No 10-gallon cowboy hat is needed for 18-year-old Sloan Hopson from Texas – she’s making her mark as a show jumper with her exceptional riding and outstanding horses!
WH: What was your childhood like and how were you introduced to riding?
SH: I’ve grown up in a loving family in Houston with my brother, Bo, and my mom and dad. My mother and her sisters all rode growing up and my mother introduced me to riding when I was 11 years old.
WH: How did you come to have a passion for the sport? Through your parents or through your trainers Blythe and Alejandro Karolyi?
SH: I immediately fell in-love with horses and later the sport after my mother introduced me to it. I believe my parents gave me a love for horses and animals. However, Blythe and Alejandro helped me flourish and grow a passion into a sport.
WH: Are you doing the equitation? What are your thoughts on equitation as a foundation for show jumping?
SH: I didn’t really do any equitation but I rode hunters. I believe it’s very important to have a strong base and discipline as a foundation for show jumping and equitation can be a great way to achieve that.
WH: Was Texas an advantage or disadvantage for your junior show career?
SH: Texas was a convenient place for me to ride when I was young and attending school in Houston. I was introduced to the sport there but I think it was definitely important for me to branch out. Leaving allowed me to further my riding career and achieve things I never could have in Texas. I remain close to my first trainer, Patty Roberts, and our family still has several horses with her in the heart of Houston.
WH: You spent the summer competing in Canada and Europe. Please tell us how this came about, the high points and what you’ve learned from this experience.
SH: This year we spent the majority of the summer at Spruce Meadows and next year we plan to compete in Europe. I believe Spruce Meadows helped me learn to ride out of more pace and to be a faster rider. It also gave me invaluable grass experience which really paid off at the Hampton Classic this year. There are not many shows on grass in the U.S. and Spruce is quite a unique experience.
WH: You must have a very supportive family – please tell us about them. Do they travel with you?
SH: I am very lucky to have incredibly supportive parents who both love the sport. I have a younger brother who goes to school in Houston so they stay there with him during the week and come to watch me show on the weekends. When they are not at the shows I stay with Blythe and Alejandro.
WH: What are you planning to do for college and do you think you’ll take a break between high school and college? If you take a break, will you ride?
SH: I am definitely planning on going to college and I don’t believe I will take a break between high school and college. I plan on continuing to ride through college which can be difficult, but it is a priority of mine.
WH: What is your view of the sport and how does it impact the training plan and path you chose for you and your horses?
SH: I believe that this sport is incredibly unique as it really depends upon the relationship and trust between horse and rider. It’s very important for the rider and the horse to trust one another; truly a symbiotic relationship. For example, when I start riding a new horse we begin slow and show in smaller classes until we develop an understanding and confidence and hopefully, move up from there. But there’s definitely a courtship.
WH: How do you manage the peripatetic lifestyle of an equestrian and the stress of traveling to horse shows?
SH: I believe I now manage the peripatetic lifestyle very well. At first it was a bit difficult adjusting to the amount of traveling but now that I am used to it, I quite like the lifestyle. When we are not showing I try to do the most amount of school work I can so I am able to focus on competing when we get to the shows.
WH: What are your thoughts on the current state of showjumping in the USA and the rest of the world?
SH: I believe it is an exciting time in the sport. There are more opportunities for young riders to compete abroad and to compete on nation cup teams. I believe it is very important to compete at shows that broaden your horizons and provide the ability to witness firsthand what it takes to compete at the top level of the sport.
WH: What is your favorite piece of equestrian equipment for horse? For rider?
SH: My favorite essentials are back boots, sticky spay and lots of treats.
WH: What advice do you have for ambitious young riders?
SH: I believe the best advice is to focus on yourself and your own improvement rather than what others are doing. It is a sport that takes a lot of perseverance, determination, and hard work. There will be many ups and downs but it is important to never give up on your passion and to keep working harder every day.
WH: What is your day like? Please describe your training program.
SH: We are based in Wellington, Florida. When we are at home, I typically go to school or do school work in the morning and ride in the afternoon. At the shows, we normally wake up quite early so we can flat the horses before they show. While at home, our main priority is the fitness of the horse. We show a lot so we don’t jump very much at home. We work on the rideability of the horses over poles and some gymnastics when we feel it is necessary.
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?
SH: Thank you, I love all of my horses! Costa Rica [VH Waterschoot Z] came directly from Alejandro who bought her as a 7-year-old and developed her as a young horse. He competed her in the Nations Cup at WEF (Winter Equestrian Festival) for Venezuela. She is very brave and careful and I get along with her quite well. She loves a lighter ride and I think I am most comfortable on Costa Rica as I have had her for a year and a half. I was only jumping the Low Junior Jumpers on another horse when I got her and she was just 9 years old so we were able to build a bond and gain experience together. She was fantastic all summer and we recently had a great win in the High Jr/AO Classic at the Hampton Classic this year.
Dalida is my newest horse and she is honestly a dream to ride. Alejandro and Blythe found her in Europe and knew she would be a perfect match for me. She goes in a snaffle and is quite careful, scopey, and fast. I competed her in some 1.50m classes in Spruce and we have won a few High Junior classes together this summer.
WH: How did you transition to the jumper division and what do you love about it?
SH: I still ride the hunters but I transitioned to the jumper ring when I started competing in the junior hunters. I love the jumper division because of its technicality. I also love the thrill of jumping big jumps. The bigger the jumps, the more of a challenge it is to jump clear and I seem to like that challenge.
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?
SH: My trainers know my horses extremely well and they formulate a regimen to suit each of my horse’s specific needs. If we have a few weeks off and need to jump before a show we will work on specific lines or combinations that have been problematic at other shows in the past. If we are going to a specific venue like the Hamptons that has grass and natural obstacles, we will go to a farm and practice accordingly to ensure my horse and I are confident. We will perform different exercises like the open-water and the bank so the horses and I are comfortable jumping them before we go to the horse show.
When we were going to the New York Masters in the spring, Blythe knew I did not have any jumper experience indoors so we took the horses to an indoor arena to jump around which really helped. The jumps come up much faster indoors and it was definitely quite beneficial for me to have felt that before the actual competition. I think the biggest difference in the training is that we try to work more on the flat at home and save the jumping for the show ring. The horses know what they are doing so we just try to work on their fitness and flatwork at home versus having daily jumping lessons.
WH: You must have a routine to prepare yourself mentally before you go in the ring, what is it?
SH: We make a clear plan when we are walking the course and then I visualize it and recite it before I get on. When I am flatting in the schooling area I also ride some of the turns on course and practice going forward and collecting like I will need to do when I compete in the ring.
WH: What are your plans for the future?
SH: Long term I plan to compete my whole life and hope to compete at the Grand Prix level. For this year in Florida I plan to compete in the U25 classes and the 2* Grand Prix classes.
WH: What do you look for in a jumper prospect ?
SH: I am always in favor of a mare, but we mainly look for a balance of scope, stride, rideability and carefulness.
WH: Please describe your favorite place to visit and ride in Texas or another part of the world.
SH: Growing up my favorite show in Texas was the Pin Oak Charity Horse Show. My favorites now are LGCT Miami and Spruce Meadows.
WH: Who is your favorite amateur jumper rider and your favorite international rider and why?
SH: My favorite amateur jumper riders are my barn mates, Virginia Ingram and Monica Carrera – they work really hard and love their horses. My favorite international riders are Blythe and Alejandro Karolyi because they are amazing riders, have quite the knowledge, and are the best trainers – my dad scoped them out for me.
WH: Who is your favorite international horse and why?
SH: My favorites are my own, but I also love Adrienne Sternliht’s mare, Cristalline. I love mares for their heart, determination, and competitiveness.
WH: Do you or your family breed prospects for show jumping? If so, which bloodlines do you favor?
SH: Our family does not breed but if I were to consider it I would breed Costa Rica and Dalida as they are great mares. Costa is a Zangersheide and Dalida is a Brandenburg.
WH: Tell us about the process of qualifying for Young Riders, the horse you will/would ride, your teammates and why this is or is not important for an ambitious show jumper?
SH: We made a goal last year to qualify for young riders and planned our shows and schedule accordingly. Qualification is really just about consistency rather than chasing points. I think it is a nice introduction for future team competitions and also gives people the experience to compete under FEI rules if they haven’t before.
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.