Eighteen-year-old Hayden Zadel, from Monte Sereno, in Northern California, is out to make her mark at the FEI North American Youth Championships (NAYC) at Old Salem Farm in New York. Her uber-talented mount on the A Team is the 11-year-old grey gelding, Triskel De Kerliven, by Mylord Cathargo out of Herinys l’Enchante.
WH: What was your childhood like and how were you introduced to riding?
HZ: I have always been drawn to horses since I was a little girl, but my parents thought it was just a phase. There was a small barn down the street from where we lived and my older sister Hayley and I started taking riding lessons there. They made me try almost every other sport before they let me just ride. I did basketball, softball, volleyball, swimming, water polo and soccer. None of those sports lasted long because all I wanted to do was ride. Eventually they realized it was not a phase and they bought me my first horse when I was 13.
WH: How did you come to have a passion for the sport -through your parents? Or trainers?
HZ: Both my trainers and my parents helped develop my passion for the sport. I always had high aspirations but I knew getting there would not be easy. My coach, Liz Hutchison, always believed in me and that helped me grow. My parents also have been my biggest supporters. I did not grow up with “made” horses so they made me make do with what I had but it helped me in the long run. My parents opened the door to do young riders by getting me Triskel de Kervilen, but never put any pressure on me. All they ask is that I work hard and do my best.
WH: Did you do the equitation? What are your thoughts on the equitation as a foundation for show jumping?
HZ: I did the equitation briefly on the ponies and I catch rode horses in the 3’3″-3’6″ equitation. In 2017, I qualified for WCE (West Coast Equestrian) Finals and because I didn’t have an equitation horse, I took my stallion (who I do the jumpers on). I went into it with low expectations considering I never did the equitation and I was going to be on a hot jumper. I ended up 8th overall out of 41 starters. I think the equitation and hunter experience is a great foundation because it helps the rider with rhythm and consistency. The times that I catch rode horses, I felt a lot of improvement in my riding.
WH: Was living in California an advantage or disadvantage for your junior show career?
HZ: I have loved growing up in California and competing on the West Coast. I do not know what it would be like growing up on the East Coast since I did not show there until I was 17, but I do not feel that I have been at a disadvantage. I have now shown at an international level and I was competitive against some of the top riders in the world so training in California did not have a huge effect. I have had a few chances to go back to the East Coast and compete and I love it over there also. They have a totally different feel. I think the East Coast has bigger and more well known shows as well as a lot more opportunities to compete in FEI.
WH: I understand that you recently changed trainers. What prompted the change?
HZ: I had been with my old coach for almost 5 and a half years and it was time for a change in pace for me. Willow Tree Farms in Northern California has also aligned with my show schedule more. Butch, Lu, and Guy Thomas all have such a depth of knowledge in the sport and in the high level classes so I will learn a lot from them.
WH: You must have a very supportive family – please tell us about them. Do they travel with you?
HZ: My family could not be more supportive of my riding. My mom comes to just about every horse show with me. My dad typically has to stay home with the animals but he comes to local shows to watch me in the Grand Prix. He also came up to Langley to watch me in the Junior Nations Cup and down to Thermal to watch me in the AIG Million this year.
WH: What is next now that you’ve graduated from high school?
HZ: I just graduated high school this year and I will be attending the University of San Diego in the Fall. I am going to continue riding and will bring my horse to San Diego with me. I hope to continue to ride and do the grand prix classes while still getting a full college experience.
WH: Do you think what you study impacts your view of the sport or the training plan and path you chose for you and your horses?
HZ: I am undecided in my major for college but regardless of what I study in school, I will never stop trying to learn more about the sport. One of my favorite things about this sport is that you never stop learning and although my academic studies may not align with horses, my research and education in the sport will not stop.
WH: How do you manage the peripatetic lifestyle of an equestrian and the stress of traveling to horse shows?
HZ: I went to a regular high school so balancing my school work with riding was difficult but I learned how to manage my time. I would always keep in touch with my teachers and turn assignments in or take tests early if I needed to. I also always tried to stay ahead with my work so when I was gone I wouldn’t get too behind
WH: What is your favorite piece of equestrian equipment for horse? For rider?
HZ: My favorite piece of equipment for the horse is definitely the bit. Having the correct bit can make the biggest difference in how a horse rides and jumps. If the bit is correct then the rider feels confident on course. My favorite equipment for the rider is a helmet. Having a helmet that fits right is very important because it is a safety matter along with comfort.
WH: What advice do you have for ambitious young riders?
HZ: My biggest piece of advice would be to stay humble and to roll with the punches. This sport is full of ups and downs. One day you might be winning but the next day you could fall off. What I have learned is to celebrate the times you do well because before you know it you will be at the bottom again. That being said, while you’re at the bottom, stay positive and do not let your mental attitude affect your riding.
WH: What is your day like? Please describe your training program.
HZ: My training program for my horse consists of a lot of flat work mixed in with grids and occasionally courses. As part of my training I will go to the San Francisco Bay and swim in aquatic park with my dad. I also go to the gym or go on hikes. Since I am away so often and for long periods of time at horse shows, when I am home I spend a lot of time with my friends and we are all very active together.
WH: You have outstanding horses – please tell us a little about each one and what qualities you favor in a show jumper? What were the high points of the past year?
HZ: My main horse is Triskel de Kerliven but we call him Beau. I have had him for a little over two years and together we have tackled many tough grand prix tracks. He was very inexperienced to the height when I got him so we have done a lot of learning and growing together. He always tries as hard has he can and I still do not feel like we have tapped into his full potential. He is the perfect amount of careful and brave. My high points of the past year have been going clear in the AIG Million with only time faults, winning gold at the Junior Nations Cup, and having numerous top ten finishes at the 1.45m and 1.50m level at Spruce Meadows. My other horse Chapeau, known in the barn as Chad, is currently coming back from an injury. He is a hot blooded stallion. I was doing mainly 1.40m classes but had just started to do 1.45m before his break. He is a lot more sensitive in the way that I need to be very accurate to the jumps.
WH: How did you transition to the jumper division and what do you love about it?
HZ: I always loved the jumpers so when one of my horses went lame, a jumper fell into my lap and that’s where it all started. I love the speed aspect mixed in with the technicality of each course. Every time you walk into the ring its brand new and theres something to learn every time. I also love how objective it is.
WH: How do your trainers prepare you and your horses? How does their coaching differ from the program you were in before? What do they have you practice?
HZ: My trainers prepare me and my horses for shows by doing grid work and courses before a show. They have done a great job getting my horse fit for jumping. Their program is different because they have changed my horses feed to maximize his energy and improve his fitness for the bigger jumps. We do a lot of lateral work in flat lessons. While jumping they have me practice riding on a forward pace and keeping a good rhythm.
WH: You must have a routine to prepare yourself mentally before you go in the ring – what is it?
HZ: I always try to watch riders go before me so I can see how the track rides and I can adjust my plan if needed. I also go over my exact plan in my head before I get on, as I’m warming up, and right before I go into the ring. I am typically nervous before I go into a big class but nerves usually make me ride better.
WH: What are your plans for the future?
HZ: I hope to continue to grow as an international show jumper and try to become the best rider that I can be. Since I am moving up in height, I hope to learn the finesse of the bigger jumps in a jump off as well.
WH: What do you look for in a jumper prospect?
HZ: Personally the most important part of a jumper is their brain. I have had many different types of horses over the years and the ones that don’t have a good brain are usually tricky or do not work out. Having a good brain is essential because it’s important to have a horse that doesn’t get too rattled or scared. Obviously having a horse that is careful, brave, and fast is helpful, but it will not go nearly as far if the horse does not have a good mentality.
WH: Please describe your favorite place to visit and ride on the West Coast or another part of the world?
HZ: My favorite show in California is Sonoma Horse Park. Sonoma is a hidden gem in northern California. The facility is beautiful and all the jumps and arenas are well kept. The competition is good and it is only getting better because more people are discovering it. I do not have a lot of international experience but I just recently got back from Spruce Meadows and that is now one of my favorites. Everything is so well run and the show grounds are immaculate. My favorite part is how they make it a big deal there and that is not something that riders get in California. There are families that come out and watch and all the classes have good prize money.
WH: Who is your favorite international rider and why?
HZ: My favorite international rider is Eric Navet. I have seen him ride at many shows and he is always one that I try and learn from. He has an ease about him and horses seem to love him. He does not get in their way yet stays very effective.
WH: Who is your favorite international horse and why?
HZ: My favorite international horse is HH Azur because of her style of jumping. She is not a very flashy horse and does not always look the fastest, but she is very efficient and has a tremendous amount of scope.
WH: Do you or your family breed prospects for show jumping? If so, which bloodlines do you favor?
HZ: My family is not necessarily a horse family. They have grown to know and love the sport because of me, but they did not grow up around horses.
WH: Tell us about the process of qualifying for Young Riders – the horse you will ride, your teammates and why this is important for an ambitious showjumper?
HZ: Zone 10 has always qualified their riders differently from the rest of the nation. We have always used a trial based system. There are four trials throughout the year and the rider gets points for each one. The top four riders with the most points by the final trial are picked for the team. This year was slightly different because half of the team was picked on trials and the other half was picked based on money won. I qualified via money won this year because I wanted to focus on doing grand prix classes instead of the trials. The horse I am bringing is Triskel De Kerliven. My three other teammates are Hannah Loly, Natalie Dean and Ransome Rombauer. This is a really good stepping stone into the next level of show jumping. You get to compete at and FEI level and compete against the rest of the top juniors and young riders from across the country, Canada and Mexico.
WH: Thank you Hayden for taking the time to answer my questions. Best of luck to you and your teammates at Young Riders!
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.