calls amongst us. Ultimately the selectors, in consultation with George and the team vet, Tim Ober, chose the team.

EQSOL: What was your impression of the WEG and what happened there.
 George said to me – ‘Bernie, it could have gone either direction. We had a great team and not one thing went right after the first day.’ The competition started off with a bang but a lot of unforeseen mishaps occurred. Mario Deslauriers was coming off of a solid European Tour and Spruce Meadows. He had a great first day going quick and clean for the lead, but then the horse pulled a shoe just before his second round, which probably played a role in faults there. And he had a very unfortunate ride at the triple bar on Wednesday. Mclain Ward came off two big wins, the Hamptons and the Pfizer Million. His speed round was excellent, as expected, and the third night Sapphire looked tired and not herself. He then made a brilliant comeback and jumped world-class in the individual on Friday.

Laura Kraut had a problem early on with a carriage going by the warm up arena. Cedric lit up and she was very strong on course day one. She had one unfortunate rub in the first round of the nations cup and then came back with a clean world-class second round.

Lauren Hough’s horse got spooked outside in the warm up, and as George put it, ‘got a bee in its bonnet’ and ran out at the last oxer several times and then had to go off that. Clearly that shook her up a bit, and threw her off her game plan. A fabulous team with a solid record and perfect preparation that collectively had a lot of mishaps coming together at the wrong time.

Traurig with the Saudi Team

I talked with the Saudi’s right after it was over. I have a long history and strong connection with that team. Khaled was my boy. I trained him and the rest of the team, with the exception of Abdullah al Sharbatly who is younger, and several other Saudi’s for seven years at Albert Court in Rancho Santa Fe. I was very proud of all of them.

My association started by chance in 1987 when I met Ziyad Abdul Jawad. He was going to Pepperdine and came to me looking for a horse. He said, ‘I want to ride on the Olympic Team, but I have never jumped before.’ So we started from scratch and he did very well. He was ranked second in the country in the high Amateur Owner division and then retired to go into business with his father. He introduced me to his cousin, Fahad Zahid, whose daughter, Alya still owns and operates Albert Court Limited in Rancho Santa Fe where I trained the Saudi boys. Fahad was also extremely instrumental in my career sponsoring me with three grand prix jumpers, Maybe Forever, Eastern Sunrise, and Corsair. I went to Saudi Arabia several times, and together with Ziyad helped start the National Federation over there. That was a key chapter in my career; it was rewarding to see them do so well.

EQSOL: Talented riders – from EAP to WEG – how should we address all the levels, including grassroots?
 Where are we headed? Seems in the right direction as long as we keep in mind that the kids need the option of good programs, for every level of rider. The lower level rider needs help to get up to the high levels as well as giving opportunities to the top kids. We have plenty of talent in this country, but it needs direction. We have to keep up as well as beef up our focus for our youth programs and on how we can get them to the super league status. It’s happening, the Young Rider tour in Europe went very well this year, but we need to continue developing on an annual basis.

How do we define grassroots? It is pretty broad, as there are only a select group of kids that can afford to ride, train and compete at the elite levels. I used to argue that this sport wasn’t only for the elite; I didn’t come from a wealthy family, but these days it is extremely expensive to compete consistently at the best horse shows. I wouldn’t have had the means and I can’t keep my kids in the show ring. How many kids are out there that go unnoticed because they can’t afford a six-figure horse as well as to compete on that horse? Not that we don’t have some incredible talent, we most certainly do. Young Riders and George’s Mastership Program prove that, and I would like to see those kids reach super league status. But there are more.

What is the future of our sport? All the expenses shut out a lot of potential talent. It is tough to even have a barn in the backyard when a bale of hay costs almost $25. Today, the cost of the horse is so exorbitant. Even buying young horses to train and sell for profit, the cost to educate the horses at shows and the monthly costs on top make it near impossible to make any money, unless it’s a real superstar, which is rare. Is there a way we can slow it down? I hope so. I don’t know how, but I hope there’s a way for everyone to enjoy this fabulous sport.

So my hope is that some checks and balances occur. If I had a crystal ball I’d like to look ahead fifteen years and see ways for talented riders to have a chance. Bring back a little of the old ways to mix with the new. Part of the answer is sponsors – we need to continue to develop great sponsors of the sport.

From individuals to associations, many of us involved in the sport are seeking for more answers.

EQSOL: What is your advice for up and coming riders?
 Focus on apprenticeships with the best in the sport. Young riders need to latch onto a top person in the sport and get under their wing. Make it an education and utilize the knowledge that the pros have and absorb it. Today’s world is too quick. You can’t get an education in three months. Instead, spend a few years absorbing, training, riding and teaching. Find somebody that you respect and apprentice with them, don’t rush. And go to college, which is another essential part of education.

Bernie and his wife Cait in the Equestrian Coach studio green room

EQSOL: You have come up with your own answers to today’s world embracing technology…
 In 2007, I tried to figure out how to offer top-notch knowledge to the masses via the web at affordable prices. It was a long and arduous process learning and developing the content management, streaming, getting the best quality, high definition, wireless broadband, etc. Once we were on the path, it took almost a year and a half to get the site ready to launch. Finally in June of this year, we introduced, the online solution to affordable coaching. Our philosophy is to seek out the very best instructors in the world and bring that level of instruction to the subscriber. It’s a lot of work from concept to completed video piece. We have some great guest coaches working with us. We now have two editing bays, a green screen and full-blown plan for upcoming coaches. It’s fun, each one is a learning experience and I really enjoy it. I’m convinced that seeing it visually is the best way.

We are excited to be working with the USHJA, Pony Club, IHSA colleges, affiliate associations and individuals for member discounts. Our newest level of membership was just announced. At this new level, a member will send in their own video and in return there will be not only analysis but also video solutions to your specifics needs. The point is if you are serious and want to learn, you can access the best. It is not only one of the ways I am giving back, but one where riders have a chance to learn from top trainers annually for less than it costs to participate in a clinic.

Thank you Bernie. Those who take their expertise and offer it to all are an inspiration. From the grassroots to the Games, we appreciate your time.


Sponsor Stories

By Jackie McFarland

Greg Mech & Merrill Lynch Wealth Management
The Causes that We Care About
Merrill Lynch Wealth Management  Aside from being responsible for the Merrill Lynch Wealth Management Business and Strategy for the Southwest Region of Merrill Lynch as well as the Market President for Bank of America acting as the senior executive for local businesses, civic and philanthropic leadership for Bank of America in Orange County, Greg Mech loves horses.

“I actually ride!” he exclaimed during our interview. “I ride with Dana Smith, a trainer who has been in San Juan Capistrano for 27 years and operates a wonderful teaching facility.”

Sponsorships support our community, in this case the community of show jumping. To be involved in a community connects you to the heartbeat and nothing raises the heartbeat like watching a Grand Prix.
Greg Mech and Atlantic
Help2 Support Sport 
Mech shares, “Merrill Lynch is proud to return as a sponsor. Grand Prix Show Jumping is such an incredible sport, the horses and riders are truly amazing athletes.”

Those of us on the inside often forget to step back and look at our sport. It is extraordinary – from the horses that develop into top performers to the riders of all ages and aspirations committed to show jumping. This is the only Olympic level sport where men and women compete equally, both horse and rider. And we will witness that during the $30,000 June Classic Grand Prix, made possible by Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.

Help2 Give Back to the Community
Mech went on to explain that the sponsorship reflects the firm’s commitment to the community of Orange County, as well as their admiration for the sport. Giving back to the community benefits clients as well as the corporate employees that in turn support Merrill Lynch.

“We’ve been in Orange County for more than forty years and are dedicated to serving the needs of our investors. We are also proud of our long-standing relationship with Blenheim EquiSports, which has lasted more than a quarter century.”

Again for those of us who live within a community and enjoy the offerings generated by sponsorship, we don’t always realize all the people behind these events and the relationships they’ve formed that lead to a fabulous Grand Prix and Kids Day.

Help2 Achieve
“In the past year of economic turbulence, it was challenging to encourage clients to be more rational than emotional.” Mech admits. “Despite the challenge, we have been successful in helping our clients feel more confident about the recovery by keeping them informed about the markets through our top research analysts.” The leading wealth management and investment services firm is taking charge in developing new ways to guide clients in re-evaluating their priorities in a new world. Focusing on what matters most, Merrill Lynch Wealth Management is centered on the enduring relationships with their clients.

“Our clients bring us more than their financial needs – they look to us to help make their lives better. It’s our job to foster that relationship and champion their interests by being one step ahead.”

Providing comprehensive solutions and sound advice has never been more critical. With their extensive resources, Merrill Lynch Financial Advisors are prepared to help you achieve your goals no matter what storms the economic climate has in store.

Showcasing Young Talent: Ashlee Bond

By Jackie McFarland

Ashlee Bond: Riding the Wave
 I recently had a chance to interview the invincible Ashlee Bond. Last week in the $40,000 Summer Classic Grand Prix she was first, fourth and seventh on her three entries in a class of 56 horses. She has taken the show jumping world by storm and continues to ride that winning wave. Ashlee has had an uncanny raw talent since she was a little girl on ponies, winning from the moment she stepped into the show arena. She didn’t know nor understand her ability – when her father, Steve, asked her if she realized what she had done when she was champion at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show at age 11, she commented, “No, not really, but I sure had fun.”

Like many young girls, Ashlee has Olympic dreams. Also a southern California girl originally, the young Meredith Michaels Beerbaum would state that she was going to be the number one rider in the world. These aspirations mixed with years of work, an intense competitive edge and the right horse equal to gold medals, World Cup victories, European Championships and more. This is not luck. The lucky part is that this phenomenal horse, Cadett 7, and rider have found each other. Like Meredith and Shutterfly, these two flow together so flawlessly it’s poetry in motion.

EqSol: Where to start… Does it feel like a dream or a path? 
AB: It feels like a little bit like both – it’s always been a dream to get to the top, it also feels like it’s meant to be. I think it’s cool to have proven that this is where I belong, that I am on the right track.

EqSol: Remember when we interviewed you just two years back when you were one-two here at Blenheim on Southern Girl & Tommy Gun… 
AB: That was when I had just come back from taking some time off – getting my feet wet again. It was a good start. The win helped build my confidence and boosted the rest of my career. I knew I still had a lot of work to do and I needed a legitimate 1.60m horse.

EqSol: Those two mounts were homebred. Any plans to continue with the breeding program? 
AB: Yes! It’s a great partnership between my dad and me when we work with the babies. He breaks them and I train them over fences. We have a seven-year-old Super Girl [Best of Luck x Surfer Girl] that we bred. She did the futures at HITS and was fourth in 1.35m this week. She’ll go to Spruce Masters with us. I think she has a big future. I have high hopes for her. We also have two four-year-olds, Good Girl [Good Times x Super Girl] and Moondoggie [Lord Continuet x Southern Girl] and two Indoctro babeis now three-year-olds, Isabella and Gidget. They all show great natural talent and will come along end of this year, beginning of next.

EqSol: Tell us about buying Cadett – when you first tried him did he feel like ‘the one’? 
AB: Ilan Ferder found him in Europe for Aurora Griffin from top Swedish rider Lotta Schultz. The moment we saw Cadett in the Meredith Michaels Beerbaum clinic in Thermal almost two years ago my dad and I both saw something in him. We told Ilan to please let us know if he was ever for sale. Then it all just magically worked out. Aurora only had him for seven months when we tried him in June of 2008 – right before we were leaving for Spruce – I rode him once and it was a perfect fit. I competed on him the last two weeks and on the final day of the second week I won the $75,000 Sunlife Financial Grand Prix.

We realized that he needed conditioning so once we were home we put him on the treadmill every day. He also had to learn to trust me – he’s a careful horse. You never know if a horse will step up, but every time we went in the ring our partnership kept growing and growing – beginning in Thermal this year and in Europe it exploded. I couldn’t have imagined we were going to achieve anything close to what we accomplished. It was amazing.

EqSol: Starting with your indoor season ending in Vegas at the World Cup Finals – give us your thoughts on your rides, the courses etc. 
AB: At the World Cup I made an error in each round that caused me a rail. I was close each day – but not as good as I would have liked. Thermal prepared us well. But it was huge. Anthony D’Ambrosio was spectacular and did an amazing job. It was an eye opener to what was to come in Europe.

EqSol: Your thoughts when you walk those big European courses… 
AB: At first in Europe I was the alternate for the team, so I had to prove myself. When I walked the 1.50m speed class, the qualifier for the Grand Prix, I knew I had a shot. I thought ‘this is my opportunity to show them I belong here.’ And I did it! I was the only American to place that day (7th). And then George decided to put me on the team. We walked the Nations Cup and I was pretty calm. I still felt like I needed to put the pressure on and prove myself. I was clean in the Nations Cup, both rounds. Actually I was clean in each Nations Cup – La Baule, Rome and St. Gallen. My dad said the FEI claimed that had never been done – fault free six consecutive times. It’s been quite a summer! I have an amazing support team. I am very close to my family. My parents are incredibly supportive through thick and thin. My dad is an integral part to our program. Richard (Spooner) and I work great together – he knows my horse and me. Plus I know myself, and I am confident in us as a team. I don’t over-analyze the courses – I don’t change my ride because of where I am and what level we are competing at. So each course I stay true to who I am and my instincts.

EqSol: And those Super League shows you attended in Europe?
AB: We jumped on a lot of beautiful big grass fields. These are the top shows with the top players – everything is done to perfection. The athletes are treated like stars. Simply wonderful shows from the atmosphere – the vibe – the crowds – signing autographs –thousands of people screaming your name. All of Europe was amazing. Rotterdam was so beautiful – we were in a forest and Aachen – what can I say? It was Aachen, first class all the way.

EqSol: The most valuable lessons you’ve learned in the last two years? 
AB: To not take anything for granted. To appreciate where you are – what goes up can come down, so enjoy every moment and learn from every mistake. Everyone knows in this sport – you can be up and down – even in the same class.

The best lessons were when I was down and out, not doing well and had to pick myself up – you learn who you are, your character that you can pull yourself together and come through. Then you appreciate the ups so much more. The same person doesn’t always win. You aim to be consistent and on any given day you never know what’s going to happen. You try to make it your day, your moment – give it your best shot.

EqSol: Fall-winter competition plans? 
AB: We are bringing some of our young horses and all the Grand Prix horses to Showpark and then we head to Spruce for the Masters, looks like Florida for the WEG trials – hopefully that will put me on the European tour again, the WEG and so on until the Olympics – end goal is the 2012 Olympics.

EqSol: Do you feel like this is destiny? 
AB: I love to sing – but it was NOT FUN to sing in front of a crowd, it was totally nerve wracking. I love to compete and when I go into the ring I’m not nervous. Actually I’m nervous and anxious the day before. When I walk in that class it’s time for me to be with my horse – the rest of the world falls away and I get strangely calm. My brother Dylan is big into surfing – he talks about being at one with the wave, the rest of the world doesn’t matter. That’s how I am in the ring. Riding the wave.

Thank you, Ashlee! We wish you continued success.

West Coast Rider Will Simpson Headed To Hong Kong?

By Jackie McFarland

On Monday July 7th, four months after announcing the short list, the USEF Ad Hoc Committee on Selection will name the US Olympic Equestrian Team for Show Jumping. With only Aachen remaining for the short-listed ‘A’ Team, the pressure is on.

What Has Happened to Date:
On March 10, 2008 the USEF Ad Hoc Committee for selection chose six horse and rider combinations based on their performance in the Selection Trials and four other pairs were given a bye.

The six top performers included Laura Kraut, Nicole Shahanian-Simpson, Anne Kursinski on two horses, Charlie Jayne and Kate Levy.

Two top riders, McLain Ward on Sapphire and Beezie Madden on Authentic, were given byes before the trials began – meaning they were automatically chosen to be on the short list and did not have to compete in the trials. After two trials Jeffrey Welles and Armani were also given a bye. Will Simpson and El Campeon’s Carlsson Vom Dach were awarded the final bye after solid performances in all the trials with the exception of the last, where the horse was unable to compete.

These top ten were divided into two groups of five to participate on two European Tours before selecting the final team to represent the United States in Hong Kong this August.

Ad Hoc Selection Committee:
George Morris
Frank Chapot
Michael Endicott
Eric Hasbrook
Candice King (alternate selector)

Michael Endicott, who’s been on this committee since its inception six years ago, explained how they work. George and one selector are present at each event. “The entire committee discusses overall performance; everything from the jog to the jump. Essentially any details that would affect the team,” Mike explained. “It’s purely about performance, how this horse and rider will represent us.”

Will’s Will
  We had the opportunity to speak to Will when he was home briefly after representing the USEF on a European Tour.

JM: What was the most challenging aspect to the European Tour?
WS: The language barrier was sometimes a challenge. In Germany they changed the order and put 6 horses ahead of me and I didn’t understand until I was already schooled and ready. Had to prepare again once I knew. Some shows run exactly on time, others run late – it seems to depend on the country.

JM: Tell us about Carlsson Vom Dach.
WS: We bought him in April of 2007. He’s 12 years old and at the peak of his career. We knew he was special and it started to show last summer at Spruce. Good at 1.40m, 1.45m and then we did three 1.50m Grand Prix in Europe, returned to Spruce for the Masters and when we came home we started to discuss the best plan. We did the three World Cup qualifiers – Del Mar, Las Vegas and LA National and then we trained on a variety of surfaces at home – grass, sand – we jumped some big courses.

JM: How do you feel about his performance in these high-pressure situations?
WS: We had only competed at 1.50m before heading to Wellington for the trials at 1.60m. He stepped right up. Went in and came out fresh. He came out of the European tour fresh – it’s an unknown whether a horse will go through the trial system and come out like he has. Every time we ask a question of him he has the right answer.

JM: Who helped you prepare for the trials?
WS: Roger, an excellent horseman who’s been grooming for me for 10 years, set jumps. Eva was also my ground person. She was in Europe too. And she’s attending law school.

JM: How was the team experience in Europe?
WS: The team had great camaraderie. I have a great relationship with Anne. Nicki makes a really good teammate. The kids came to Rome and we spent time together as a family.

JM: How does it feel now that the tour is over?
WS: It hasn’t sunk in yet. I feel very fortunate to have a wonderful horse that is really hot. I’m fortunate to even have a chance. I do feel that everything is right: right horse, right time. We are fit and ready.

As we anxiously await the news on July 7th, we wish Will all the best and thank him for his time.

The Transition From Ponies To Horses And The Leap From 3′ to 3’6″

By Zazou Hoffman

The pony hunter ring allows the rider to get a real sense of what the judge is looking for in a hunter. Because the classes are smaller, broken into small, medium, and large pony divisions, the rider and the parents can watch every round; i.e. the whole division from beginning to end. So you can see what the judge rewards in the way of conformation and form over fences as well as in the under saddle classes. From watching and studying the same ponies over a two or three day period, you will learn various judges tastes (each day the judges rotate rings) and can begin to understand what wins. Often it seems that only the “name” ponies, which tend to be the most expensive ponies, are rewarded, but there are exceptions. And here’s the thing–there is camaraderie at the pony ring that gets lost in Children’s Hunters where the divisions have a ginormous number of entries. Your brain would turn to mush if you sat and watched every round, sometimes over a hundred. You never really get to see what the judge wants. Watch and learn at the pony ring as much as you can.

Don’t be too quick to move out of the pony ring, but if you are getting frustrated with competing against the top ponies, try some pony equitation classes and pony medals. Use the pony ring as a place to learn. Take notes on which ponies win consistently, try to watch videos of the best pony rounds from the indoor shows. On the East Coast many of the best pony riders are in their late teens. The Green Pony division is beginning to emerge on the West Coast and there is a real need for competent riders to help train the ponies that show exceptional talent.

Having the chance to show large pony hunters is an advantage in the transition to horses. Large pony hunters actually jump the same height, 3′, as Children’s Hunters (horses). It is more challenging for a pony than it is for a horse to jump that height, and also to cover the longer distances between fences. So pony riders who successfully pilot a large pony around generally feel comfortable with the height and make the transition to horses more readily. After jumping a 3′ course on a pony, you are ready for the next leap onto a horse.

When I rode ponies, I had a couple of difficult ones. They taught me to be a tenacious rider, which got me noticed by other trainers. I was lucky to be asked to catch-ride many wonderful and nationally known ponies. At the same time my mother had a green hunter horse, Andy Warhol, who was ready to move into the Children’s Hunters. We learned together. He was Small Junior Hunter size, so as I advanced, so did he. This is where we learned about another great transition division, the Modified Hunters. At 3’3″ it is an obvious transition height into the Small Juniors, which are 3’6″. One consideration is that there is no prize money because it is an unrated division and there are a ton of competitors. It’s a great practice division, but it’s meant as a transition to the 3’6″. When I moved into the Junior Hunters I can’t say it was seamless, but I did it. The Modified Division helped.

Once again the Junior Hunter Divisions are smaller, as in the ponies, and I took advantage of this by watching and getting a real feel for what the judge was looking for. Here in California, especially at Thermal, we have some of the finest hunters in the country competing. It is amazing to see such great athletes, with flawless conformation and movement, beautifully presented. They are like the most amazing Breyer horse models, but you can go up and touch them and ask the rider questions about their personality and what it’s like to ride them.

If you are already competing on a horse, Children’s, Modified or Junior, take the time to watch the 3’6″ hunters. Watching has taught me a lot over the years, not only about what the judge is looking for but also about the ride.

Zazou Hoffman is a 16-year-old from Santa Monica, CA. As a 13-year-old, having only shown locally, she decided to apply for the Ronnie Mutch Working Student Scholarship. She won, which led to working with respected East Coast trainers Missy Clark and John Brennan. Through hard work and commitment, by Jan. ’07 Zazou was one of seven elite riders chosen to work with Olympic Chef d’Equipe George Morris in Wellington, FL. She has competed in the Medal Finals for the past three years. She counts her win at the Maclay Regional, her 4th in “the Medal” at Harrisburg, her 5th in the USET Talent Search East at Gladstone, and her 3rd in the WCE amongst her notable accomplishments.

Conversations With Equestrians: Ashlee Bond

By Tammy Chipko

Congratulations to Grand Prix rider Ashlee Bond and her mare Southern Girl for topping the field on Saturday, June 30th in the $25,000 Red, White, and Blue Grand Prix. And continued congrats to Ashlee for also placing 2nd on her horse Tommy Gun.

I had the chance to speak with Ashlee regarding her victory and her future plans.

Tammy Chipko: Please tell us a little bit about your Grand Prix horses.
Ashlee Bond: Princess, Southern Girl’s barn name, is an 11-year-old home bred mare – she was both bred and born at my house. In fact, so was Tommy who is now 9 years old. I have been with them literally since they were born and I think that gives me a leg up, at least in knowing and understanding them. I know all of their quirks, likes, and dislikes.

Princess is such a fighter, she has a heart of gold and will do anything for me! She is small but I don’t think she knows that. This was her first Grand Prix win and I am so proud of her. What a start!

Tommy has the same attitude as Princess. He has a big heart and is also really there for me. I have a tremendous bond with these horses – they trust me and I in turn trust them. When we are out there, we are truly a team. It’s a great feeling knowing we are in sync.

I couldn’t do this without a team effort – my mom and dad’s undying support and Nacho’s ability to take such fabulous care of the horses. My dad says that these are Nacho’s horses and he lets us ride them!

I am fortunate that horses are also a passion for my dad. Tommy was his horse and I am lucky to be able to ride and show him. I am hoping he will be my World Cup Horse.

TC: Speaking of the World Cup, what are your future plans?
AB: I would like to compete in the ’08 World Cup Finals. So starting this September I will compete in the World Cup qualifiers. The Olympic Trials are next year, of course I would love to go. What a great experience that would be to compete in the Olympics on a horse we bred and raised. Tommy would give me his all and knowing how talented he is, it would be great to have the chance to represent the US on him. So ultimately the Olympics and the World Cup Finals, but I am taking it one day at a time.

TC: You have returned to the sport after being away for a while, what is it like to be back at this point in your career?
AB: I took some time off due to an injury and I needed to take a break, I was burned out. Taking that break was the best thing I ever did, it made me realize how much I missed riding and how important the horses are to me. I feel refreshed, with such a newfound passion for the sport. I am 150 percent committed and I’m excited about the future.

TC: You are a professional rider now. Do you plan on making a business out of this?
AB: Actually, I am riding professionally and would like to have the opportunity to ride other horses. I would like to have a sponsor, but for now I am just looking forward to the next competition and the next and the next… So I can continue to learn and prepare for the upcoming qualifiers.

TC: Well, I am sure we will see plenty more of you and your wonderful horses. Good Luck!
AB: Thank you!

Ashlee will be at the Oaks in August and then on to Showpark for the first World Cup Qualifying Grand Prix
in September.