California-based Alyce (age 18) and Amélie (age 16) have swept the jumper ranks on the West Coast winning lots of prize money and many championship ribbons on their very unconventional horses Star Girl B and Lara Croft B. They have the option of representing Lebanon or the United States as they have dual citizenship. Alyce studies electrical and computer engineering with a focus on aerospace at New York Institute of Technology. Amélie is interested in Forensic Science.
Winter Hoffman: Alyce and Amélie, you share a homeland with Lebanese WEG showjumper Karim Fares (a lifelong friend of your father) and you both show promise for a great competitive future. How did you come to love horses and riding?
Alyce Bittar: Ever since I was young I have been at the barn alongside my father, growing up in the shadow of such a passionate and knowledgeable teacher has fed my love for horses that will never dissipate from my life.
Amélie Bittar: I have always been around horses my whole life since my dad (Georges Bittar) was very involved even before my sister and I were born. I came to love it from watching my sister and always looking up to her and creating bonds with all our horses.
WH: Is it possible to instill courage in a rider?
Alyce B: Absolutely! When my sister and I were young (around 6-8 years old) my father purposefully faced us with obstacles that we were unsure of. He made us jump up and down banks that were twice our height, jump over deep ditches, logs and gallop up and down steep hills. As you could have imagined we were scared out of our minds but after he coaxed us to believe in ourselves and try it we both fell in love with cross-country obstacles and the trust you have to put in your horse. Ever since those early riding days we always push ourselves to the limit and see what we can accomplish.
Amélie B: I think everyone can learn to love this sport but it’s more about the experience and time you put into this sport and how much you really want it. For me I always remind myself the good that comes out of my courage so I keep pushing for more.
WH: Is it possible to instill courage in a horse?
Alyce B: Definitely! Now that I am experienced with all types of horses and confident in my abilities to deal with tough situations, I am able to use my confidence towards what might be an issue with a horse and show them that whatever they are scared of is okay. I would always start out slow and reteach them the skill that has been an issue for them. Rewarding them after they do it properly, not stressing the issue. I would incorporate whatever they need to work on into a daily fun activity including a group of already confident horses and slowly they will understand their job and gradually accept what they are being asked to do.
Amélie B: Yes, if you give your horse confident rides and help them along the way by giving and taking from the things you ask for in the ring and at home training, they will always give you there best in return.
WH: Is it possible to make a rider competitive (ie. give them that blood-thirsty “go for the jugular” desire to be #1 in the world, to beat the other riders?) Your father is a tenacious trainer with an international record. Please tell us about him and how he influenced you.
Alyce B: I think that it is definitely possible, as long as a prospect rider starts with trainer(s) that really push them to do their best and drives the passion the trainer feels for the sport into the training of the student. My father has everything to do with my passion and drive to do my best in the sport and learn from anyone that has accomplished more than me. He is extremely brash In his ways of teaching yet building a tough confident skin has taught me that I can tackle any obstacle that is thrown at me.
Amélie B: He is a very strong minded and straight forward trainer he tells you things on how he see’s it only to improve your weaknesses. For me I learn the best this way because I know I am always getting valid information and tips. I am always striving to be #1 because my dad and sister and I all work so hard around the barn for the care of our horses to the success we all produce, it all starts in the stables.
WH: Did you have that spirit when you competed in the 2018 Adequan/FEI North American Youth Championships Alyce? And Amélie -are you on the same team this year, please give details on the other riders and which horse you’ll ride.
Alyce B: Yes I always have the desire to win, be the best that I can be by working hard and trying to analyze all that I can about the course I have to ride.
Amélie B: Yes, I am on the same team this year- The Junior Young Riders. This is the 1.40-45m level competing against all the other juniors from the ages 15-18 years old. The horse I will be riding is Star girl B.
WH: Which of the disciplines helped your riding the most – equitation, hunters, or the jumpers and why/ please elaborate. Do you think the equitation is important for a rider who wants to be a showjumper?
Alyce B: I have never competed in anything other than jumpers, but I think that equitation is a great way for riders to learn how to ride and analyze a course at a slower pace which can help with their riding in the jumper show ring.
Amélie B: I never competed in the equitation or hunters I have only competed in the jumpers and have trained at home with a lot of dressage I feel these two disciplines really helped my riding because I now know how to work with my horses body in many different ways. I do think equitation is important because it helps with your position and neatness while riding but I think you should start out with jumpers and have equitation on the side because jumping is a big and different step from equitation.
WH: Alyce, you were in the George Morris Horsemastership Clinic at WEF, what were your impressions and how did it help your riding? Amélie, you participated in the West Coast equivalent at Coachella, same question?
Amélie B: I loved it so much-I learned so many different exercises and much more about working from the ground up. These clinics helped me be more aware about how and why I do things around the barn and when I ride.
WH: If you could visualize yourself as an ambitious grand prix rider today (let’s say with a sponsor) what goals would you set for yourself? What competition schedule? We often hear about the Global Champions Tour with its glamorous venues. What are your thoughts on the tour? Would it make sense for either of you to compete for Lebanon? What are the advantages and disadvantages? Please elaborate.
Alyce B: My ultimate goals would be to focus on competing for the U.S. internationally. I love competing on a team as I feel it brings riding as an individual sport together, creating a greater sense of team and unity as a country. So, I would like to try attaining spots on Nations Cup Teams. Other than that I would like to follow the Global Champions Tour and gain experience competing and earning points for the FEI Ranking List, seeing how far I can go at the top level competing against the best in the world.
Competition for Lebanon is a very realistic option for both Amélie and I. We have competed for Lebanon multiple times in the past. We have decided to compete for the USA because we are able to be more involved in the sport in the country where we live. Some advantages of competing for Lebanon would be our guaranteed spot on top teams, but that comes with the disadvantage of less opportunity to constantly compete with people from a wide pool at our levels as friendly competition; whereas, this is very beneficial and possible in the USA.
Amélie B: If I could see myself as a grand prix rider I would expect myself to have a busy show schedule but also I would want my horses to relax and take a break throughout he year, I would definitely want to travel around the world more and showing in the Global Champions Tour would be a dream and amazing experience. Both my sister and I could compete for Lebanon and it would be a great experience and honor. Representing Lebanon is rare and would stand out, I feel there aren’t many disadvantages except the fact that it would be hard to compete in he country with my own horses which I would love to do because the borders are strict and closed most of the time.
WH: What is the most beautiful place to ride in the world or your favorite place and why?
Alyce B: The most beautiful place to ride that I have visited is Hickstead in England. I went there when I was a child and have had the dream of riding there again when I get older. The show grounds are so beautiful and emanate the rich history and tradition that has been developed over the years of this show. This summer I will get the chance to go and ride at that horse show and perhaps (if I am ready) get to compete in the famous Hickstead Derby.
Amélie B: My favorite place to ride in so far is Italy. It is so beautiful and a whole different experience from out here and I love that. The barns are beautiful and the style of horses are so different and amazing. Also Italian people are very nice and the city is breathtaking.
WH: Alyce, you were in the Beijing Masters and in your travels you’ve worked with several trainers and observed many from other countries can you tell me which ones you were impressed with and how their training styles differ? Amélie, same question if you can answer it.
Alyce B: That is exactly why I love being able to travel and compete all around the world, everyone is different! Even within the same country riders have different ways of handling issues and specific situations. Being able to see these differences has helped me find my own approach and style of horsemanship and riding by incorporating different aspects from everyone I gather information from.
Amélie B: I haven’t been trained in a lot of places around the world like my sister, but I have always watched and and traveled along side with my sister. I’ve been to Paris, Germany, Italy, Lebanon, England, Columbia, etc. and from all of these trips I have learned that most males ride. Additionally there are a lot of hot and strong horses and more powerful and strong rides. Everything is more aggressive and straight forward around the world. Many other riders are younger (ages vary) and horses are very talented and very scopey.
WH: Your father gave some clinics in Europe. Will you return to Europe to compete? Tell us about your experiences there and your plans for the future.
Alyce B: Yes, this summer my plan is to go and ride for Abdullah Al-Sharbatly, a top rider from Saudi Arabia, as we travel throughout Europe competing at the biggest shows including Ciekocinko and, if all goes well, the Hickstead Derby in England.
Amélie B: There is a lot planned for the future but we have to take one step at a time, moving up and competing around the world more often is the goal. Also traveling around the world to learn from many different riders is another goal.
WH: Favorite equestrian author and book, film?
Alyce B: Anne Kursinski’s Riding & Jumping Clinic: A Step-by-Step Course for Winning in the Hunter and Jumper Rings.
Amélie B: My favorite book is, The Black Stallion by Walter Farley and my favorite movie is, Seabiscuit.
WH: Any funny horsey stories – incidents at a show, riders you coached, while on course?
Alyce B: One time we went to ride our horses on the beach and didn’t know it was a nude beach. As we were riding, a woman walked up to us and started engaging in a full conversation without any hesitation, it was so out of the blue I could barely hold back my laughter.
Amélie B: One of our horses, Why Not B, was taking some time off for a couple of months and I would get her out bareback for 2 hour walks everyday, and one day while I was walking around waiting for my sister to finish up the horse she was working, Why Not B decided to roll while I was on her! I quickly jumped off laughing and hopped right back on when she finished.
WH: I’d like to you to address breeding and bloodlines in showjumping. Who is your favorite sire? Do you have a favorite dam line? Training techniques for the young horses?
Amélie B: My favorite sire is Quick Star. My favorite is the Oldenburg dam line. Training techniques for young horses are very important, you want to set boundaries and help them grow and be comfortable in their bodies. Galloping and opening your horses step up is very important for getting in the ring for the future but also teaching the young horse to shorten its step and come back to you will help work the horses body and gain control.
WH: I know there must be a particular rider/ mentor who has inspired or inspires you- who is it and please elaborate on how they influenced you?
The riders that inspired me are McLain Ward, Beezie Madden, Rich Fellers, Richard Spooner, Ashlee Bond and many more. But these riders inspire me and influence me because they all accomplished so much and have very unique and different special ways of riding that I want to incorporate into my riding.
WH: What mistakes would you tell a rider to avoid in their riding career and in their education or career path? What do you look for in a competition horse? Your current horses?
Amélie B: Never give up and don’t doubt yourself, not everything is going to go your way and that’s ok, work with it not against it. Education, this is an expensive sport you always want a source of income to fall back on. You want a happy healthy and positive minded horse just like all the horses we have at our barn, Bittar Stables.
Thank you Amélie and Alyce for taking the time to answer my questions! Best of luck to both of you in your competitions this summer.
About the author: with a background in filmmaking , fashion and contemporary art, Winter Hoffman brings a unique perspective to the equestrian world. A life long horsewoman she helped her daughter, Zazou Hoffman, navigate her way to a successful Junior career culminating in 1st place in the 2009 ASPCA Maclay Equitation Championship at the National Horse Show and second in the USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final with East Coast trainers Missy Clark and John Brennan. Zazou is now an Assist Trainer and professional rider at Meadow Grove Farm in California