Johanna Siefert; Happiness and Success in the Horse Business

Johanna Siefert; Happiness and Success in the Horse Business

The sport of Show Jumping may be the most diverse sport in the world. Men and women compete against each other in the same arena, a 16-year-old will go head to head with a 60-year-old, and professionals ride against amateurs. Add in the complexity that a riders only teammate is a 1,200-pound athletic, intelligent animal and you have a recipe for brilliance and unpredictability that is unrivaled in sport.

In the past year there have been many articles talking about how the sport of Show Jumping has changed, that only the wealthy elite can play. While this is an irrefutable fact, there are also people that are successfully living their dream of working with horses. Through hard work and exceptional character, young professionals are overcoming the financial hurdles and achieving success. One of those success stories is Johanna Siefert.

Name: Johanna Siefert

Home: Portland, Oregon

Business: Lionheart Training, based at Foxridge Farm

Jay Duke: What was your beginning in riding?

Johanna: I started riding when I was 7 years old, taking 1 lesson a week. I became involved with the 4H program, showing livestock like cows and pigs. I was definitely ‘horse crazy’, I would wear breeches to school and be with my pony from dawn til dusk. I competed in my first A rated show at 14 under the tutelage of Connie Tuor and it was that year that I met professional Kevin Freeman, the two people that were most instrumental in my riding career. He offered me the opportunity to become a working student once I was finished high school. I graduated after my junior year with straight A’s and started working with Kevin at 17. I began the season competing in the 1.10m jumpers and by the end of the season rode in the 1.45m Grand Prix at TBird, it was a dream come true.

JD: That is the definition of a meteoric rise, congratulations. What did you do next?

Johanna: I went to college for 6 years and graduated in pre-med. I was on the wait list to be a nurse practitioner when I received a phone call from Dr. Kathy Waldorf about riding for her. My husband Josh was very supportive about the opportunity, he said my eyes would light up whenever horses were mentioned, and that I should go for it. Just like that I was back in the horse business and I love it.

JD: What is the primary focus of your equestrian business?

Johanna: Definitely the relationship with the horse. My clients are all about their horses, they have a strong bond with them. We have no grooms at home, everyone does their own care with the horses, including myself.

JD: That is the opposite of many show stables in America. Why did you decide to go that route?

Johanna: I have always done everything myself, it would be foreign to have people do it for me. We do have grooms at shows like Tbird out of a necessity of schedule, and they all ride as well.

JD: If a client walked in the door with 7 horses, requesting full grooming service, what would you do?

Johanna: I only work with people that I get along with and that have similar values as me.  I would need to decide if it was the right fit. If it was a person who wanted to pop on and off, throw someone the reins, we definitely have no one like that. 

JD: How many horses do you work with? How many students? How many horse shows do you attend each year?

Johanna: 20 horses, 12 students, 15 horse shows per year.

JD: What is your #1 goal with your riding/training?

Johanna: Improving on what we need to improve on. I tend to go slow with my horses and riders. Winning is never the goal, it’s about the daily improvement. 

JD: Who is your mentor? Idol?

Johanna: Rich and Shelley Fellers.

JD: As a young professional, what is your opinion of the current state of affairs within USE and USHJA?

Johanna: I definitely have some frustrations. I follow the rules. I do not drug the horses,  I always put the horse first. I commend them for trying to put the welfare of the horse first. However, the rules need to be clear so people can follow them. The welfare notice was very confusing, very open-ended for what the trainer is responsible for. It could end the career of a young professional. The right people need to be getting in trouble, not the wrong people. 

JD: Have you ever contacted either the USE or the USHJA for assistance?

Johanna: Thats a good question. No. When I have needed clarity on a matter I have gone to a steward or a board member. I like to speak with someone face to face, as opposed to phone or email. 

JD: Do you feel your federation supports you with your business?

Johanna: No. I’m sure I could be more involved, but it’s a bit out of my reach. 

JD: What could the USE or USHJA do that would directly benefit your business?

Johanna: They could enforce that horse shows are run properly and get rid of the mileage rule. There are AA rated shows being run with 60 horses. As a result,  I rarely show in my home state. When a business has a monopoly there is no incentive to get better.

JD: What do you envision for your business in 10 years? What do you think Show Jumping in North America will look like at that time?

Johanna: I take it day by day. I’ve hit my goals, haven’t set new ones yet. I have wonderful horses, wonderful people, wonderful customers. I hope that things in the horse show world go in the direction of becoming more affordable for more people. It’s such a wonderful sport. Everything gets more expensive every year and I worry that the good people that do it for the right reasons will have to stop due to the expense.  

Note: It is because of people like Johanna Siefert that I remain active in the sport, participating in committees such as the TCP (Trainer Certification Program) with the USHJA. She brings true integrity and honest values to Show Jumping and is a positive influence to all of those around her. I would like to thank her for taking the time to do this interview and for reminding me that there are still wonderful people in the horse world. 


The Lost Pony Divisions

The Lost Pony Divisions

I rode show jumping horses for 40 years, I have so many amazing memories and am grateful for the success I enjoyed in my career. My most precious recollections go back to my years of riding ponies in the hunter and jumper divisions. Of the many topics I address in my blog, the destruction of the pony division by horse shows and trainers is the most personal to me. It has damaged the development of North American riders to a degree that is immeasurable and is one of the top reasons the ratio of juniors to amateurs has changed so dramatically in the past 25 years.

Let’s look at the pony jumpers. Some have forgotten that many ponies can jump BIG jumps. The best example is easy, the unforgettable Stroller. “He was a member of the British team which competed in the 1968 Olympics. Ridden by Marion Coakes, Stroller won the silver medal falling short of only four faults from the gold medalist Bill Steinkraus. Stroller was the only pony who won the Hickstead Derby. His achievements include: Winner of the 1967 Hickstead Derby, 1970 Hamburg Derby, 1965 and 1971 Queen Elizabeth, II Cup.
Read more: Famous Jumping Horses – A Knowledge Archive

I have watched 3 other ponies compete against horses and win ribbons in the International Ring at Spruce Meadows in Calgary, Canada in the 1.50m division. There have been few horses that could compete with Jewel in the 1.20m division in Western Canada for several years   The European Pony Championships have height specifications of 1.35m. Ponies can jump and be as good as a horse at an international level, except in the United States, where apparently they can only jump 0.80m. The exception is the USEF Pony Finals in Lexington, Kentucky which has jumps set at 1.20m. However, this is an outlier,  as most major shows in the US do not even fill a pony jumper division with heights of 0.90m. The numbers in the pony division have decreased by approximately 80% while the number of horses at the horse shows has gone up by a similar number in the past 30 years.

Why is this a negative for developing riders? How did the number of participants in the pony divisions dwindle so drastically? 

Many junior and amateur equestrians ride with a certain level of fear. There can be many different reasons for this debilitating emotion, but the clear leaders amongst jumpers are the thought of falling or losing control of the horse. This is the number one issue I see at clinics. It is absolutely essential that a rider not only controls their fear but eliminate it altogether. The rider needs to be ‘present’ and ‘in the moment’ when jumping in order to ride effectively and to their highest level.

There is a physical and psychological difference for a child learning to ride on a pony as opposed to a horse. On a pony, the ground is a lot closer if you do happen to fall. Riders need to learn that falling does not necessarily mean getting hurt, in fact, riders rarely get hurt when experiencing an unexpected dismount. By the time I was 13 years old I had fallen off over 100 times. You learn to get up and get back on and it is a non-issue. I remember a clinic in 1985 with Ian Millar when he taught the group how to safely fall from a horse so you do not become injured. This seems like an important and necessary skill to have when riding horses. Can you imagine if an instructor was to do that in 2017? The second major difference is learning to physically control the animal, which is obviously far easier on a pony due to their smaller size. This teaches the rider at an early stage how to correctly use their body to influence their equine partner for proper results and most importantly safety. Having a child on a smaller animal instills confidence at an early stage which many riders will feel for a lifetime of riding.

Two things have wiped out the ponies, horse show management and trainers. Kids used to start in the pony division so they could show over smaller jumps as the lowest height a horse could show in was 3’6. Horse shows started making the fence heights lower and lower in order to get more entries. Soon it was no longer necessary to start your career on a pony, as you could show your horse over x-rails. Richard Keller, another great coach of mine, used to joke that one day there would be subterranean jumpers, they would dig a hole and drop a rail in it so the horse didn’t have to jump at all. This padded the bank accounts of horse show managers all over North America as there were many riders who wanted to be a part of the horse show experience. It didn’t matter that many of these new equestrians could barely sit on a horse, the money was pouring in. Coaches no longer had to train riders for years to be good enough to compete, they could throw a novice on a schoolmaster (possibly altered with medication) and take them to the horse show.

To me, there is a much more important loss, the bond that forms between a child and their pony.

I have heard many trainers say that they will not work with ponies because they are harder than horses. Interpretation; ponies are small so they cannot ride them. This means that they would actually have to teach the kids how to ride, instead of plopping them on a programmed and prepared horse. Many of the best young international riders today are coming from countries like Ireland and Spain where as young riders they learn how to be an overall horseman, often on ponies.

I have been asked how I would go about making the pony divisions relevant again. It comes down to showcasing the event, something European show managers do very well, but North Americans simply don’t care about. In order to grow the sport, you need to promote it. For years the show managers here have made millions of dollars by putting up a rectangle of flags around a grass field or a patch of sand in the desert, a few jumps, and little else. In 2017 that has changed, as the numbers at the horse shows are significantly down from in the past. Horse shows in Canada and the US used to do a feature class, the Grand Prix. All the rings would finish early on Sunday so that competitors, owners, trainers, grooms, etc. could go and watch the big class. That does happen at a few shows still today, but rarely. Every day at the show should have one ‘feature class’. The list should be, in no particular order; Grand Prix, Hunter Derby, Young Horse Jumpers, and yes, a pony class. Showcase the future of the sport along with the present. Other sports do it, Europe does it, but not North Americans. The College sports, Little League Baseball, Junior Hockey in Canada, etc., fans love to see younger players compete.


From a riding perspective skipping the pony divisions is a detriment. To me, there is a much more important loss, the bond that forms between a child and their pony. The endless hours that are spent together; trail riding, grooming, riding bareback, hanging out with your best friend. These are memories that last a lifetime and are irreplaceable. Many of my favorite memories are being with my pony, and watching my daughters with their ponies. For me, that is what this sport is about.



American Show Jumping Under Attack; An Exclusive Interview with USHJA President Mary Babick

American Show Jumping Under Attack; An Exclusive Interview with                USHJA President Mary Babick

July has been a very difficult month for the powers that be in Show Jumping in the United States. First there was the fallout from the unprecedented lengthy suspension of renowned trainer Larry Glefke and superstar hunter rider Kelley Farmer. The second hit was legendary American rider and trainer Katie Prudent ripping the current state of Show Jumping in the US in a bombshell podcast. Then last week social media exploded with the news that 11 high profile members of the USHJA Foundation had suddenly resigned. In a normal year, these would be THE big stories in the horse world, for it all to happen in a matter of a few days is shocking. I spoke with USHJA President Mary Babick who was very generous with her time in granting this interview.

Jay Duke: What is your background in Show Jumping?

Mary Babick: I have been riding since 1968 and turned professional in 1978. In the mid 80’s I switched my discipline to Show Jumping. I have had the good fortune to work with many wonderful students who have attained excellent results and gone on to wonderful careers. My students have had top success at Pony Finals, Medal Finals, and Young Riders Championships. I am very proud of their achievements in the show ring and in the people they have become.

JD: Why did you run for the position of President with the USHJA?

MB: I have always been very interested in the USHJA, strongly interested. I love to problem solve, I have a good knowledge of our industry, history on Wall Street, and good people skills. When I ran for the position the first time, I was not elected which turned out to be a very good thing. It gave me the opportunity to really learn the position.

JD: As the leader of the show jumping community in the United States, what do you see as the biggest issue facing the sport? 

MB: That is a difficult question to answer without angering a lot of people. Our industry lacks integrity and transparency. I am not accusing everyone of being cheaters, the bulk of the people are great. I think the best way to put it is, there are unwritten rules to the sport. Not everyone abides by these rules, that is the issue we are facing.

Note: I have never heard anyone explain the matter in this way, with the unwritten rule analogy. When Mary said this it clarified many things for me, many issues that I struggle with in the horse world. There are unwritten rules in every sport, actually in almost all walks of life. The people that willingly break these rules put a cloud over the ones who do not. I think she nailed this answer perfectly.

JD: On July 13th eleven members of the USHJA Foundation board suddenly and unexpectedly announced their official resignation; Jim Anderson, Lynn Jayne, Charlie Moorcroft, Cindi Perez, Jennifer Smith, Geoff Teall, Carl Weeden, Louise Serio, Bill Woodson, Jennifer Burger, and William Craig Dobbs. The news hit the media on July 14th and created reactions of shock, confusion, and anger. People want to know what happened? What the issues are? Why did eleven respected board members suddenly resign? 

MB: I am unable to discuss certain questions due to legal reasons, but I can share quite a bit. We were going through the business of getting the Foundation back under the control of the Association. The crux of the issue was the by-laws which were created when the Foundation was founded in 2008. They were created as a Type 1 group. IRS law states that means that they must be either; controlled, operated, or supervised. It was the wish of the USHJA to choose the control option. At some point, the Foundation changed their by-laws so that they were not controlled by the Association. I don’t think they actually meant to do that, I think they were trying to make their board more effective at fundraising. They wanted to choose their own board members. If this was unintentional, no big deal. If it was intentional hijacking then the USHJA would fight to get their Foundation back. I said, ” If you change the bylaws back I will work with you to find the directors you want to work with.” I was confident that they would accept the reinstitution of the by-laws and drew up a transition plan. I am sad to say I was unable to use my transition plan.

JD: Association members were very surprised to read of the mass resignation. Why was it announced in the manner it was?

MB:  I don’t know why the Foundation announced the resignation in the media. We had spent a lot of time getting ready to discuss this. At no point do I want to make this a ‘someone was right / someone was wrong matter. 

JD:  There is no mention of this on the USHJA website. This dispute with the Foundation has been going on for 8 months. People want to know why they were not informed of the situation? Does the fact that they pay a membership fee mean they are owed information of what your organization is doing? 

MB: Yes for sure, I think that is appropriate. This was a business matter. We were blocked by legal counsel. In regards to the site, honestly we have not had time. 

JD: There is a disconnect between the national/international level competitors of the sport and the grassroots riders. Katie Prudent recently had some harsh comments about the current state of the sport in the United States. “The sport makes me sick nowadays. And in America, what’s very sad is that we’re not producing a ton of great riders. We have all the Irish boys coming over here and riding all the horses and getting all the owners. Because we’re just producing a bunch of weak amateurs.” What are your thoughts on this?

MB: I am a rider and person developer. I know that what Katie said is somewhat true but I think her comment is way too general. There are more people that work hard than she realizes. The thirst that these kids have for knowledge is just fantastic. I see my students put in hours of hard work to overcome their obstacles. The effort they put into their lessons, their horses, the grooming, the barn work etc. It is wonderful to be a part of their passion.  A good trainer finds ways even with people that are financially less fortunate to find a life lesson. 

Note: I am one of those people that have been very critical of the ‘American system’ where kids do not spend time with their horses, they only ride them. In speaking with Mary I was reminded that these kids are the minority. Most juniors are just like my daughter, in the barn 14 hours a day doing everything they can to spend every moment with the horses, working til they collapse in bed late at night. And loving every precious moment of their day. 



The Wizard Of HITS Exposed

The Wizard Of HITS Exposed

Deloise In America has laid down the gauntlet to HITS and Tom Struzzeiri.  For so many years riders, owners, trainers, vendors, staff, grooms, fans, and horses have been victimized by the money machine that has debilitated the horse show industry in America. I am interested to see if Struzzeiri will acknowledge her open letter and if he does so what form the response will take.

“Or the footing is an issue. (Which it is). This letter is about the decades-long feeling there is a lack of empathy for your customers which continues to resonate through our little horse community. I am now totally confused as to where we stand with you. Where do your clients (exhibitors) stand with you? Where do our horses stand with you? Where does horse welfare stand with you? It would be comforting to hear some honest answers for once.” Deloise in America

Will it be more of the drivel that he said when interviewed about the HITS Coachella Million being lowered from 1.60m to 1.50m?  To recap, Struzzeiri said it was to benefit the California horse business. “And the Million should continue to be a class where I reward the clients of mine for all they do to make my business thrive,” said Struzzeiri. In reality, it was to get more horses in the class so that he can make more money. HITS also allowed riders to compete with 2 horses as opposed to 1 mount in previous years.  There were 46 starters this year, up from 30 in 2016. With a $3,500 entry fee, that is a $56,000 increase for HITS. This was not done for the benefit of the professionals in California, or for the sport of Show Jumping. Popular spectator events like the Global Champions Tour limit the feature classes to 25 participants. This provides a better experience for spectators and more importantly for television which is essential for Equestrian to grow and survive on the world stage.

“What’s good for HITS is good for the sport” Tom Struzzeiri

In 1995 HITS Indio hosted a $250,000 Grand Prix during the circuit finale. The class was not advertised locally and Struzzeiri was asked why he did not promote an event that had many riders flying in from the east coast to compete. His response was that more spectators meant he would need to provide more parking, concessions, and restrooms; he did not want more people to watch. I heard this comment myself first hand.

There is ‘Pologate’, which embarrassed the sport at the 2016 Hits Thermal Million. The footing at all HITS shows is notorious for poor quality and the thousands of horses it has injured. I know several people who worked for several years for HITS; Gate people, jump crew, announcers, office staff. They all speak of how poorly Struzzeiri treated them for all their hard work and time. How he only provides 1 vehicle for multiple officials at his shows, how he tells the course designer to build the Grand Prix small so that he will have more entries for the Million dollar class the next week.

I used to regularly take 25+ horses to the entire circuit in Indio. Not once has Struzzeiri asked me how the show was or if there was anything I needed. Everyone who has ever stepped foot in the show office has a horror story to tell about how they were treated. In 2016 I watched 5 riders hit their heads in falls at Thermal. Not one of them was checked for a concussion and 2 of those riders were still experiencing concussion symptoms over a month later. I questioned a minimum wage medic after she checked a rider who had fallen and hit her head if she had done a concussion test on the exhibitor. The look of befuddlement she gave me was comical.

According to a source at HITS, entries were down 45% at Ocala and Coachella this year. Since the USHJA appears unwilling to monitor or regulate the quality of the horse shows it sanctions, maybe the horse community will speak with their pocket books. The time has come to end the wizard’s reign of pilfering the horse community.


Everyone’s A Winner ?

Everyone’s A Winner ?

The short video below is the inspiration for this article.


There are so many great aspects about working with horses. The sport teaches compassion, hard work, dealing with success and failure, and many other character building steps. Perhaps the most important aspect is the connection between horse and rider, an element that is unique to equestrian sports. Riders of all ages learn to deal with adversity and develop invaluable life experience through this relationship with their partner. I would like to see riders, owners, and trainers rewarded for their efforts. In the current system those accomplishments are diminished and trivialized. 

The USHJA has announced changes for next year in the hunter divisions. You can attempt to decipher the changes here;    I will summarize; there are now green horse divisions AND young horse divisions along with the multiple junior and amateur sections. The 3’6 height now has 11 divisions; green horse, green horse conformation, young horse, performance, 4 junior sections and 3 amateur sections! Umm What? We need 11 different divisions for 1 height? This does not include the Low Hunter classes and the Equitation classes set at 3’6. In a social media time of fairness to animals and sensitivity to abuse, horses can (and will) show in more divisions.  Currently, the FEI is eliminating the Final Four at the World Equestrian Games (another poor decision by a governing body of the sport, 2016 is not a good year for show jumping) to prevent horses from being jumped excessively. Meanwhile the  USHJA is creating and allowing horses to compete in even more classes.  As a side note,  for those of you that are thinking that hunters jump much smaller jumps so it’s ok that they show in more classes, consider this; hunters work many more hours and jump up to 20x the number of fences than jumpers at the FEI level, not factoring in the many hours a day they are lunged and ridden).

Parents knows the insane number of ribbons their child comes home with every week from the horse show. Every one who has ever been to a horse show can observe the multitude of ribbons on the show curtains; many barns have over 50 per week. Almost every one of those ribbons ends up in the trash bin. For most people in most classes (there are exceptions of course), a 6th place ribbon is meaningless, and yet horse shows continue to hand them out. The result of this practice is rewarding mediocrity, praising rides and training that are at best average, diminishing the level of professionalism, and bringing down the sport to lower levels every year.

If you feel the above statement is too harsh, consider this; why are the heights of fences at national  horse shows increasingly smaller? The lowest hunter divisions used to be 3’6. Today there are large barns in the United States that compete on both coasts that have riders that never reach that height in their career. By lowering the standards of competition, horse shows have lowered the level of coaching. 

In 2017, it’s going to be even easier to walk home with dozens of ribbons, most of which you or your child will not remember or care about. The only benefit with these changes is to the pockets of the horse show managers as people can now enter even more classes. So who loses? How will this affect the industry?

The trainers: The horse show day, your work day, which was already too long becomes even longer. Also, with even more ribbons to go around, now even more unqualified trainers can start a business and be successful. If you are a trainer, in a business that is already highly diluted and hard to make ends meet, prepare to have even less clients.

Officials, gate crew, jump crew etc.: Your day also got longer. I know you start before sunrise and finish well after dark already. For those that do not know, horse shows pay their employees by the day, not the hour.  The show manager has a longer day, but at least he or she is getting paid more for that time.

The grooms: You already work ridiculous hours, so what difference does a little more time make?

Riders and owners complain about the poor quality of prizes and the lack of purse money that are given out at the horse shows. With so many divisions it is understandable that the prizes are cheap and forgettable, that for 99% of the owners there is no way to win back your show fees even if your horse wins every class it is entered in. 

I have a policy with my writing that if I am critical of something in the equestrian world, that I will also provide a reasonable solution. With my previous suggestions in prior articles, I am optimistic that they may become reality in the future. I do not feel that way about this topic, in this case  change is unlikely, but I can dream, so here goes.

My proposal is that all classes are placed to first, second and third. Being in the top 3, on the podium per se, is an achievement of which to be proud. Prize money is divided; 1st – 50%, 2nd – 30%, 3rd – 20%. This gives considerably more to the top 3 finishers. The point system for championships will be as follows; 1st – 7, 2nd – 4, 3rd – 2. I have gone through the different scenarios and this is the most fair in balancing wins versus consistent performance.  Simplifying the 3’6 divisions; 1 open, 1 young horse, 1 junior, 1 amateur, rather than 11 divisions that the USHJA currently has on the roster . The junior/amateur divisions could be combined with the exception of the largest shows. Being a champion in any of these divisions is now  meaningful and a great accomplishment.  

I would like to see this in all the heights at the tournaments. Running horse shows is a business, so to compensate for fewer classes the show managers can charge higher entry fees. Many classes at the shows do not fill in order to count for year end points in the current system, with the changes I proposed, it will eliminate this problem. Winning a ribbon should mean something to the riders, owners, and trainers. Few people at North American shows even bother to show up for the ribbon presentation. Oh wait, few shows actually even do a ribbon presentation! So riders work all year long, spend tens of thousands of dollars in preparation, and winning is not even recognized? Something seems very wrong with all of this, just like the coach said. 

Jewel – A Legendary Pony Retires

Jewel – A Legendary Pony Retires

For the past decade, show jumping spectators in Western Canada have been watching a once in a lifetime pony in the local jumper rings. Born in 1995, standing 14 1/4hh, the Canadian Connemara pony Jewel (Bally’s Friar Tuck x Sea Me Two) has enjoyed a storied career with unprecedented success. From 2008 to 2016 the gray pony dominated the jumper divisions in Western Canada; from 2 time Canadian Pony Jumper Champion to 1.20m Alberta Champion to being the media darling at Spruce Meadows as the first pony to compete in the International Ring against the horses with a 5th place finish on national television.

The  pony spent most of her time competing against horses. In a 7 year period, Jewel won 43 championships of the 55 shows she attended. In 275 classes, she had an astounding 211 victories. That is a 77% winning percentage! She competed up to the 1.20m level at Spruce Meadows and at other world class facilities such as Thunderbird Show Park and RMSJ.

Jewel 3Karter & JewelJewel raceJewel at Spruce MeadowsHalle jewelHalle & Jewel 

Jewel’s riders were Karter Duke and later with younger sister Halle Duke. I asked them a few questions about their time with the pony.

What is your favorite memory of Jewel?

Karter: “In 2009 my 5-year-old sister did up her noseband way too loose and we went too fast in the jumpoff and flipped. I had to go in the ambulance and then we went to Subway for a meatball sub which I spilled on my white breeches. Upon returning to the show I learned that I still won the class because nobody else qualified for the jump off and I  had to take my championship picture with a meatball sub stain on my pants”.

Halle: “Trail riding, Jewel loves it.” 

What is Jewel’s favorite treat?

Halle: “Strawberry yogurt chewy bars and Welch’s fruit snacks.”

What International Grand Prix horse is Jewel most similar to?

Karter: Hickstead, she never has a rail and she always wins.

What is your biggest victory?

Karter: Placing 5th in the International Ring at Spruce Meadows in the Double Slalom against the horses and making the front page of the Calgary newspapers.

Halle: Jewel only likes leading the victory gallop, she pins her ears and tries to get to the front if she is not the winner.

What made Jewel such a winner? What is different about her than other horses or ponies?

Halle: Jewel loves horse shows and to compete. She loves being applauded. She is very confident and fearless. Jewel likes to take care of you.

Karter: She is ultra-competitive. She is also a great teacher. As I became a better rider, she would not let me make as many mistakes.

Show Jumping Rio 2016 -The Future Of The Sport Arrives, And It Looks Great! Exclusive: An Interview With Olympic Course Designer Guilherme Jorge!

Show Jumping Rio 2016 -The Future Of The Sport Arrives, And It Looks Great!        Exclusive: An Interview With Olympic Course Designer Guilherme Jorge!

The Olympic Individual Show Jumping concluded last week in a thrilling and emotional event in Brazil, and fans worldwide watched as the sport took on a different look. It is fitting that 58-year-old Nick Skelton, one of the greatest riders of all time, capped a spectacular career in golden fashion. The scorecard looked dramatically different than in previous Olympics, and the audience loved it.  How and why did this happen?

Sporting culture has changed in the past 20 years, and Show Jumping needed to keep up or be left behind in the ultra-competitive battle for fans attention. People still love to watch a literal car wreck, but these days they have reality TV to fill that void. People do not want to see horses or riders hurt, they want their excitement through drama and success. That is what we witnessed in Rio, and you can expect to see more of that in the future.

Four riders were disqualified for ‘rough riding’.    As a rider I did not like to see these rulings as I have empathy for the work these riders put in to attend these championships, but as a fan it was the right decision and has my full support. The message is clear, ANY form of what can be construed as excessive force will not be tolerated. This raises the bar on the training of rider and horse to an even higher level, and I am all for that.

The biggest change though was in the scorecard of the class. Team scores were better than normal, but I am focusing on the Individual results. Here is some insight into the mind of a rider; we hate large jumpoffs! It’s very difficult to produce clear rounds at the top level, and when you do you want to be rewarded. SO when there were 6 double clear rounds in Rio, my immediate thought was ‘whoops, it’s too easy. The highly respected (and with good reason, he is my favorite designer as a rider) Guilherme Jorge had missed.’ How can you be double clear in the Olympic final and not medal? AND that was going to happen to 3 riders? Double clear means an automatic medal in modern Show Jumping. What transpired next was the most dramatic jump off in World Championships history and vindicated Mr. Jorge, who as it turned out did his job perfectly and ushered in the future vision of Equestrian. In order for the sport to continue in the Olympics, the TV and social media numbers need to be high. Riders will always watch, it’s about attracting the casual fan to the sport that will determine its success or failure on a world wide scale.

As I just mentioned, 6 horse/rider combinations were double clear in Rio in the Individual Final, with Nick Skelton and Peder Fredricson triple clear. The Swedish rider jumped 3 clear rounds and ended up with silver. This is unprecedented in modern Olympic history. In the past 20 years there have been a total of 3 riders who jumped a double clear at the Olympic final. In Athens, Sydney, and Atlanta nobody was able to accomplish the feat. This historical shift happened for 2 reasons; There is more depth in the sport than ever before. You could legitimately say that 20 riders were very capable of winning Gold in Rio, more than ever before. Having the top 35 riders enter the final round on a clean slate is unique and creates amazing drama. Secondly, Olympic Show Jumping is no longer who can ‘survive’ the massive jumps. It now combines huge jumps with more technique and style. The competition ended up with a very deserving winner, as Nick and Big Star are both superstars in jumping and now have an Individual Gold Medal to go with their Team Gold Medal from London 2012.

The fans were treated to Show Jumping that is perfect for the world today. Drama, brilliance, athleticism, and no disasters. Expect to see more of this in the future, and that is good for the horses, the fans, the sport, and ultimately the riders.

Read my exclusive article with Guilherme Jorge in the Chronicle of The Horse, Olympic Analysis Issue, on September 26!