Meet 2023 U25 Series Champion Georgia Knight

When 19-year-old Georgia Knight laid out her short- and long-term goals for her 2023 season at Thunderbird Show Park, she hoped she could get her feet wet in the U25 division—that way, she could be a real contender in 2024.

She may have underestimated herself.

Knight, 19, won her U25 debut at tbird in May, and when the series concluded at September’s Harvest Celebration, Knight captured the overall series title with her runner-up finish in the MarBill Hill U25 League final. The Victoria, BC native has gone from strength to strength this summer with her two mounts, Onyx and Ecolano vs Romano, while training under the tutelage of Lizzie Gingras.

“My goal was to maybe get to the U25 this year—but for sure, next year. And then things just started to come along really well with both of my horses,” Knight said.

It’s the juxtaposition of two horses with strong characters, along with Gingras’ coaching, that has helped the former hunter rider take her riding to the next level. Onyx, an 18-year-old veteran gelding, has been around longest; Knight initially leased the fiercely brave and competitive gelding for a year from owner Joelle Froese. That has since been extended.

“He took me from 1.20m to 1.40m,” Knight said of Onyx. “Actually, we jumped a couple 1.45m [classes] in California this year, and I never thought I would be able to do that until Onyx came into my life. He’s not easy—he’s a horse you have to partner with and ride him the way he wants to be ridden.”

Onyx’s enthusiasm for showing has been a tremendous source of confidence for Knight, while also helping her improve her physical strength. While many horses can tend to become more energized at horse shows, Onyx is more laid back in the show ring, choosing to save his antics for training at home.

“He’s the hottest horse I’ve ever ridden, except he doesn’t do it when he’s in the show ring,” Knight revealed. “I’ve gotten very strong riding Onyx.  At home he’s so hot, and then when I get in the show ring here, he actually becomes quite lazy.”

Onyx also kept Knight going in the face of tragedy. Seeking a horse of her own with which to climb the ranks long term, Knight thought she found the perfect partner when she acquired “Cass” in early 2022. Two weeks into their partnership, a freak accident resulted in the horse having to be put down.

It took a several months for Knight to recover from the loss and move forward, as she re-started her search to find a suitable mount. In July 2022, she made a last-minute decision to travel to Calgary for a trial aboard Ecolano vs Romano. “Romeo” landed off of a jump, brought his head up abruptly and knocked Knight squarely in the face.

She bought him anyway.

“He’s such a nice horse, it was something I could deal with,” Knight said. “I could figure out a way not to get hit in the face.”

Still, there was a learning curve, and Romeo proved to be a demanding partner, intolerant of repeated mistakes. The bay forced Knight to evolve from her light, hunter-styled seat and ride every fence accurately—not to mention, he added a layer of complexity to her warm-up with his distaste for head-on traffic. When Romeo challenged Knight, Onyx built her confidence back up. Then a turning point came in July at Rocky Mountain Show Jumping.

“I wanted to jump the Grand Prix there, because they tend to be slightly softer than Thunderbird,” Knight recalled. “Even though I’d only jumped the 1.25m there, I said I was just going to do it. I said [to myself], ‘I’m going to ride really hard and try to get it done, and I did, and then it just went up from there.

“I think pushing myself to just jump bigger made me ride better,” she added, “and it got me over the hump with [Romeo].”

Thunderbird Show Park recognized Knight’s commitment to her sport as one of three riders awarded the George & Dianne Tidball Legacy Scholarship (18–25 age group) in mid-September. The scholarship—which includes horse show benefits like waived entry, nomination and stall fees, along with a $1,000 cash riding bursary—is awarded annually to “individuals who exemplify hard work, dedication to the sport of equestrian, good sportsmanship, and leadership.”

“I actually did not expect to win. It was a nice surprise,” Knight said. “To be able to help my parents next year, because they’re letting me take this time off [from full-time university studies] to achieve my goals, is really cool. But also, I’ve always really wanted the scholarship, because I feel like I’ve been coming to tbird for a really long time, and it’s honestly like home for me. Just to be able to represent it [is special].”

While Knight is unsure of whether she’ll pursue show jumping as her profession, she’s eager to take the sport as far as she can, with her eyes set on the U25 division at the Royal Horse Show later this fall. She’ll tell you, what drives her most is simply a love for the animal. Knight forwent a university soccer career to commit fully to riding after high school, and when she’s not working with her own horses, she’s helping to treat others, working part-time as a veterinary technician.

“I honestly just can’t imagine my life without horses in it,” Knight said. “I love them, and I love being around them, and I had a decision to make: Do I play soccer, or do I ride? And it was a [no-brainer]. I can’t imagine never riding.”