Conversations With Equestrians: Michael Stone

Can ESP (WEF) + Stone = WEG 2018 for the FEI?
The right mix of masters could bring the WEG back to the US, or so we would like to speculate… I had the chance to interview one of the individuals who could make this happen, Michael Stone. We spoke twice this year, once in Wellington during the WEG trials at WEF and then again in Lexington directly before the WEG Final Four on Saturday night. We touched on WEF and WEG impressions and strategies.

Who is Michael Stone?
Born and raised in Ireland, Stone, 52, is a former International show jumping rider. He also competed in Eventing and Dressage at a national level.

Michael Stone

Aside from his riding experience, I would venture to say he has an extremely well rounded resume in equestrian sport. Stone has held several titles at the Federation level spanning two decades, including Secretary General of the Equestrian Federation of Ireland from 1987-1997 as well as FEI Assistant Secretary General, FEI Sports Director and FEI Secretary General from 1997-2007.

Plus he has served as Team Manager of the Irish Team and the Irish Junior and Young Riders Teams during several national and international events, including the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and the 1994 FEI World Equestrian Games in The Hague. Before he joined the FEI in 1997, he also spent five years as Management Director of his family’s horse feed business.

Within a week after leaving the FEI, Stone was standing on the polo field at Wellington with Mark Bellissimo of ESP. That was 2007 and after a year of consulting, Stone became a permanent fixture in Wellington.

EqSol: Tell us about all the hats you’ve worn and how they fit.
 I feel quite lucky to have worn all these ‘hats’ in so many aspects of the sport. It certainly gives me unique perspective and I don’t think many people have had that opportunity.

I was involved in governing eventing, dressage and show jumping in my role as the Secretary General of the Irish Federation (the title is considered to be synonymous with President or CEO). Government of a sport means constantly learning about the many layers of what makes the sport tick, from the rules and regulations to those who are committed to competition. When I managed the Irish teams it was not only rewarding to further support the sport, but I gained an inside look at how difficult the role of a rider truly is. That experience gave me invaluable insight to working with riders through the FEI and now understanding the exhibitors at WEF and the other events hosted by ESP.

In my tenure with the FEI, what I had garnered in my years serving the Irish Federation helped me to rise to the role of developing and enforcing the rules for the Olympic disciplines of show jumping, dressage, and three-day eventing as well as for endurance, reining, vaulting, driving in more than 130 countries. One of the most interesting projects I worked with was facilitating the establishment of the FEI Coaching System. It’s a system that works with developing not just riders but coaches for developing countries. Many of the South American riders we see here developed under that system. Jeremy Mullins leads it now.

My current position as president for ESP is very different than my previous positions in non-profit, governing organizations. Here we are motivated to create the best show in the world, an equestrian destination.

EqSol: Tell us more about how you landed here and what you do in your current position.
 In 2007, I had a disagreement with Princess Haya. Essentially one of us had to go, she was appointed and I was hired, so it was me. I left the FEI on a Wednesday, Mark Bellissimo called me on Friday, Saturday we had a deal and by the following Wednesday I was standing in the polo field. For the first year I worked as a consultant from Switzerland and now I live here permanently.

I’m involved in every aspect of the business from sponsorship and marketing to scheduling and special events. I run the business of equestrian show business. And show in this sense truly does have a double meaning – one being top-notch competition for riders at all levels and the other is fabulous equestrian entertainment for spectators of all ages.

EqSol: What have you done and propose to do for WEF competitors?
 What have I done? Spent millions changing all the footing. I worked with Mark to find the right people and put new European footing in every ring. I had new jumps built. We bring in top judges, top course designers to a world-class facility. We reduced the entry fees for the Grand Prix classes by 10%. We worked on the show schedule, introduced new classes likes the Young Rider Grand Prix, a $500,000 Grand Prix, a Puissance during Nations Cup Week, and the Charity Event will return this year. We raised $500,000 for charities in 2010, this year our goal is to raise a million.

We are also working with the USEF to give the top thirty riders on the computer list a special deal for their rankings, a similar concept to the invitational style in Europe.

We continue to invest in the property. We consolidated the showgrounds, all competition will be on the north end now. All our numbers – sponsorships, entries vendors – are up, not down. I think what we have done and the continued enhancements planned are culminating to achieve our goal of creating the best for the best. If you want to compete at the top of the sport, you come here.

Palm Beach International Equestrian Center © Dunn’s Arial Photography

EqSol: For spectators?
 Currently the shows are geared more towards the exhibitors than the spectators. We aim to enhance the spectator experience, but it is a slow process. We continue to promote our evening events. We offer a nice media center and encourage media to cover events. There is a list of great classes worthy of press coverage. We would like to see TV coverage, that comes from bigger sponsors and larger audiences, both of which we are developing.

EqSol: Speaking of world-class, we are fresh off the 2010 WEG. Based on your experience, will you share your impressions?
 This is the first WEG where I haven’t had an official role as Team Manager or on staff, so that was a big change. All World Championships are fantastic. It’s the best quality in horses and riders. Lexington is horse country and the setting is beautiful. Both the indoor and outdoor stadiums are fabulous and the courses from the footing to the creative jumps to the design were excellent.

There were some issues with this event, possibly some unavoidable and certainly ones we can learn from. As fabulous as the Kentucky Horse Park is, the grounds are spread out over acres so there was a lot of distance between venues. Not only did that mean a lot of walking for spectators, but more significantly it is a loss of intimacy. In places like Aachen and Wellington the layout is more compact. You feel closer to the riders and the action. Pricing was another factor. It was expensive to truly experience the entire games, so most attended their discipline only. A lot of the other disciplines could have drawn more crowds had seats been available for a low general admission price.

Of course it’s easy to be wise post event. Overall I believe thousands of equestrians from all over the world had a memorable experience.

EqSol: And tell us about your plan to bid on the WEG in 2018.
 The bid is due next year. It is an intensely detailed proposal. We’ve been working with Wellington Village, Palm Beach city government and the state of Florida on the plan and the potential economic impact. In Lexington the impact was estimated at $180 million. Already a strong tourist and equestrian state, I think it the impact could be more in Florida.

Our experience at ESP is apparent and the facility footprint is similar to Aachen – compact. With the international arena and the extensive stabling, parking for competitors and spectators with separate entrances, we have an established infrastructure. We would definitely have to expand in particular areas, build more seats, a cross-country course and other details in order to host a World Championship event spanning eight disciplines. But our current team is strong and can run an event of this magnitude.

After we submit our bid we won’t know the decision until April of 2013. That would give us five years to prepare.

EqSol: So what ideas do you have to create the ultimate WEG?
 An intimate equestrian experience that supports every aspect of the sport – reasonably priced for the spectators with opportunities to interact with the energy of the event and a fantastic facility for competition.

Economic impact aside, bringing the WEG to Florida would mean the entire state focuses on equestrian sport. It raises awareness, generates improvements to streets and roads, telecommunications and infrastructures. It makes equines and equestrians a central focus and that is ultimately what it is all about – the horse and horse sport.

Thank you Michael for sharing your knowledge and insight. We will see you at future WEFs and look forward to WEG 2018 in Wellington.

Conversations With Equestrians: Reed Kessler

By Jackie McFarland & Ally Mentilik

Reed Kessler
Back at WEF this winter we had the chance to meet the Kesslers, a true equestrian family. All three love horses, the sport and are keen competitors. We spoke to Murray about his involvement with NARG, visited their Wellington barn and interviewed Reed about her horse life.

After a multitude of wins in the Junior Jumper ranks, then fifteen-year-old Reed began to make her mark by earning ribbons against the big boys and girls in the Grand Prix arena at WEF. On the Kentucky Circuit she not only placed in the 1.50m classes but won the 1.45m Open Classic. She defended her Junior Jumper Championship title at Devon by earning both Champion and Reserve plus was first and second in the $15,000 Show Jumping Hall of Fame Junior Jumper Classic on Flight and Ligist.

She celebrated a very sweet sixteen at Spruce Meadows, as she returned after several weeks not only a year older but with seventeen victories, including wins in the $15,000 Riddell Family Grand Prix on Flight and the $21,000 ATCO Gas Cup aboard her new horse Onisha.

Back to Kentucky in late July, Reed won her first career grand prix, the $25,000 Hagyard Classic on Onisha. She was also Junior Jumper Champion, with victories on Ice and Flight. Also participating at the North American Young Riders Championships, Reed finished 4th overall and was part of the Bronze Medal earning Zone 2 Team on Mika. She’s logged quite a momentous year to date…

A force to be reckoned with, Reed was not only born into a horsey family, but she is clearly fiercely competitive. However, she is also a real sweetheart. When the question came up about her horses during our interview, she promptly took us through the barn and introduced us to each one. We didn’t just get their names, but as Facebook fans would appreciate we ‘friended’ each one.

EQSOL: Where are you from? How did you start riding?
 My parents have been riding for thirty years. At 6 months old I was on a horse. Then I rode ponies for a few years until I was old enough to move up to horses. I did do the Junior Hunters for a bit but hunters aren’t my passion. I also did the Equitation for three years and may eventually go back, but for now I’m focused on the jumpers.

We have lived in Armonk, NY for the past six years. I trained with Heritage Farm and Andre Dignelli for a long time and now I train with Katie Prudent. My dad was actually Katie’s first student thirty years ago!

EQSOL: Since hunters weren’t your passion, tell us about your time in the Eq ring.
 Equitation teaches you how to ride the jumpers. A strong position is very important, all great riders have impeccable positions and most did Eq at some point. It’s a great way to gain mileage, work on accuracy, and it teaches you how to ride under pressure. I was lucky to have great horses so it was fun for me, but it was always my goal to be a better jumper rider. Equitation did definitely build my foundation.

EQSOL: When did your jumper passion begin? You have become one to watch in this arena.
I started about 3 years ago at WEF. I rode a horse of Andre’s in the children’s jumpers and I was hooked! I couldn’t stop after that and I only wanted to ride jumpers. I am now doing the highs, some WEF Grand Prix classes and the 1.50m classics. My goals are to go as far as I can in the sport. I would love to ride on a team and compete at the highest levels.

I am committed – I want to do this for the rest of my life.

EQSOL: Tell us about participating in the George Morris mastership program earlier this year.
It was such an amazing experience. I cannot say enough about it. You have no idea how little you actually know about horses until you participate in an intensive program like this. We learned from every aspect of the show jumping world including ASPCA, Adequan, Tim Ober, the Olympic vet who gave a clinic, and of course everything that George did. We were all sad it only lasted a week. The one thing that really sticks in my mind is that there is always more to learn, you never know all there is to know about horses.

EQSOL: Now that you are riding in the ‘big’ classes, how does it feel to walk a course next to some of the best riders in the world? Tell us about your routine from course walk to warm up to walking into the ring.
I always walk the course a few times. Usually with Katie twice and by myself once or twice; they essentially kick me out of the ring. I always want a strong feel of the course before I go in. We watch as many as we can without getting overwhelmed. I do try to watch some of the great ones. My routine also varies from horse to horse. I’m sometimes nervous but only when it’s something new. After I walk the course I talk to Katie to review it. We go over the whole plan. One day at WEF we were in the same class, I went 34th and Katie went 36th – it was a lot of fun to compete against my trainer. I went in before her in the jump off and she went right after, we exchanged words at the in gate as she was entering and I was leaving, ‘that was good, that was too deep, etc,’ and then she went in. I ended up 6th and Katie was 2nd, she was proud to bump me down.

EQSOL: Who are your idols in the equestrian world?
 Obviously Katie and Henri Prudent. They are absolutely fantastic. My parents are also great. I have to say McLain Ward and Beezie Madden as well. They are amazing at developing young horses and are never out of horses since they bring so many along. Nick Skelton is also incredible to watch. He could go clear on anything; his style is so wonderful and soft.

EQSOL: It’s a family affair with the Kesslers. Everyone rides. Tell us about your family.
 My family is very supportive of my riding, which is so important. I’m really lucky. The only thing we ever fight about is when they try to train me. When I’m bad I hear it from Katie, Henri, Mom and Dad. Still they are always there for me. My mom asks me for jumper advice, she was a hunter rider for years but we are all moving towards the jumpers now. It’s fun to set jumps for each other. Ideally we’ll go to the Sunshine Tour in Europe one year so we can all compete.

EQSOL: What about school? How do you work it into your show schedule?
 When I’m in NY I go to the Professional Children’s School ( in New York City. I am able to design my own hours and the school works around the students’ professional schedules. I started high school there and the school is amazing. When in Florida I’ve been lucky to have the Wellington Private Tutoring Services since about 6th grade. It’s a beautiful facility and the tutors are great.

I choose my own schedule and then I’m matched with tutors that work with my school’s requirements and with me. We get a complete outline and syllabus from my school. I love it and am usually able to stay ahead.

EQSOL: Can you tell us more about your horses?
 Mika – 16.1h bay Selle Francais gelding. “He’s our big worry wart and a huge thinker. He basically hangs out in his stall and thinks about everything. We did the 1.40m at WEF and the 1.30m at Spruce last year. He is insanely careful and scopey with so much potential. My dad and I loved him when we looked at him but Katie wasn’t sure, luckily he’s been amazing so far. Neither of us have miles in the Grand Prix ring so we are getting used to the 1.50m level together. He has so much talent but he gets nervous. When competing on him I try to get in the arena as early as I can so he can calm down a bit before we start.” 

Ligist – 16.2h bay Swedish WB gelding. “Goose (his barn name) is our little love, always sweet and happy. We got him during WEF last year and he’s from Emil Hendrix in Holland. Also really scopey, he’s a great derby horse. We won a small Grand Prix in Neuiwpoort, Belgium.”

Ice D’Ancoeur – 16h chestnut Selle Francais mare. “Ice is our moneymaker. She’s cool, has her own style, really fiery. She’s very fast and definitely a real Katie horse. She loves to win and is always so competitive. She won four high junior classics at WEF, was champion at Devon, and won a 1.45m class in France that had 115 riders who were all professionals. She also won individual gold at Prix de States in 2009 and the speed at Syracuse.”

Flight – 16h bay Swedish WB gelding. “Flight is probably the most well known horse that I have. He was Addison Phillips’ high junior that she won a lot on. I’ve had him for three years and I’m only his second owner. We call him my boyfriend since he’s only one month older than I am. He’s the smartest horse I know; he could be a hunter, jumper, or an eq horse. In 2008 after winning Prix de States my eq horse was hurt. We braided Flight and I took him in the medal finals. I ended up just out of the ribbons but he was great.”

Onisha – 16.2h gray Holsteiner mare. Since our interview, the Kesslers bought Onisha from Niall Talbot. With Talbot aboard, the mare won four Grand Prix events in Europe. She continued her winning ways once Reed stepped in the irons; the pair won five classes at Spruce Meadows including the first one they entered together.

A strong combination of good family, fabulous horses, skill, talent, hard work and a keen competitive nature has served Reed well. She has taken her riding career a long way in a short time. Seems such opportunity in the show ring hasn’t changed Reed one bit; she is a down to earth girl who has a true passion for horses.

EquestriSol News: August 16, 2010

Our Nation in Europe
On the International side of equestrian sport, the 2010 Meydan FEI Nations Cups Series is complete. With the riders chosen for the long list split into three Nations Cups tours, the United States had some stellar performances, including the all-girls team winning in Rotterdam and two second place finishes, one early on in La Baule and one at the last show in Dublin.

After all the points were tallied, the US slipped ahead of Great Britain finishing second overall with 44 points. A very commendable finish that those fifteen riders collectively achieved.
WEG 2010

Less Than 40 Days Until the WEG
The Selection Committee has officially chosen a short list from the long list to represent the United States at the World Equestrian Games. And one name won’t be on it…

First we would like to congratulate the top four: McLain Ward/Sapphire, Laura Kraut/Cedric, Lauren Hough/Quick Study and Mario Desluariers/Urico as well as the ‘traveling substitute’ Candice King/Skara Glen’s Davos. Sitting in the fifth and sixth spots on the list are Richard Spooner/Cristallo and Rich Fellers/Flexible. Since there is over a month until the WEG begins, even if the order of the above names change slightly, they all had a fantastic showing in Europe and would certainly be solid representatives.

Note that one top name that has achieved consistent success since WEF is missing. She did very well throughout the WEG Trials at WEF and in Europe. She made the horse she rode an international name. We interviewed her recently; please read about her experience in Nicole Simpson On Tour. So why is her name not in the top six? The horse she rode so fabulously had to be withdrawn – he never returned from Europe.

Where is Tristan? A Commentary…
Although surprising, this sad situation brings to light a distinct truth about the sport at this level – the riders often don’t own the horses they ride. One would think that an owner with international aspirations is committed to the process from beginning to end. Could it be possible that a unique circumstance supercedes the original goals? If the process is going well and the horse and rider are competing successfully with a strong chance of making a national team, one would hope, even expect, that the owner would remain committed. Certainly the rider would, as this is a rider’s dream – representing their country on a gifted horse that they’ve developed into an international talent.

If the horse is at the top of his game, in Europe, and along comes a potential buyer or offer, what does an owner do? While one perspective would be to stick to the commitment made to the rider, the USEF and his or her fellow USEF long list owners, there are certainly many other considerations. Will Tristan show up at the WEG with a rider from another country and potentially under another name? Time will tell, and if he does compete, even with another rider and for another country, we should all take a moment to appreciate the world class riding and commitment that went into his development into an international competitor.

Of course during our interview we asked Nicki about Tristan’s plan after her successful tour. At the time she mentioned that she thought it odd that the horse had not yet returned, but we didn’t discuss details. Once she knew she had to withdraw the horse from the WEG selection, she called. We added her comments to the article.

Conversations With Equestrians: Nicole Shahinian Simpson

By Jackie McFarland

High-pressure situations are not new to Nicole Shahinian Simpson. Her reputation for catch riding began during her successful junior years, which culminated with winning both the AHSA (now USEF) and ASPCA Maclay Medal Finals. As a professional she continues to win at the highest levels, including competing in seven World Cup Finals and as a member of the 2002 WEG Team.

As we connect with these top-level riders and try to tap into what makes them successful, we find that they tend to possess an uncanny skill to get ‘in the zone’. Some may have developed this skill, but most simply have it. It is innate and gives them the ability to perform with supreme focus in a calm, cool and collected state of mind. Nicki Simpson has this innate talent in spades. She is not only a naturally beautiful rider, but she can make a 1.60m course look like her ASPCA Medal Final win.

Technically, Nicki and Tristan ‘won’ the WEG trials at WEF this year. That means that aside from the three riders given bys – McLain Ward, Laura Kraut and Lauren Hough – who didn’t have to complete trials but took the three top spots on the long list, Nicki had the lowest overall faults after the trials were complete. Although many factors go into the Selection Committee’s decision, this one should be considered. Also it is notable that although Tristan may have all the scope, she made him a world-class competitor. The very skill mentioned above – that uncanny ability to ride a 1.60m course in a smooth and unwavering way – brings out the best in the horse. And Tristan is now at his best.

Having just returned from the second leg of the European Tour, we spent some time talking with Nicki about the experience and about her business with her husband, Olympic Gold Medalist Will Simpson.

Eqsol: What shows did you attend on your tour?
 On the second leg we competed in two Nations Cups – Rotterdam and Aachen. I also went to Chantilly (seventh stop of the Global Champions Tour) on my own; Laura Kraut and Lauren Hough were there but we weren’t on a team.

EqSol: Was this the first time you had shown at these venues?
Yes. I’ve been to watch but not competed. Aachen is so steeped in tradition; I believe they celebrated 100 years last year. It is quite magnificent. Of course the field rode beautifully and the jumps were fabulous. There were 50,000 people in the stands waving white handkerchiefs during the closing ceremony – it was truly surreal.

EqSol: How were the courses? How were they different from and similar to courses you competed in for the WEG trials?
 The courses were what they should be. You know its funny, I don’t get too caught up in the specifics of the difficulty of the course. They build, you walk and you find a way to jump it clean. The courses designers are the best in the world, they know how to build a course that’s not gimmicky but fair, tough enough, but not out to kill anyone and ultimately produce a good result.

Each venue is different – Aachen is on an enormous grass field that requires a lot of galloping, it has a Spruce feel. Rotterdam’s arena is smaller than the one at WEF. Yet each event produces unique results because of both the venue itself and the course designer matched with it. It’s been really fair everywhere.

EqSol: The competition – is the ‘feeling’ different when competing in Europe at CSIO 5* shows on a Nations Cups Team as well as a potential WEG Team member?
 As a competitor when you walk through the gate – you go out to produce the best round that you can no matter what. There is secondary pressure of being on a team where your score is that much more important in other ways. On the competitive side it’s the same – still your best effort – but it is a little extra pressure when you are part of a team.

Competing in Europe is exciting in many ways. From the language to how the shows are run. Certain aspects are very different. The first time I went was a World Cup Final – don’t know how many years ago – that was a big eye opener. You get into the groove of their system a bit faster every time you go.

EqSol: And the tour results?
 Winning the Nations Cup in Rotterdam was great of course. It was fun to win as an all-girls team – they called us ‘George’s girls’. We all rode well and the horses were great; it was a nice way to start. We had great scores again in Aachen – I had 4 in the first round and went clean in the second, Laura had just one rail in each round and both Candice and Lauren were clean in the first with 4 in the second. We were only 3 faults from second place team.

In the Grand Prix of Aachen, Tristan and I had only the first jump down but were clear otherwise. The jump was just a vertical on the rail, it was too easy in some ways and a lot had it down. It was a careful jump so you couldn’t ride at it too hard. If it had been a giant oxer it would’ve been different, that was the trap.

We were 8th in the Speed Class and 15th in the Grand Prix in Chantilly. I’m really pleased with our overall results.

EqSol: Your favorite horse and rider post-tour?
 I have to say that Hickstead and Eric Lamaze are an amazing combination. Hickstead is just a machine and Eric competed and even won with a broken foot in Aachen. Watching them win at Spruce and then watching them do the same at Aachen was pretty incredible.

EqSol: So… Tristan. He wasn’t a big name until this year. Can you tell us a bit more about the match?
 Ilan Ferder asked me to start riding Tristan and a few others in May of 2009. Tristan was a nine-year-old then, just coming along. He jumped in his own way but had talent and was ready to go the next level. We took it one step at a time. He definitely had all the scope and just needed to get more seasoned and mature a bit. He certainly has achieved that now and will continue. There’s not a jump I’ve jumped where he’s been at his max.

EqSol: What is next for you and for the family business, Simpson Show Jumping?
 We’ve got 20 horses in training. We do teach a few select riding clients that have similar goals, which works well in our program. It’s fun to have a few serious riders. We have some nice young horses that we are bringing along. The key is to keep developing top prospects for the future. Our ultimate goal is to continually establish international level horses along with owners who have a sincere interest in seeing their horses compete at the highest levels and potentially represent our country on teams both nationally and internationally.

So I thought we were just taking a few to Menlo, but a few turned into 15 horses. Our next major event is the Masters at Spruce. Of course we don’t know if I’ll be going to Kentucky – we’ll know after August 16th. 

The family is doing well. Will had a great Spruce – Black Cherry and Archie Bunker both did well. They are getting ready for the Masters. Sophie moved up to the 1.20m at Spruce. She’s totally dedicated and very serious about her riding, and loves it. Yes, she reminds me of me. She will so some Equitation, but we have her ride the jumpers like you would ride an Equitation course. Ty is very athletic and into sports. He really likes to work with the horses around the barn and loves to build things. He can sit down with a 2,000 piece Lego set and use each piece in his building. It’s interesting that he loves to watch the crew build the courses and often he talks with the course designers.

Thanks so much Nicki. It would be great to see you on the WEG Team and we congratulate you on your tremendous success, especially with developing Tristan into an International horse.

August 11, 2010 – POST INTERVIEW UPDATE:
Tristan doesn’t return from Europe. Naturally we asked…

EqSol: What happened?
 The USEF picked the team yesterday and so we had to know if Tristan was coming back beforehand. So I called to find out and was told he was not returning, which meant he would not be available for the team. I had to withdraw.

EqSol: What happened previous to this?
Tristan didn’t return on the original flight booked on July 28th, but I didn’t know anything about it until right before the horses were supposed to fly. At that point when I called Ilan he assured me the horse would be home if a few weeks. So that is what I believed. And when we did the interview I didn’t want to say anything, as I hoped he was coming back.

Then I got a call last Friday (August 6th) from another US rider that the horse was competing with another rider in Belgium, Samantha McIntosh. She works for Ilan’s partner, Tal Millstein, and rides for New Zealand. That was a surprise.

EqSol: And your statement on this situation?
 The facts say enough. I’m very disappointed and not happy with how things were handled. But it is what it is. One rumor I’ve heard that is completely untrue is that I quit. Why would I do that at the 11th hour?

Although it was completely out of my hands, I feel I had a sense of responsibility to the team and now can’t commit to it.

Will Tristan compete at the WEG with Samantha McIntosh? Will he be sold? Even after Nicki’s fabulous results up through Chantilly, he now won’t be on the US Team. We are sorry for Nicki and all others who are effected by this decision.

Showcasing Young Talent: Haley Webster

By Zazou Hoffman and Jackie McFarland

Haley Webster
Riding as a fourteen-year-old this year, Haley is one of the west coast’s aspiring stars. She trains with Patty Ball in Northern California most of the year and is certainly a self-starter. Haley even has her own web site and sponsors. Similar to Zazou’s experience as a junior, Haley is working hard to earn every winning experience – from working student opportunities to clinics as well as in the show ring. Haley went to WEF this past winter to ride with Missy Clark and John Brennan of North Run Farm. Zazou, who spent many a winter in Wellington with North Run, interviewed her about the experience.

ZH: Tell us a little about your junior career.
I am lucky that I have two horses to show, one is leased and the other was my mom’s (now mine). They both compete in the big equitation, so it’s nice because they never have too many classes. I have always done the medals and I will continue pursuing medal final goals plus start doing jumper classes.

ZH: What were your impressions of WEF? What are the big differences between showing in California and Florida?
HW: WEF was absolutely amazing! The show grounds are beautiful. It’s hard to describe in words how impressed I was… The competition in Florida is definitely tough. Everyone is starting out his or her qualifying year, so a winning round in the equitation would likely be a score in the 90’s.

ZH: How did you manage school and showing?
I actually started home schooling last year to allow more time for riding and shows. My parents and I love this program offered by our school district at home, Visions in Education. The teacher comes twice a month and is available by phone any time we need her. The online resources are wonderful as well. This flexibility has been a very positive experience for me so far.

I brought my schoolwork with me and since I wanted to focus on riding for the two weeks I was at WEF, I finished most of my homework on the plane!

ZH: So how did you end up working with Missy and John?
Through winning the RW Mutch Scholarship in 2009 I had the chance to ride with Karen Healey for two weeks, a great learning experience. I was looking for a chance to ride on the east coast, so Carol Coleman from the RW Mutch Foundation helped me get in touch with Missy. Working with Missy and John was an amazing opportunity. I learned so much, was given a chance to ride some of their horses and truly gained a lot from their knowledge.

ZH: What did you show in? What were the highlights?
I competed in the USEF, USET, WIHS Medal, and the ASPCA Maclay on a new horse of Missy’s, Conan. Very sweet, fun to ride – a really nice horse – the more I rode him the better we were as a team. I also showed a green horse in the children’s hunters both weeks.

ZH: Do you have a strategy for this year? What horse/horses are you working with?
This year my plan includes qualifying for all the medals and to get some good jumper miles. I am currently leasing Gobi, who can do the medals and the jumpers. My mom’s horse Moose turned out to be my horse. Last year I showed him in the junior hunters, medals and the equitation division. This year I am just showing him in the big medals. My first horse Belle, a great 3’ hunter and equitation horse, is currently for sale.

ZH: What advice do you have for other equitation riders who show on a budget?
Be a hard worker. Do everything you can to learn more. We are doing everything we can to make it through the show season on a budget. I do my own grooming, my mom braids, and my grandfather drives the horse trailer. Having a supportive family like mine plays a big role in making it all work.

Thanks so much for giving us a glimpse into your life. We wish you all the best in your aspirations, Haley.

A bit on Zazou:
In 2005 Zazou won the Ronnie Mutch Working Student Scholarship, which led to an association with respected East Coast trainers Missy Clark and John Brennan. Through a lot of hard work, commuting, juggling school and victories as well as defeats, Zazou culminated her junior career in 2009 by winning the prestigious ASPCA Medal Maclay Finals at the National Horse Show in Syracuse, New York.

In both 2007 and 2010 Zazou was one of ten elite riders chosen to ride in the Mastership Sessions with Olympic Chef d’Equipe George Morris in Wellington, Florida. She is back in her hometown of Santa Monica, California where she has turn

Conversations With Equestrians: Zazou Hoffman

My View on Zazou
By Erna Adelson

Most of you already know Zazou Hoffman as the young rider who competes bi-coastally, both near her hometown in Santa Monica, CA and on the east coast circuit with Missy Clark. Her bio also reveals that among other notable accomplishments, Hoffman was one of seven elite riders chosen to work with Olympic Chef d’Equipe George Morris in Wellington, FL and has competed in the Medal Finals for the past three years. Additionally, she took first at Maclay Regional, 5th in “the Medal” at Harrisburg, 5th in the USET Talent Search East at Gladstone, 3rd in the WCE, and recently 3rd in the Maclay Finals.

Throughout her eventful career, Hoffman has also managed to find a way to make the sport accessible to all enthusiasts by regularly writing about her experiences. Her columns, found in CA Riding Magazine and in this newsletter, offer counsel and insight that resonates with all riders and provides a window to the inside of the most coveted places in the industry. As a writer, a rider, and a bi-coastal traveler myself, I was thrilled at the opportunity to interview Zazou Hoffman. Since our schedules and locations would never allow us to do this in person, of course, I did the next best thing to meeting her: I “friended” her on Facebook. This way, I gained insight into Zazou not just as a rider but as one of the most driven and busiest teenagers that I have ever (almost) met. Read on for Zazou’s revelations about keeping up with schoolwork, her remote social life, and even Tyra Banks.

ERNA: When did you know that much of your future budget and time would be dedicated mostly to competitive horseback riding? Did you ever question whether or not it was worth such an investment?
ZAZOU: Riding has been a part of my life since I was really little. I mean, I have pictures of me when I was three years old next to my mom’s horses and there has never been a doubt in my mind that horses would be a part of my life. Of course, when I was little, I had NO idea how much time and money had to be invested in the sport to get to the top. I can honestly say that I have never doubted that I wanted to put in all the time I possibly could to work at getting better, but money is something that is not really in my control. My family has been wonderful at helping me get to where I am, but there are times when it is very upsetting to see both my parents, and my brother making sacrifices that wouldn’t need to be made if I didn’t ride. We have all decided though that I am lucky enough to have found what I am passionate about at a young age, and we will all work hard to make it happen.

ERNA: Besides the time change, how did you have to adjust to riding and training primarily on the east coast? Are there any major differences between east and west coast venues?
ZAZOU: Well, the time change can actually be a pretty big part of it! But, in terms of the actual horseback riding, it’s about getting in the ring and getting the job done no matter where you are. I have had the incredible opportunity to be working with Missy Clark and John Brennan back east, and I learn something new every single day, but a lot of what I am learning is simply an extension of what I have learned from Meredith Bullock, who trains me in California. Some of the horses I am riding on the east coast are definitely nicer than some of the ones I have ridden at home, but nothing is “push-button” and it’s all just about riding. In terms of the venues, I have found that everything back east is just bigger; there are more horses, more people, and more horse shows.

ERNA: Could you elaborate on how you ended up riding with Missy Clark?
ZAZOU: I received the Ronnie Mutch Working Student Scholarship in 2005, which allowed me to travel to WEF to ride with Missy Clark for two weeks. Missy and I developed a great relationship and she invited me to continue riding with her as a working student. It all kind of took off from there!

ERNA: Could you also tell us a bit about your decision to continue riding with Missy as far away as Vermont rather than a similar caliber west coast trainer?
ZAZOU: There were a lot of things that factored into this decision. Basically though, Missy’s barn is fabulous. Missy and John and I immediately got along, the staff there works harder than any I’ve seen, the horses are amazing, and I simply saw an opportunity that I didn’t think I could turn down. I was really just coming off the ponies, and the offer of a working student position at North Run seemed irresistible. I had had lots of riding opportunities in California, but nothing that could compare to this. I think that if you want to be really competitive you need nation-wide exposure and you need to be learning from the best people you can put yourself in contact with. Learning from as many of the good people as possible helps a rider to understand what works for them and what doesn’t, as well as what they would like to take with them into their professional career.

ERNA: Do you now consider yourself an east coast rider or representing both the west and the east coasts?
ZAZOU: I consider myself as a rider that represents both coasts. I still have a fantastic trainer in California (Meredith Bullock), and while I may not go to as many horse shows with her, this is only because I do not regularly show a horse that I own. And then I have great trainers on the east coast with North Run. I consider my self bicoastal because I try to compete and continue learning in any state and at any horse show where I find myself.

ERNA: Besides riding, you also write a couple of regular columns. How did that part of your career materialize? Since writing seems to be another passion of yours, do you have any aspirations as a writer?
ZAZOU: My writing kind of evolved on its own. I really just started by doing a couple of small things for California Riding and branched off from there. This sport has given me a lot in my life and I figure all I can do is keep trying to give back in some ways. I think interviewing the great people in the sport is educational for me, and having it published gets it out there so others can learn as well. I have also gotten to the point in my riding where I have had the opportunity to experience a lot of new and different things that I think are important to share with others. I haven’t really thought much about my future in writing, but like I said I would really like to continue giving back to this sport in as many ways as I can.

ERNA: The question everyone probably asks you right now: Have you thought at all about which college/university you might attend? Besides a stellar riding program and possible scholarship money, what other factors are going into such a pivotal decision?
ZAZOU: Luckily, I am only a junior in high school, so I haven’t had to do my college apps yet, but I’m dreading the day. I’ve thought about college a little though, and my main priority is getting the best education I can. I would like to keep riding in college, but I’m not set on riding for a college team unless I think it’s going to help me get into a school I want to go to. From the little bit of research I’ve done, the school I would love to go to (but I think is a long shot to get into) would be Brown. Both my parents went to Berkeley, so that is also a school I have thought about. The whole admission process seems to be so complicated and so random that I think it is important to keep an open mind about what school I want to go to.

ERNA: High School is a notoriously tough time for teenagers. How do you deal with the frustrations of highly competitive riding–less than perfect outings, travel, and the added workload in addition to the pressures of teenagerhood (if there are any)?
ZAZOU: Oh boy, it can all get really stressful. I actually just started taking all of my classes online this year, and that has really helped. I am taking four Advanced Placement classes and one honors class through four different online programs. My parents and I agreed that the only way I would do online classes is if we felt that my education would in no way be compromised, so after a lot of research I found that UC Davis, UC Irvine, Stanford, and APEX had programs that I could rely on. Having the opportunity to take my classes online has been extremely helpful in making things less stressful. This has allowed me to stay back east all fall, which removed the added stress of traveling back and forth from CA to the east coast for each horse show. My friends at home are great though, and they are always there to be supportive. There is a great dynamic among the kids at North Run (Missy Clark’s barn) and, of course, my friends in California are always happy to see me when I am home. It is very comforting to have people around you who can help if you need anything.

ERNA: What is currently on your iTunes Playlist?
ZAZOU: I listen to anything and everything! I actually like just about every type of music so my iTunes playlist is all over the place. I always have it on shuffle to keep things interesting. That way I can get my fix of rock, hip hop, country, rap, and a little bit of everything else there is. I’ve got some of the Beatles, some Red Hot Chili Peppers, a little JT, some Taylor Swift…. the list goes on. I actually just saw the movie Slumdog Millionaire (which was fantastic and I recommend it to everybody) so I am currently a bit obsessed with the soundtrack, which was also amazing.

ERNA: I have gotten to know you a little better through some thorough facebook stalking. (Forgive me) It seems that you have somehow managed to balance your career and maintain a social life. Is there anything you ever feel like you are missing out on due to the demands of your competition and training schedule? (Prom, travel, etc)
ZAZOU: There are always social sacrifices that I have to make for my riding, and while I may have been a little bummed at the time, I have never felt that I have regretted any of them. Facebook has actually been a great way to stay in touch with my west coast friends when I’m back east and my east coast friends when I am home. It has definitely helped me keep a healthy social life, and like I said before I have a group of good friends who are really fun to hang out with. In terms of missing out on things, I’m hoping I will be home for Prom (at least my senior year). I have to say, some of my friends are going to Vienna, Budapest, and Munich for a choir trip, and I’d being lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit jealous, but then again, I probably get to travel more than any of them.

ERNA: I did also see that you listed America’s Next Top Model (ANTM) as one of your favorite shows. Hate to admit it, but I’m also sort of addicted…OK. Tyra Banks: Insane or a genius?
ZAZOU: Oh, ANTM has definitely consumed a large amount of my life for the past couple years! In my opinion, Tyra Banks is completely out of her mind, but the catch is, that her craziness is what makes her such a genius! It’s a great show–very addictive.

Thank you so much for doing this interview with me, Erna. Your questions were great, and I had a lot of fun answering them. I’m sure we will keep in touch through Facebook!

ERNA: Undoubtedly when I hear about Zazou Hoffman’s next triumph in the show ring, I won’t be the only person to offer my congratulations in the form of a facebook memo. But if I’m not mistaken, Zazou is a girl that collects wall posts like ribbons and cherishes them just as much.
About Erna L. Adelson
A bi-coastal writer and rider, Erna’s exposure to horses started at age 7, spending her summers at Road’s End Farm in Chesterfield, New Hampshire. In her junior year in high school, Erna achieved her first byline in the Montclair Times, the large local weekly paper of Montclair, NJ, and worked as a staff writer throughout her senior year in high school. Erna studied writing and sociology at UCSB and continued to ride as a working student With Rebecca Atwater at Santa Barbara Stables and at Creek Hollow Ranch in San Diego. She joined the staff at SB Fitness Magazine and also became a regular contributor to California Riding Magazine.

Erna’s work at Equestrisol has allowed her to combine her passions of writing, public relations, and horses and to retain her ties to the west coast. She now resides in New York City in a marketing position at Manhattan Saddlery, the successor to Miller’s Harness Company, and the sole destination for the equestrian community of the Big Apple. 

Setting Attainable Goals For the Show Ring

By Zazou Hoffman

The start of the New Year is a good time to formulate a game plan for your riding. Take a realistic look at your riding skills, the ability of your horse and the amount of time and money you can devote to the sport. Come up with a list of goals. Then go to your finance person for a consultation – this is most likely your parents, although you may be able to make a contribution yourself if you have an after-school job or other money saved up. Once you know how much you have to spend, you can sit down with your trainer and review your options.

If you are interested in doing equitation, start by learning about the different types of medal classes available on a local, state, and national level. The website is a great resource. Make sure that you join ALL the organizations as quickly as possible and take copies of your cards to every show. Nothing is more heartbreaking than winning a Medal class only to find that your points are invalid because your membership is not current.

Learn how to access the websites and track your points. Here’s a firsthand example of how important this is. When I was chosen for the George Morris Horsemastership Sessions in Wellington, Florida, it was based upon the Bates Equitation Rankings. The rider’s Big Eq placings are supposed to be reported by each horse show directly to Ryegate, the clearinghouse for Bates Equitation points. As recently as last year many of the horse show managers in the western states were not familiar with the program. I tracked down several hundred missing points that were ultimately crucial to my ranking on the Bates list which in turn qualified me for the George Morris Sessions. Although the reporting of points has been streamlined with better computer software, the onus is still on YOU, the rider, to report any missing points and follow up on the corrections.

If you are going to try to qualify for the Indoor Medal Finals in the fall, write the dates on your calendar now and make your hotel reservations early. The more modestly priced rooms get booked up. One I’ve used is They block-book rooms at a discounted rate and you can place your request with them.

If you don’t have an equitation horse, but have a hunter, look into the World Champion Hunter Rider Program. I know the name is waaaay over the top, but it’s a great program. I stumbled on this award program when my homebred children’s hunter, Andy Warhol, had quite a bit of success at the local shows and I wanted to get some experience against more competitive horses. I used this program’s show dates as my template for the entire year. It takes the four highest scores out of designated WCHR shows throughout the year. The year-end Awards for the Southwest are presented at an elegant dinner at the Menlo Park Charity Show. The prizes are beautiful leather halters, embroidered saddle pads and splendid tack trunks. In my case it gave me a goal for the year and gave me experience at the most competitive shows without having to spin my wheels with frustration knowing that I could never acquire the year end points that riders aiming for Devon, Washington, or Harrisburg were going for.

I want to mention two other programs, the FEI Children’s International Jumping Final and The Ronnie Mutch Scholarship.

The first one is hard to find on the USEF website so here’s the link, but you may still have to call. It’s a wonderful competition on borrowed horses with riders from foreign countries. Much of the cost is picked up by USEF and the FEI. The qualifier for our region is at the Oaks in San Juan Capistrano in the fall. The one show–that’s it.

The Ronnie Mutch scholarship information can be found here. It provides for one rider and one working student to get an inside look at the prestigious Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida for two weeks and includes instruction from top trainers, accommodations, and a horse show stall. The applicant must be 15 years or under, jumping 3 foot courses or higher, and submit a video of their riding. The deadline is early January. Winning the Working Student Scholarship is the reason that I was able to meet Missy Clark and move into the 3’6” Medals and the USET Talent Search. It afforded me the opportunity to qualify for the Indoor Finals and opened my eyes to a world that I would never have otherwise experienced.

To sum up, it’s important to set attainable goals so that you don’t become discouraged. Riding should be fun. At the same time it’s important to dream big dreams and set your sights high. Challenge yourself. That said, you could be limited by your horse. It’s difficult to take a cold hard look at your horse’s strengths and weaknesses but you have to do it. The alternative is to waste a lot of horse show fees and your travel budget on an unattainable goal. You can also challenge yourself in other ways. Here in Southern California, there is the unique Foxfield Jumping Derby over a course of stadium and cross country (natural) jumps, the Santa Barbara Amateur Horse Show, which offers great beginner jumper classes, some for optimum time and with children’s classes broken down by specific age, and the Flintridge Children’s Horse Show Hunt Team class which awards the best three person tandem horse and rider team for their precision in riding a course of jumps, keeping equal distance between riders, their three abreast jump, and the most creative theme and costume. All three of these are at beautiful venues where you can bring your family and friends. Maybe one of them will fit as a goal for you and your horse. Happy New Year and let’s all dream big equestrian dreams!

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.