Rider Profile: Young Horse Lessons Extend Beyond the Saddle for Andrew More

Langley, BC —It’s not unusual for a professional in the equestrian industry to have a side hustle.

Andrew More has taken that to the next level. The well-established Calgary-based professional has two full-time jobs.

Not only does he run Iron Stone Farms alongside his wife Erin Taylor More, but he’s also (hardly an also-ran) the manager of the Spruce Meadows Horse Program—a program of 35 horses, four full-time riders (Brian Morton, Alexander Grayton, Hope Enders, and Isis Landsbergen), a stable manager (Prudence Hagenimana), and a team of dedicated grooms.

Soft-spoken and purposeful with his word choices, a most-humble More is quick to credit the team around him—and especially his wife—for making what he does possible. But given his background, it’s evident that he boasts a skillset that makes him uniquely suited for both roles.

Even before he was a professional, he was working with young horses.

“Mike [Crooks] was the first person to teach me about starting young horses, from groundwork to riding, developing, [and] competing,” More says. “I was very fortunate to have someone provide me the opportunity to do that and someone who was very good at that.”

More’s first job in the equine industry was a working student position with Mike Crooks, a longtime west coast trainer whose family is still very much entrenched in the sport. Mike’s daughter Lauren Crooks-Brennan and son Sean Crooks are successful professionals, and their Crooks Show Jumping has supported the Young Horse Showcase series at Thunderbird Show Park for the last several years.

Fittingly, More brought two 5-year-olds to tbird’s Spring Festival for the young horse classes, coming away with a win in the Crooks Show Jumping 5-Year-Old Showcase jump-off class aboard Spruce Meadows’ Off We Go.

“Really what I learned from Mike, I would describe as the fundamentals—the sound basics of starting and working with young horses,” More describes. “In that context, I use those things every time I’m riding. A lot of them don’t apply simply to young horses, but to all horses. It’s been sound advice that has served me well over the years.”

During More’s time with Crooks, the barn received young homebreds from Mike’s mother, the late Phyllis Crooks. Over time, he came to learn that recognizing talent in a young horse is the easier part of the job. The proving ground comes in the form of character.

“I think when you’re looking at young horses, it’s often easier to identify talent at an early age, and character is more difficult to assess. It’s something that maybe develops overtime or becomes more evident over time,” More shares. “Both of these 5-year-olds [that I have with me at the Spring Festival] I believe show quite a bit of promise in the sport, but it’s a long way from the beginning to the top.”

More stayed in Mike’s program for three years before moving to Calgary in 2000 and stepping out on his own. He knew Thunderbird Show Park long before that though, competing as a junior rider at the old facility before it moved to its current location in 1999.

He now brings a large and varied contingent of Spruce Meadows and Iron Stone horses and riders to the venue, with young horses nearly always sprinkled in.

“It’s been certainly the last several years we’ve been participating with 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds,” he says. “I think when you have young horses, it’s always exciting to have the opportunity to compete and develop them in young horse classes.

“These types of events allow [young] horses to develop in a way that is most appropriate at their age and for their stage of development, where they are competing against their peers and over courses that are designed for them specifically,” he adds.

Despite the many tasks on his to-do list, More is a man far from burnout. He is continually energized by the talent—and the support teams—that surround him on a daily basis and emphasizes that he’s just one individual in two highly skilled villages.

“I get the rare opportunity to be around a lot of top riders throughout the year, and I’m always struck by the fact that nobody gets where they are on their own,” More reflects. “They always have a team supporting them—grooms, sponsors, mentors, assistants…In our sport, we focus on the rider in the ring on the horse, but the reality is, there’s so much support behind the scenes to make that happen.”

He’s certainly among that specialized group.

Mimosa MHJ, Casallina Shine in Crooks Show Jumping Young Horse Showcase

Langley, BC — For young horses, development comes in various forms and at a very wide range of paces.

With every round acting as a learning and information gathering experience, clear rounds can be hard to come by. That was truly the case as the Crooks Show Jumping Young Horse Showcase series kicked off for 6- and 7-year-olds at the Spring Festival.

Just one clear round was produced in each class, with Mimosa MHJ and Casallina’s faultless efforts resulting in their respective wins in the 7-year-old and 6-year-old jump-off classes.

Hannah Evans rode Mimosa MHJ to the top of the 7-year-old division, and while she didn’t need to jump off to secure her victory, she used the opportunity to practice some tighter turning. Her homebred mare (Etoulon VDL x Casantos Lord) aced the test with another smooth, faultless performance.

“I’ve been working a lot all winter on ride-ability. She can get a little fussy in the mouth, and we finally found a bit (a Trust Eggbutt Snaffle with Sweet Iron) that works,” Evans said. “We need to work on some speed, but the turn-ability is there!”

The Crooks Show Jumping Young Horse Showcase has become a key component to Mimosa MHJ’s development. The mare has jumped in young horse divisions at tbird as a 5-, 6-, and now 7-year-old.

“It’s been a goal of ours to get ones in the young jumper classes here. She hasn’t quite hit her seventh birthday. She’s a little bit young. But she’s been awesome,” Evans said. “There was no pressure in the jump-off [today], but I wanted to put the pressure on her a little bit and practice some inside turns, and she rose to the occasion.”

Linda Sferra had the reins aboard Casallina, a mare she bought sight-unseen as a yearling. Sferra knew exactly what she wanted: a filly by the stallion Casall. She entered the keywords in to Google, and Casallina is what the search engine produced. She bought the filly from Tallin Farm in New Jersey and has been Casallina’s sole rider every since.

“The great part about this horse is that if I make a mistake, she is so forgiving. It’s amazing. She puts it behind her immediately, and she makes me feel so safe,” Sferra said. “Today she had just the right amount of energy and was very rideable.

“She’s all heart,” she added. “She loves her job.”

Keepsake Kiddos Claim tbird Hunter Derby Teams Challenge

Langley, BC —Amanda Sinnett, Sophie Tupper and Dane Anson will leave the Spring Festival with an extra “keepsake.”

The trio, who called themselves the “Keepsake Kiddos,” linked up to win the tbird Hunter Derby Teams Challenge.

The unique competition features teams of three horse-and-rider combinations, each of which jumps a course of fences at a different height—2’6″, 3′ or 3’3″. Scores are accumulated for an overall score; the Keepsake Kiddos—comprised of riders hailing from Cheryl and Kassidy Keith’s Keepsake Farms in Langley, BC—won with a total score of 220.

Anson led the way for his team, receiving a score of 88 from the judges at the 3’3″ height aboard his partner Franklin, a former dressage horse who has found his niche in the hunter ring. Anson meets up with the Keepsake Farm team at shows while getting help at home from trainer Jenny Payne. He and Franklin have been paired for nearly two years.

“I like that with these teams, you can ride with your friends. It’s fun hearing the scores and celebrating with them,” said Anson, 14, Nanaimo, BC. “My favorite part of the round was the bending lines. They rode nicely.”

Despite coming together late—the roster was finalized the night before—the Keepsake Kiddos squad was amply prepared for the unique challenge. Sinnett was the most unfamiliar with her mount, pairing with a catch ride for her round. She navigated the 2’6″ height with Sarah Welch’s large pony, WW Rock the Cashbah.

“He’s eight this year, and this is his first derby,” Sinnett said. “I’ve done one derby before, and [today] I was a little nervous with it not being my own horse. [It was great to] have the support from my team behind me.”

Tupper completed the squad and delivered with a score of 82 at the 3′ height aboard Cuba Libre Z, better known as “Cubes.” The 9-year-old gelding was formerly a jumper in Europe before being imported and transitioning to a career in the hunter ring.

“I like having a team I could rely on,” said Tupper, 16, North Vancouver, BC. “I liked having a team to help and cheering them on.”

Can’t Catch Keith in tbird Grand Prix 1.40m

Langley, BC — You’d be hard pressed to find a sport more difficult to predict than show jumping.

That is, unless you’re watching Kassidy Keith (CAN) and Havana jump 1.40m at Thunderbird Show Park.

“I would say that at 1.40m, Havana is always on her game. I can trust her 100%, and I can always count on a clear round,” Keith says.

Keith and Havana captured the tbird Grand Prix 1.40m Saturday at tbird’s Spring Festival, securing victory in the show’s feature class for the second consecutive week.

Even more impressive is that this is the second year in a row in which the pair has accomplished this feat, also doing so at the same two shows last year in kicking off the tbird show season. On this occasion, the pair bested a six-horse jump-off and won comfortably, crossing the timers of Kirsten Rodel’s (CAN) short course in 40.83 seconds.

Laura Jane Tidball (CAN) and Ruby finished second (41.92s), with Jaehee Jeon (KOR) and Bless You third (48.92s).

“I just tried to keep [the jump-off] smooth, because [a lot of people] had rails.” Keith said. “I kept it smooth, kept the turns efficient and kept a good canter.”

The round appeared seamless, and the numbers back up an exceptional proficiency at the level. According to Jumpr App, this duo has jumped clear at 1.40m 60% of the time throughout their career, finishing in the top three at an impressive 25% clip.

“We’ve had a lot of building up and bonding through the U25 classes at 1.40m,” said Keith, a two-time MarBill Hill U25 series champion at tbird. “[Havana] is so comfortable and confident at 1.40m, and this is just her favorite place to show.”

This year marks Keith’s first season out of the U25 division, having turned 26 in February. She continues to ride and train professionally alongside her mother Cheryl at their Keepsake Farms, just down the road from tbird in Langley.

It’s a little different [for me this year], because I have to set different goals and look at the schedule closely,” Keith said. “For Havana, I want to get consistent and start jumping the three, four and five star [events] more. I want to do the World Cup qualifiers [in the fall], so maybe I can qualify to go to World Cup Finals next year.”

The preparation has started early. Keith spent her winter a bit differently with Havana, bringing her to California to jump two international competitions in February and March.

“I jumped some quite-big tracks in Thermal with Havana, and I think it helped. It put her that much more ahead to start the season here,” Keith said. “[Havana has been] able to come here and not do too many classes, and then she’ll have a break before May tbird.

tbird Grand Prix 1.40m
Horse / Rider / Nationality / Owner / Faults / Time

1. Havana / Kassidy Keith / CAN / Kassidy Keith / 0/0 40.83
2. Ruby / Laura Jane Tidball / CAN / Thunderbird Show Stables / 0/0 41.92
3. Bless You / Jaehee Jeon / KOR / Brother Fortune Equestrian Ltd / 0/0 48.92
4. Kadans van de Mispelaere / Jaehee Jeon / KOR / Brother Fortune Ltd / 0/4 41.87
5. Jane Avril des Terdrix / Hannah Evans / USA / Hannah Evans / 4 41.95
6. Fenelon WF / Kassidy Keith / CAN / Cheryl Anne Keith / 5 59.84
7. Gallup / Shauna Cook / CAN / Gallup Syndicate / 1 88.69
8. Samba de Landetta / James McDonald / CAN / Diana McDonald / 3 90.77
9. Calloway / Ayla Martinoff / CAN / Ayla Martinoff / 4 78.14
10. Glacier ZF / Shauna Cook/ CAN / Zeidler Farm Canada 2017 Ltd / 4 81.92

tbird Grand Prix is a Family Affair for Sorine and Taylor Winther

Taylor Winther grew up watching her mother jump at the Grand Prix level. And while she was always full of admiration for the way Sorine Winther tackled the largest tracks at the horse show, she didn’t have much of an interest in joining her—at least, not at first.

“I watched her jump at Spruce Meadows when I was [about] five years old, and I remember thinking, ‘Those jumps are huge. I’m never doing that!'” Taylor recalls. “Now, I guess I am jumping jumps that big.”

Both Taylor (21) and Sorine Winther (55) will come forward in Saturday’s tbird Grand Prix 1.40m at Thunderbird Show Park’s Spring Festival, marking just the second time the mother-daughter duo have gotten to compete against one another at the top level. The family ties couldn’t be much stronger, as their horses are also related. Homebreds Cella and Chaco are both out of the same mare, Ganadora Negra (Graf Top I)—a former mount of Sorine’s.

“We call it the ‘mother-daughter-brother-sister team,'” Taylor says.

And there’s another sister involved, too, as Colby Winther (16) has had success in her own right, joining her sister Taylor as a winner of the prestigious CET Medal National Finals last year. Both riders punched their tickets to those Finals by way of tbird’s CET Regionals, and all three Winthers are former winners of tbird’s Good Hands and Seat Medal.

“One thing I will say, is that I think tbird sets up kids for success in the equitation division—more so than any other province. The results speak to that,” Sorine says. “Having both girls go through the equitation and do that was a huge family bond. To have them both win was incredible.”

Home Grown

The Winthers are based out of Prince George, BC at their RidgeCountry Farm, where Sorine coaches a small group of clients and runs a Kids Club for children between the ages of 3 and 12 that want to immerse themselves in “all parts of daily horse life.”

They also have a small breeding operation that has boasted exceptional results for its size. In addition to Sorine and Taylor’s Grand Prix mounts, Colby’s equitation horse Big Ticket is also a homebred.

“I started with a mare Ninemo that I bought out of a Canadian sale years and years ago,” Sorine recalls. “It took me a few tries to figure out what she crossed best with. Colby’s equitation horse is a grandson of hers.

“It’s been really amazing, and honestly we’ve been lucky. We only ever have one or two foals on the ground in a year, and some years we have none. This year, we didn’t have any,” Sorine adds. “Most of the foals have ended up on this circuit, and all of us have had at least one really special horse that we’ve developed.”

For Sorine, breeding has offered a way to keep her daughters well mounted in a more affordable manner, while also developing their horsemanship. It’s become a group effort to select the best stallions for their mares. The Winthers mostly breed to Canadian stallions, largely due to their location and a preference for fresh over frozen semen.

“We talk about what we think the mares need a little bit more of, and we try to balance that with stallions that we have access to,” Sorine explains.

A Cella-Bration

If you ask one of the Winthers about their horses, expect a big story. Having been part of truly every stage of their horses’ careers, it’s not entirely surprising. But Cella and Chaco have made especially big impacts.

Cella, for instance, made a grand entrance at Sorine’s wedding.

“She came into this world in the middle of my mom and stepdad’s wedding ceremony,” Taylor shares. “It was kind of chaotic. Her name is short for celebration.”

Sorine developed the mare, by Carbardino N, until her 6-year-old year, when Taylor took the reins. They’ve since recorded wins in the U25 division, tackling their biggest tracks and all of their “firsts” together.

“When we did the 6-year-old classes that year, it was the biggest tracks either had jumped in our lives,” Taylor recalls. “As we move up, I’m green, and she’s green. It’s a slow process, taking our time and making sure we’re doing it the right way. My mom has been on the ground helping us along the way, and she keeps Cella going while I’m at school.”

Chaco, meanwhile, is out of the Carthago stallion, Carthago Sun III. During the bay’s 6-year-old year, he suffered a mysterious injury while out in the paddock. Exploratory surgery was done to repair the issue, but the lameness returned. It was eventually discovered that Chaco had a cyst in his coffin bone.

Sorine’s vet originally told her it would be career-ending, but Joanna Virgin at Paton & Martin Veterinary Services refused to give up. Her research uncovered a new and promising surgical option, for which a surgeon from Colorado State University was flown in to perform. Taylor, an aspiring vet, even got to scrub in for the surgery, which was a success. After a lengthy rehabilitation timeline, Chaco returned to the show ring as a 9-year-old. He’s now jumping his biggest tracks yet, even taking on international competition at tbird in 2022 and 2023.

“It was unreal. He’s a miracle horse,” Sorine says.

The Three Musketeers 

Sorine’s first trip to Thunderbird was more than 40 years ago, before the venue had reached it’s 10th anniversary (tbird celebrated its 50th birthday last year). The Winthers have now come tbird as a family for nearly 15 seasons. You’ll find them doing much of their own care, and when one of the self-proclaimed “three Musketeers” can’t make it, it’s friends that are filling in on the ground. This week, Colby is at a basketball tournament. Last week, Taylor was presenting her undergraduate thesis at the University of Northern British Columbia, where she is studying biology.

“Not a lot of families get to bond like this. We’re all super close, and it doesn’t come without its challenges for sure, but at the end of the day, we always have common ground to come back to,” Taylor shares. “When one of us isn’t here, it definitely feels like a piece of the puzzle missing. We’ve figured out how to work so well together, and everyone is part of each other’s success.”

“I think the reason I still really want to do [the sport at a high level] is because of our family experience,” Sorine says. “It’s such a nice thing to share with the girls; it’s our common ground. I get to have a really different relationship with them than most parents, because we do this together.”

Mache Masters Amy Brattebo Real Estate Canadian Hunter Derby

Chloe Mache (CAN) recorded a milestone victory Saturday at tbird, as the junior rider bested a field of accomplished professionals in the Amy Brattebo Real Estate Canadian Hunter Derby.

It marked the first derby win at the 3’6″ height for Mache, whose winning partner was her longtime mount, St Martin’s Lane. The pair boasted a winning score of 106 points from the judges, followed by Tracey Epp (CAN) and Heartvit ZH (105) and Charlotte Reeve with Corona OS (96).

The Canadian Hunter Derby is a one-round competition judged as a handy hunter class. Additional bonus points are awarded for jumping up to five high options on courses as well as for additional handiness and high performance displayed on course. The competition also serves as a qualifier for the Canadian Hunter Derby National Championship, held at the Royal Horse Show in November.

Saturday’s derby track was both big and technical, offering several opportunities for inside tracks, and a new fence at the back of the arena caught several experienced pairs by surprise. For Mache, navigating that fence in strong form was a highlight of her round.

“I quite liked the inside turns that I took. We’ve been working on that a lot at home, and it was fun to be able to go inside and slice [the angles on] some of those jumps,” explained Mache, who trains with Eliza Hunt. “I think my favourite part of the course was probably the spooky jump at the top, because he jumped it super well.”

Mache and the now-11-year-old St Martin’s Lane have been paired for the better part of four years, and they’ve climbed the ranks together, competing most frequently in the Large Junior Hunter 3’6″ division. Mache’s next goal is to jump a USHJA International Hunter Derby.

“It’s been a bit of a learning journey with [St Martin’s Lane]. We were both pretty young and new to each other [when we were first paired],” Mache shared, “but we’ve really gown our partnership, and it’s become quite a good bond over the years.”

Derbies have quickly become a specialty, given the bay’s game-for-anything attitude and affinity for fresh challenges.

“He’s a bit of a silly guy. He loves to scratch your head and lay his chin on your shoulder,” Mache shared. “He can be a bit sensitive, but he’s a super good guy, and he just loves [to have] fun and do different things.”

Amy Brattebo Real Estate Canadian Hunter Derby
Horse / Rider / Nationality / Owner / Score

1. St Martin’s Lane / Chloe Mache / CAN / Chloe Mache / 106
2. Hertvit ZH / Tracey Epp / CAN / Tracey App / 105
3. Corona OS / Charlotte Reeve / CAN / Charlotte Reeve / 96
4. Oxo van de Bien / Allison Lagan / CAN / Signe Dixon / 92
5. Candelo Edel / Thea Muller / CAN / Thea Muller / 83
6. Grayt Tito’s Encore / Shannon Haney / CAN / Shannon Haney / 62
7. Cavendish / Jessa Rae Girard / CAN / Jessa Rae Girard / 59
8. Light My Fire / Ashley Arnoldt / CAN / Jennifer Arnoldt / 52

Knight Completes Sweep in MarBill Hill U25 Grand Prix 1.40m

Langley, BC — Saturday at Thunderbird Show Park, things came in threes.

Georgia Knight (CAN) bested a three-horse jump-off to win a third consecutive U25 competition in the Thunderbird Arena, completing a clean sweep of the division at the April Season Opener. She left all the jumps up over Chris Jones’ 1.40m first round track with all three of her horses, ultimately taking a third win with her longtime partner, Ecolano vs Romano, affectionately known as “Romeo.”

No one was able to jump double-clear on the day, but Knight was fastest among the three four-fault performers in the jump-off. The winning time was 48.72 seconds. Jillz and Natalie Popham (CAN) finished second (4/49.29s), with Knight also third aboard Indy (51.9s).

“It’s just such a great way to start off the season. I can’t wait for May and the rest of the U25 classes,” Knight exclaimed. “I’m so happy to be doing it—competing in these classes on the horses I have, especially Romeo; he’s just so special. And after having him for two years, it just really means a lot to be able to have these wins on him.”

Knight jumped off first aboard Indy, a newer and younger mount that Knight only began showing in February. The mare had an early rail over the short course and gave Knight valuable intel for her second ride—her experienced ace.

“I meant to turn inside after jump three, but I got a bit flat to that. Luckily [Indy] left it up, but I decided not to turn inside there. Then I went inside on Romeo, and I think that’s where I made up the time—and galloping to [jump] five.

“This is the biggest track I have jumped on [Indy], and I’m honestly most proud of jumping clear [in the first round] with her,” she added. “I’m working on everything with her. She’s so different from my other horses.”

Knight plans to continue jumping in the MarBill Hill U25 division this season at tbird, with the goal of representing Canada at the North American Youth Championships at the end of the summer.

“I’m going to keep riding, and I’ll see where it takes me,” she said.

MarBill Hill U25 1.40m
Horse / Rider / Nationality / Owner / Faults / Time

1. Ecolano VS Romano / Georgia Knight / CAN / Georgia Knight / 0/4 48.72
2. Jillz / Natalie Popham / CAN / Natalie Popham / 0/4 49.29
3. Indy / Georgia Knight / CAN / Georgia Knight / 0/4 51.9
4. Ero del Pierre / Georgia Knight / CAN / Georgia Knight / 0/WD
5. Cella / Colby Winther Konig / CAN / Taylor Winther / 4 85.08
6. Canberre 59 / Sloane Betker / CAN / 4 85.67
7. Lestat OLD / Ashley Arnoldt / CAN / Jennifer Arnoldt / 12 88.35
8. Nuovo Supremo / Jessa Rae Girard / CAN / Jessa Rae Girard / 42 128.59

Knight Impresses Again in MarBill Hill U25 1.40m

Langley, BC – Georgia Knight (CAN) had a plan for Chris Jones’ speed track in the MarBill Hill U25 1.40m.

Then she changed it. With longtime mount Ecolano vs Romano, it proved to be the winning move. She and “Romeo” produced the only clear round of the afternoon to earn a second consecutive win in the division at the April Season Opener, having also won Wednesday’s 1.35m jump-off competition.

“My original plan was to do a few more inside turns. And then as I watched the class, I realized it was a hard course. [The other riders] did the inside turns, and then they had a couple rails,” Knight explained. “I know my horse really well, and he’s fast, naturally. So I said, ‘I’m not going to do the inside turns. I’m not going to risk him being off balance or on an angle.’ So, I just decided to go around everywhere, and I trusted him that he’d leave all the jumps up.”

Even with a more conservative track, Romeo’s footspeed carried the pair quickly around the course. If a rail would have fallen, they still would have been faster than runners-up Natalie Popham (CAN) and Jillz; the winning time was 72.61 seconds, while Popham finished with a single rail in 77.26 seconds. Knight also finished third with new mount Indy, bookending the podium (8/72.51s).

[Ecolano vs Romano] is the type of horse where you just need to gallop with his head up, and he reads the jumps. So, it is definitely easier for him and easier for me if I’m just galloping the whole way around,” Knight shared. “I find I usually have one of the fastest times, because that’s just the way I need to ride the course.”

Knight has been paired with Romeo for nearly two years, and the bay helped his rider secure the overall MarBill Hill U25 series title at tbird in 2023. Last year, he complemented a more seasoned lease mount in Onyx, but in 2024, the 15-year-old anchors Knight’s U25 string alongside younger mounts Indy and Ero del Pierre.

“It took me a while to learn to ride him, but now I just know him so well. I know all his buttons and what he’s thinking, and that just gives me so much confidence,” she expressed.

Knight credits Romeo for making her a stronger, more accurate rider and helping evolve her seat from a lighter, hunter-styled position to being more effective in the saddle for tackling bigger, more technical tracks.

Beyond that, his quirky personality has won Knight’s heart in the barn.

“Romeo is my favourite horse ever. He is very strange, but he’s just the most cuddly horse. He likes when you rub his eyes, and when you stick your finger up his nose—it’s really weird—he just falls asleep,” she laughed. “And the weirdest thing about him is that when you give him a treat, he has to lick something for a good 20 minutes after. It’s nonstop, whether it’s your hand or the side of the stall wall.”

MarBill Hill U25 1.40m
Horse / Rider / Nationality / Owner / Faults / Time

1. Ecolano VS Romano / Georgia Knight / CAN / Georgia Knight / 0 72.61
2. Jillz / Natalie Popham / CAN / Natalie Popham / 4 77.26
3. Indy / Georgia Knight / CAN / Georgia Knight / 8 72.51
4. Canberre 59 / Sloane Betker / CAN / Sloane Betker / 8 74.83
5. Lestat OLD / Ashley Arnoldt / CAN / Jennifer Arnoldt / 8 75.56
6. Nuovo Supremo / Jessa Rae Girard / CAN / Jessa Rae Girard / 8 85.27
7. Cella / Colby Winther Konig / CAN / Taylor Winther / RT

Timing is Right for Natalie Popham and Jillz at Thunderbird Show Park

Natalie Popham got introduced to high performance equestrian sport later than many of her peers contesting the MarBill Hill U25 division at Thunderbird Show Park.

The 21-year-old young professional, based out of Victoria Island, Vancouver with Lizzy Gingras’ New Heights Equestrian, didn’t get her feet wet in competitive equestrian sport until she was in her teens, having spent nearly seven years taking lessons at a riding school.

She may not have known about international show jumping, but she knew that riding was all that she wanted to do. Horses dominated the conversations she had with her parents, and she spent all her free time in the barn.

“A lot of my peers have been coming [to tbird] since they were 9 or 10 and showing ponies, but I skipped that part,” Popham said. “I don’t have horsey parents, and no one else in my family rides. I was slow getting to the competitive part [of riding], at least the higher-level aspect of it.”

It was when Popham followed some friends to train with Brittney Turner that she had her first experiences on the “A” show circuit. She later found her way to Gingras, who for the last three and a half years has helped take Popham’s riding to the next level. Wednesday at tbird’s April Spring Opener, Popham and her 10-year-old KWPN mare Jillz jumped double-clear for a top five finish in the first U25 class of the venue’s 2024 show season.

As it’s turned out, Jillz was also delayed in reaching her potential in the sport. After Popham acquired her as a 7-year-old from Langley-based Highland Farms, Jillz missed nearly a year and a half due to injuries sustained in a trailer accident.

“I was on my way to Thermal with my mom, and we were in Oregon when we got the call,” Popham recalled. “[Jillz] had gotten her leg over the center divider [of the trailer], and when the trailer door was opened, she was basically hanging from her leg.”

Jillz also broke some ribs in the accident, greatly delaying her competitive pursuits. Popham spent the next year and a half attending vet appointments and rehabbing her horse.

“It was pretty traumatic. I had just gotten her when it happened. We had done one horse show, and I was super excited to kick off our partnership,” Popham expressed. “It’s been slow for sure.”

Popham and Jillz stepped into the U25 division during tbird’s 2023 show season, but it was mostly for experience—”We made it through the year, but it was challenging,” she said. This year, Popham feels a difference in both her horse and in her own riding.

“I feel a lot more confident with the way she feels. She’s jumping better and better. She’s paying attention, and she’s happy overall,” she shared. “We’re slowly able to go faster and turn tighter. I’m not quite at a place that I can gallop down to a vertical the way Georgia [Knight] and Ashley [Arnoldt] did with their horses, but we’re slowly getting there. She’s jumping up [to me], and she’s opening her step up.”

While the show record may be lighter, the homework has been extensive. During Jillz’s downtime, the pair strengthened their relationship on the ground—despite the mare not being the most personable in nature—and since they’ve gotten back to work, adjustability and rhythm between the fences have been the focus.

Ultimately, horse and rider are eager to simply have some competition consistency. After spending the winter in California, they’re hitting their best stride—this time, with perfect timing.

I am really hoping to have a consistent year,” Popham said. “We’ll probably stick with the U25 [division] this year, but the goal is to get up to a higher level and jump some Grand Prix [events] and FEI [classes], eventually.”

Chawke Saves Best for Last in Hillcrest Show Jumping “Seize the Day” Grand Prix 1.30m

Langley, BC – Through 18 riders in an action-packed jump-off in the Hillcrest Show Jumping “Seize the Day” Grand Prix 1.30m, the leaderboard couldn’t have been much closer. First and second were separated by a half-second. So, too, were third through eighth.

Then James Chawke entered the arena and blew the entire class open. Last to go, he and Alison Locke’s Nacara van Berkenbroeck Z took the most expedient of tracks around Joey Rycroft’s (CAN) short course, crossing the timers nearly three seconds in front (27.94s). Catherine Brentzel (USA) and Quintago VA finished second (30.39s), with Georgia Knight (CAN) and Ecolano vs Romano third (30.97s).

“The horse is very fast, so I know that if I’m a bit smart about my plan, I should be right up there,” Chawke said. “There were a lot of horses in the jump-off. Of course, it’s handy being last, because then you know what you have to do. You’re not taking any unnecessary risks and you have to kind of go fairly fast.”

Chawke weighed the risks that came with a leave-out no one else had attempted between the jump-off’s first two fences, and he determined riding an eight-stride track was the best strategy for success. It was smooth sailing from the moment he left the ground to the first jump.

“I walked one to two, and I thought there would be an eight there,” Chawke said. “I figured most people would do nine or ten [strides], but I knew eight was there if I needed to, so I didn’t actually watch that many. But I saw [Brentzel] before me go the last little bit. She looked very fast, so I figured I probably should try and get eight there and be tight back to the double if I could.”

Chawke has been partnered with the 10-year-old bay for about a year, and it’s been a successful summer for the pair, with the gelding also winning the Diamond Valley Ranch U10 Young Horse 1.35m at the Summer Fort Welcome. After his latest victory, he’ll get a well deserved rest before a winter season of showing in Thermal, CA.

“He’s a very good jumper, very careful. He’s got quite a bit of blood and is a bit strong, but he’s improved,” Chawke said. “He’s got a great mindset. He always wants to do the right thing. He’s always trying to win.”

Hillcrest Show Jumping “Seize the Day” Grand Prix 1.30m
Horse / Rider / Nationality / Owner / Faults / Time

1. Nacara van Berkenbroeck Z / James Chawke / IRL / Alison Locke / 0/0 27.94
2. Quintago VA / Catherine Brentzel / USA / O’Neill Show Jumping LLC / 0/0 30.39
3. Ecolano VS Romano / Georgia Knight / Georgia Knight / 0/0 30.97
4. Caponerhall / Kaylie Martinoff / CAN / Inga Martinoff / 0/0 31.61
5. Eloise / Rachel Cornacchia / CAN / Eventyre Farms Ltd / 0/0 32.02
6. Livius P / Lilah Nakatani / USA / Lilah Nakatani / 0/0 32.03
7. Lucky Strike / Andrea Strain / CAN / Andrea Strain / 0/0 32.29
8. Fenelon WF / Kassidy Keith / CAN / Kassidy Keith / 0/0 32.36
9. Infostar / Georgia Hunt / CAN / Georgia Hunt / 0/0 32.86
10. Darling Sherlock / Niko Keshtkar / CAN / Niko Keshtkar / 0/0 33.27