Twenty-seven year old Taylor Land has been racking up the ribbons this summer in Europe and the United States at the Tryon International Equestrian Center. Her young age belies the depth of experience she has gained growing up surrounded by professional horsemen and women at the Land family’s Pinetree Stables in Georgia.
Winter Hoffman: What was your childhood like and how were you introduced to riding?
Taylor Land: I grew up on a farm in Alpharetta, Georgia. When I was born, my dad was still competing at the grand prix level and my mom was managing the barn and training the horses during the week when my dad was at work. I was in the barn from day one! My parents would carry me around on horses on the pommel of their saddles before I was old enough to ride on my own. They gave me a truly amazing childhood! My siblings and I were homeschooled, so we spent a ton of time riding and playing outside. With our flexible schedule, my parents also traveled with us lot and encouraged us to pursue other passions. My greatest passions outside of riding are running, skiing, scuba diving, yoga and reading.
WH: How did you come to have a passion for the sport -through your parents and professional trainers Jay and Kim?
TL: My passion for the sport developed through spending time around horses from a young age and seeing my parents riding and caring for horses. My mom ran our barn and my dad rode competitively as an amateur while maintaining his full time career as a commercial real estate developer. I am very competitive by nature, so my love for horses quickly developed into a desire to show and compete. I competed in my first lead line class at age three with the most wonderful large pony named Sassy. My siblings and I shared ponies growing up, and I quickly became so obsessed that I would hoard my Halloween candy so I could use it to barter with [my siblings] Alex and Frances for extra riding days.
WH: You did the equitation with Patty Harnois and Peter Leone along with help from Missy Clark horse-wise. What are your thoughts on the equitation as a foundation for show jumping?
TL: I rode in the equitation on borrowed horses for about a year. I think catch riding for equitation is really helpful for riding development because the courses ask more complex questions than the hunter divisions. After catch riding, I purchased a green equitation horse from Patty Harnois, and I really enjoyed bringing him along. I think the discipline of the equitation division, particularly the flatwork, is very helpful for developing jumper skills. However, I disagree with the excessive amount of physical work that goes into preparing many equitation horses for the ring. My equitation horse had some blood, and I didn’t like having to get him tired so we didn’t have points deducted for him shaking his head in the corner. I really hope we can move away from the model of the very quiet equitation horse one day. I love my horses and I want them to have energy and not be punished for expressing it!
WH: Was growing up in Newnan near Alpharetta, Georgia an advantage or disadvantage for your junior show career?
TL: I grew up in Alpharetta, Georgia, just north of Atlanta. Growing up in the South riding at our family barn and being somewhat removed from the Northeast and Wellington horse show scene may have been a disadvantage for my junior career in some ways, but the positives certainly outweighed the negatives. I didn’t have as many opportunities for catch riding with big name trainers as some other juniors because I wasn’t always at the biggest horse shows, but I grew up in a community where kids were expected to learn to care for their own horses, from cleaning stalls to post-competition care, and learning to drive a truck and trailer. I think growing up in a smaller horse community helped make me a more well-rounded horsewoman. My parents were always firm believers in kids knowing how to fully care for their own horses, and I am so grateful for that today.
WH: You spent the summer competing in Europe. Please tell us how this came about – the high points and what you’ve learned from this experience.
TL: The summer tour that has had the greatest influence for me over the years has been Spruce Meadows. I competed there every year from 2010 to 2014 and I just returned for the first time in a few years this past summer. Spruce Meadows is an amazing place to learn and grow for both riders and horses in several ways. First, the opportunity to jump any level, starting at 1.0 m, at a 5* show with incredible grass fields, Olympic jumps and world class course designers simply doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. The terrain, notoriously tight times, and tough courses really push riders and horses to step up their game, no matter what level they are jumping. The second and I believe most critical part Spruce Meadows played for me over the years was providing an opportunity to watch the best riders and coaches in the world train their horses. During the six-week long tour, all the schooling areas are run under FEI rules, so even as a junior I was able to ride in the same rings as Beezie Madden, Kent Farrington, Richard Spooner, and all the other top riders week after week, and watch them train their own horses and give lessons. It is incredible to watch them, and I can’t think of any better way to learn!
WH: You must have a very supportive family – please tell us about them. Do they travel with you? Do you sister Frances and brother Alex ride?
TL: My family is so supportive and I feel so lucky to share a passion for horses and show jumping with them. My parents are very involved with the horses and the farm with me. My mom helps manage the barn and train clients, and my dad built our entire facility himself and helps me train my horses at home and strategize at the shows. He hates to ever miss a show! My mom’s true passions in the industry are impeccable horse care and training up and coming juniors and young riders, and my dad’s true passion is the competition. I am so grateful every day to have them by my side! My sister, Frances, grew up riding with me and she rode at a high level all the way through college. She took a break after college to focus on her career as a commercial real estate broker, but she started riding again this past summer and it is wonderful to have her back! Sharing a passion with your family is an amazing gift. We were very competitive with each other, but also one another’s biggest cheerleaders. My brother, Alex, rode casually growing up, but he never wanted to compete. His true passion is aerobatic flying! He can do unbelievable things with airplanes and competed in the Aerobatic World Championships when he was still a teenager. He is currently a bush pilot in Denali National Park in Alaska. He flies tourists and mountain climbers into the park, and performs rescues in the mountains.
WH: How did you balance riding and your time as a college student at NYU? Do you think college is important to being an accomplished show jumper? Did you ever take a break from riding? If so, why was that and what did you learn from the time off?
TL: I took a gap year before college to focus on riding. I worked for Jessie Drea in England and then Alois Pollman-Schweckhorst in Germany. I had a wonderful year riding full-time, then I slowed down riding and competing a great deal during college. It was a tough transition, but I really enjoyed having the time to focus on college and living in a new city, and I think I got a great deal more out of the experience because I wasn’t flying out to shows every weekend. My first semester, I didn’t ride at all for three months and it was the longest I had ever gone in my life without sitting on a horse. Going to college certainly isn’t a requirement for being a show jumper, but I am firm believer in education. Taking the time to go to school and experience college life, internships and jobs outside of the horse industry was an integral part of my decision to become a professional rider. By gaining other life experiences, I saw how real and strong my passion for riding was.
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?
TL: I try to always take a long term view when it comes to the sport and my horses. My greatest passion is bringing along young horses, so keeping a big picture perspective and allowing them time to grow and learn is very important. In general, my main focuses in training are on getting the horses light and responsive to my aids, and on reaching and maintaining a very high level of fitness. The path to attaining these goals differs for every horse, and I try to listen to what they need and do everything I can to help them develop in a positive, confident way. It is always an ongoing process!
WH: How do you manage the peripatetic lifestyle of an equestrian and the stress of traveling to horse shows?
TL: It’s not always easy, but growing up with the gypsy horse show lifestyle definitely makes it feel more normal for me. It can be tiring, but I try to focus on the excitement and how lucky I am to do this sport that I love. Having my family, a supportive boyfriend, and a wonderful team of women helping me makes all the difference in keeping the stress level down. I also keep my personal morning routine the same no matter where I am. Before anything else, I go running and do yoga each morning. This keeps me feeling centered and happy! Even if it means losing sleep, it’s always worth it.
WH: What are your thoughts on the current state of showjumping in the U.S. and the rest of the world? Thoughts on the Longines Global Champions Tour (LGCT)?
TL: Show jumping in the U.S. and the rest of the world has certainly changed a lot from my parents’ time in the industry. The sport is played on such a global level today, and there is so much money both being spent and being won. I have not competed at any LGCT shows, so I can’t give a firsthand opinion of them, but I do hope to experience that level of the sport one day. The LGCT can be seen as elitist and the prices are exorbitant, but overall I think the money and prestige that it has brought to the sport will have a positive impact. Hopefully we will continue to move show jumping in the direction of being an international spectator sport!
WH: What is your favorite piece of equestrian equipment for horse? For rider?
TL: My favorite piece of equipment for my horses is my Prestige Renaissance saddle. I believe a high quality, well-fitted saddle is the best thing you can get to keep your horses feeling their best! I also love my LeMieux sound proof bonnets! Reducing some of the chaotic horse show noise can make such a difference for nervous horses and really help them focus. My favorite piece of equipment for myself is my Samshield helmet. It is blue and shiny and so comfortable! It makes me so happy every time I wear it.
WH: What advice do you have for ambitious young riders?
TL: Keep working, keep trying, always be the first one at the barn and the last one to leave. And anytime you have an opportunity to watch a great rider train, pay attention. Watching grand prix classes is so much fun and you can learn a lot, but watching the training is where you learn the most. You can do it! It’s hard work but don’t ever give up if riding is what you really love.
WH: What is your day like? Please describe for the readers your training program.
TL: At home, I get to the barn between 6:30 and 7:00 daily. I feed, turn horses out, put horses on the walker. I like to have my hands on my horses a lot, so I groom my first horse and start riding between 8:00 and 8:15 depending on how speedy I’ve been. My favorite training method at home is simply riding my horses in a big grass field with a lot of terrain. Lengthening, shortening, and transitions up and down the hills really work wonders for the horses’ strength and balance. I will ride all the horses in the field for a few days, then I work on adjustability in the ring for one to three days, depending on what each individual horse needs. I use poles or small jumps, and work on roll backs, turns, and angles. One of my favorite exercises is setting three smalls jumps or poles in a row, each about 54 feet apart, then setting a pole on either side of the out of the line, also approximately 54 feet from the center pole. Then I do various striding between the three poles, sometimes going in a straight line, sometimes bending to the left or right, and sometimes doing an S turn through the exercise. It is wonderful training tool because the horse doesn’t know which pole you are going to or how many strides you are planning to do in advance, so they have to stay very focused and respond quickly to everything you ask.
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?
TL: Thank you so much! I am very lucky to have the three horses I am showing right now. Falco V, who I call Falco Bear, is the one I’ve had the longest. I’ve been riding him for three years and he’s 9 now. He is just amazing! He has the most competitive spirit of any horse I’ve ever ridden. When he goes in the ring, he is always fighting to win. It is such a special feeling to ride a horse like that! He is also my best trail riding partner and he likes to stay out in the paddock for at least 5 hours a day.
Liroy 30 I’ve had for two years and our partnership has come so far in that time. He’s 10 now and he has enabled me to jump some of the biggest tracks I ever have. I am so excited to continue moving up together! I call him Pumpkin in the barn and he is so full of personality. He can open almost any type of stall door, he’s very smart! Multiple mornings I’ve found him out grazing himself on the lawn.
Get Go, who I call Grumbles, is 7 this year and I’ve also been riding him for two years. The years from ages 5 to 7 have been so incredible to experience with Grumbles. Each time I move him up, I act like an overprotective mother and I get so nervous that he isn’t ready. So far, each time he has proven me wrong! He is so talented and I feel so lucky we bought him at such a young age. It really makes our partnership strong and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for us! Grumbles also loves naps… he lays down and sleeps before and after almost every class!
My high points of the past year include Falco winning his first 2* Grand Prix; Grumbles winning a 7 year-old class at Spruce Meadows; Liroy jumping clean in a 1.50m at Spruce Meadows; and Grumbles, Liroy and Falco being 1st, 2nd and 3rd in a Saturday Night Lights Grand Prix in Tryon.
WH: How did you transition to the jumper division and what do you love about it?
TL: I loved the hunters growing up! I stayed on ponies for a long time because I was very small. I also rode a few junior hunters but my parents kept waiting for me to grow before looking for a jumper. Finally, when I was 15, they realized I was probably not going to grow much more and we bought my first jumper, Cassia Catalina. She was hot, strong, and always got to the other side of the jump! We had so much fun together. After showing her for the first time, I never wanted to go back to the hunter ring! The speed, bigger jumps, and ride-ability questions asked by jumper courses immediately grabbed me. Once I felt that adrenaline, there was no going back.
WH: How do you and your trainer prepare you and your horses? How does their coaching differ from the program you were in before? What do they have you practice?
TL: One of the advantages and disadvantages of riding with my parents is that I have been in the same program my entire life. My parents focus a lot on fitness and rideability. We do not jump courses too often at home, but I do spend a lot of time on gymnastics that are tailored to each horse’s issues. This year, while starting to move Grumbles’ up into 1.40m classes and small grand prix classes, we worked on a lot of gymnastics with low, wide oxers set at relatively short distances, so he could learn to power off the ground and use his hind end from a deep distance without the height of the jump making him nervous. My dad is also great at spotting my weaknesses and tailoring our training for me as well. He recently noticed I was having trouble holding my horses straight through tight roll backs in jump-offs, and he had me incessantly practice these turns over very small jumps at home. It worked wonders! It is so important to have observant and knowledgable people on the ground to point out your mistakes.
Getting outside training and input for myself and my horses is also very important to me. This winter, I asked Laura Kraut to help me with one of my horses, and her training had a big impact on me. Primarily using pole work and gymnastics, she re-trained the timing of my use of leg at the jump to maximize the horse’s bascule. Sometimes having a fresh set of knowledgable eyes is the key to addressing an issue!
WH: You must have a routine to prepare yourself mentally before you go in the ring, what is it?
TL: I don’t have a really set routine, but I have a few quirky things I like to do before competing. After the course walk, I always take a minute on my own to envision the track I want to ride. Even if I don’t have time to close my eyes and really imagine it in detail, I do a quick overview of my entrance plan and how I think each line will ride for the horse I’m on. I always talk to my horses a lot! I like to tell them they’re beautiful and strong (and lots of other adjectives) before I get on to compete. If I feel like I’m starting to overthink my course plan or my school with my horse, I sing a few lines of a song in my head to get refocused on riding and being in the moment.
WH: What are your plans for the future?
TL: I would like to continue to move my business towards bringing along and selling more young horses, while keeping a few higher level horses going. I love my clients so much as well! I hope to keep growing a little at a time, producing high quality horses and providing great training. I have big dreams for my current group of horses! If I am able to keep them long term, look for us at the LGCT! Looking into the coming year, I will compete at the Winter Equestrian Festival and HITS Ocala this winter, then the Tryon International Equestrian Center and the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival, among other shows, in the spring and summer.
WH: What do you look for in a jumper prospect?
TL: When looking at horses, I want the horse to be light off the ground at the jump. The best horses usually make it look effortless! I also value an athletic canter and a big step, and I want them to be careful. If they touch a jump once, I want to see them try something new at the next jump. Even if they make a mistake, I want it to always be a different mistake because they’re trying to figure out how to jump clean.
WH: Please describe your favorite place to visit and ride in Georgia or another part of the world?
TL: Trail riding at our farm in Georgia is definitely one of my favorite things to do! The trails are endless, and I love feeling like I’m going on an adventure with my horses. There are lots of woods, ponds, and wildlife, so it’s always exciting. The most amazing place I’ve ever ridden was in Maras, Peru. I went with my granddad and we rode these wonderful little Peruvian Pasos on tiny rock trails through the mountains. It is crazy what those little horses can do! They have no trouble navigating up and down steep mountains, over rocks, and through streams. The views were unbelievable!
WH: Who is your favorite amateur jumper rider and your favorite international rider and why?
TL: My favorite amateur jumper will always be my dad! I really admire how he maintained a successful career and also rode at a high level for so many years. People say you can’t have it all, but if you have enough determination you really can. My favorite international rider is Beezie Madden. She does such an amazing job training her horses. They are so rideable. She can make very difficult courses look effortless. I also admire how hard she works to stay fit and agile. Her incredible body control is proof of how strong and balanced she is.
WH: Who is your favorite international horse and why?
TL: My favorite international horse is Gazelle. I think she epitomizes the ideal modern show jumper. She is so light and effortless in her jump, extremely quick, and careful. She and Kent [Farrington] are incredible to watch!
WH: Do you or your family breed prospects for show jumping? If so, which bloodlines do you favor?
TL: Yes, we have bred a few horses! My favorite bloodlines include stallions Voltaire, Kannan, Numero Uno, and Casall. I look for horses to be light, bloody and careful.
WH: Is it possible to instill courage in a rider?
TL: Yes, definitely. Feeling confident and courageous is such an important part of riding. I believe in positivity and good training to inspire courage. If a rider is not sure how to approach a problem, it is hard for him or her to feel courageous. As a trainer, communicating about the issue and providing tools to overcome it is the best way to instill courage.
WH: Is it possible to instill courage in a horse?
TL: Yes. I believe the best way to instill courage in a nervous horse is by slowing everything down. Each horse is different, so the rider has to listen to what the horse is telling him or her, and make a judgment call about how to proceed. One of the hardest things as a rider is admitting when a horse needs to step down, jump smaller, or take a break from an exercise. Respecting horses and listening when they need a break is so important for keeping them confident. Horses that feel respected and loved are much more likely to fight for you in the ring!
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?
TL: I don’t know that you can instill really intense competitive nature in someone. However, I think apathy in riders often stems from a lack of confidence. Most people who choose to spend their free time riding and showing already enjoy the feeling of winning, but the fear of failure can make someone appear apathetic. Providing riders with good training and tools that make them feel empowered to take on any course can give them the confidence to inspire their competitive spirit.
WH: Thank you Taylor for taking the time to answer my questions and best of luck in your future competitions!
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 assistant trainer and professional rider at Meadow Grove Farm in California.