USHJA Gold Star Clinic Wraps Up Educational Week With Words From Participating Athletes

Wellington, Fla. – Jan. 28, 2020 – The USHJA Gold Star Clinic – East Coast wrapped up a week of educational presentations and mounted riding sessions with a team competition where athletes could put their new skills and knowledge to practice.  The USHJA Gold Star Clinics are a part of USHJA’s Emerging Jumper Rider Program, which identifies riders who have the skill and desire to excel in Jumpers, and educates them through presentations from experts and riding sessions led by distinguished riders and trainers. To qualify for the program, riders must compete at the USHJA Zone Jumper Team Championships or the Platinum Jumper Championships. At the end of each Individual Zone Jumper Championships, USHJA recognizes all individual medalists, regardless of age, as Gold Star Emerging Jumper Riders.

Twenty-two riders were invited to participate in this year’s Gold Star Clinic – East Coast, held at the Jim Brandon Equestrian Center in West Palm Beach, Florida, from January 22-26, 2020. Participants engaged in riding sessions with lead clinician Todd Minikus and heard numerous presentations from the industry’s leading riders, veterinarians, farriers, and clinicians.  

Members of Sunday’s winning team included 21-year-old Summer Hill of Lexington, KY, 16-year-old Avery Moore of Atlanta, GA and 17-year-old Alexis Ortiz of Hoffman Estates, IL. The three gathered to discuss their takeaways from the week and offer advice to fellow riders. 

Summer Hill, Avery Moore, and Alexis Ortiz

Which part of the clinic do you think led to your victory today?

Summer Hill: “A lot of time spent in the barn with our teammates helped. By the end of the day today, we were all friends and working for and with each other. That was the biggest thing. We got to spend sun-up to sun-down working with them and getting to know them so that we were stronger when we went in.”

Avery Moore: “I came in here not knowing Alexis [Ortiz] or Summer [Hill] and I’m leaving here with two really good friends. We got to learn together, spend a lot of time with Todd [Minikus] and Colleen [Reed] learning a lot about our horses and our sport. It was really beneficial for us.”

Alexis Ortiz: “I didn’t know my teammates at all going in to this and now we’ve had the chance to work as a team and get a lot stronger that way. We were able to strategize in the barn and at the ring, and that team aspect really helped.”

What words of wisdom did Chef d’ Equipes Diane Carney and Alex Granato give you in the schooling ring that helped you with your victory? 

Ortiz: “After my first round, Todd commented on my position and how it was affecting my ride, so when I went back into the schooling ring, both chefs, Diane and Alex, helped me figure out what faults in my position would affect my balance. Diane helped me with equitation and reminded me that I’m not just an equitation rider; I’m just a rider. The position matters in both rings and goes both ways. That really helped me in the second round.”

Moore: “When I was warming up for my first round, I got a comment from Alex about being smooth and taking everything down from a ten to a five. Summer also helped remind me to keep quiet and smooth and help the horse when she needs it, but that she’s a smart horse and to just let her do her thing.” 

Hill: “Alex is really supportive in the schooling ring. He backed up the plan that I had going in. Having someone on the ground that is as knowledgeable as he is to tell you that you look good or tell you to go a little deeper, is really helpful. The biggest thing today is that [Diane and Alex] wanted us to go in with a little bit of our own warmup plan in the schooling ring, and having someone to tweak it a little and support you like Alex did was really helpful.”

What was it like to work with clinician Todd Minikus this week?

Hill: “Todd is a really good instructor. Watching him show, all of his horses are really responsive, really pay attention to everything that he’s asking them to do.That’s the biggest thing that I took away. I have a big horse, he’s a little bit strong. Learning tools to get my horse to respond to me when I need him to is what Todd helped everybody with.”

Moore: “Having Todd was beneficial to me this week. I learned a lot about my horse and the way she goes. I haven’t had my horse that long so I was able to learn a lot about her quirks and how I can better myself. I learned a lot about being smooth and soft.”

Ortiz: “I really liked Todd as a clinician. He has had a lot of success in the grand prix classes and other competitions, but he didn’t try to force you to ride exactly how he rides. He understood that every horse is different and every rider is different, and he taught us skills to help our personal style of riding and to be still be successful without changing the whole program in three days.”

This clinic carries a fast pace and an intense schedule. Do you think it is too hard?

Ortiz: “Not at all. Everyone here wants to be better and work hard. That’s why we’re here; we like working hard. The horses, the barn management, and the riding all come into play. It’s not too hard at all.”

Moore: “It was a difficult week but it’s what we signed up for, and that’s the sport. If you’re passionate about this, you have to go all in. This is what we want to do. All of us here came to learn and we spent a lot of time learning.”

Hill: “The schedule is set up to push you as a rider, as an athlete, and as a barn hand with your horses. If it wasn’t difficult, it wouldn’t be beneficial. You learn to work smarter, work faster, and get everything done in a timely manner. You get it done well, not just get it done. Putting us under that tight time constraint in the barn really helped us as riders. It makes you a better athlete.”

Can you touch on your relationship with the horses you each brought this week?

Hill: “My horse Lasco is big and he’s strong. I show him at the grand prix level. I’ve had him for about eight months so he’s a fairly new mount for me this season. There has been a little bit of a learning curve. I’m not very big, so I’ve had to learn how to make myself bigger on him so that I have the control that I need. He’s really a special horse. He tries 110% and it’s been a great experience to have a horse that wants to win just as bad – if not more – than you do.”

Moore: “Quinn is the only horse that I have. I got her a little over a year ago as a 5 year old. She and I have grown a lot, and she’s taught me so much about my riding and who I am. She has also learned a lot here and we’ve both learned together. It was beneficial to have outside advice here from the top riders who bring up young horses to help me figure her out more.”

Ortiz: “I wasn’t sure who I would be riding at the clinic until the week of the clinic. He’s one of my trainer’s horses that I’ve been fortunate enough to show for the past year. He’s 8 years old, he’s great, and I was really able to grow with him this past year in the jumpers because it was both of our first year there. To round out the year with this clinic and see how far we’ve come is really great.”

Summer – what does it mean to be a part of this clinic as a professional and for your career moving forward?

Hill: “Being a part of this clinic as a professional is beneficial in a lot of ways. We cover so many topics while we’re here: horse care, farrier and vet, bringing up young horses, and breeding. It’s such a large array of information that’s not just geared towards young kids trying to move up in the ranks. There is so much information here that is beneficial to anybody. I also think making connections with a lot of these top professionals is what this is all about. This program puts you in a position to be able to do that and without it, I don’t think everybody would have that opportunity.”

How would each of you describe your riding style?

Ortiz: “I have more of an American style of riding because that’s how my trainer rides and he was brought up through the American style of equation, but it’s important to ride any way that you can to help the horse you’re on and be most effective. It’s nice that Todd would adapt to that.”

Moore: “My riding style is more European based. I’ve spent a lot of time in Europe learning, and my trainers are European. Like Alexis said, it’s important to have your style adaptable to the horse. Every horse goes differently so you can’t ride every horse the same. What makes you a good rider is being able to change your style quickly.”

Hill: “Personally, I like to ride fast. Not out of control, but get out there, get on a big rhythm, and let the jumps show up. It teaches you to think on your feet. This sport is an adrenaline rush. If you’re going slow and taking your time all the time, it gets monotonous. I enjoy the thrill of the sport. It takes so much skill to be able to do things at a top speed and be competitive and smart. That’s where learning control from Todd is really important. If you want to ride fast and you want to be competitive, you also have to know how to ride slow in those certain areas of the course so you can master everything that the course is testing you on.”

Alexis and Avery – what has this program meant for you as juniors and in your careers moving forward?

Moore: “I have never had the opportunity to come to a USHJA clinic before; I haven’t done the [Emerging Athletes Program] (EAP). This was my first Gold Star clinic, and I learned so much more than I expected to learn. I learned about my horse and the care that goes on in the barn. It’s so important to know what’s going on in the barn. One of the most important things in riding is horsemanship, and I’m going to use the knowledge that I learned here for the rest of my life. “

Ortiz: “I like this clinic because it’s barn management based. You learn about more than just riding and that’s important to me and a lot of junior riders. If you’re an aspiring professional and you don’t have the financial backing, you have to find some other way [to go pro]. The point of this clinic is to give those kids an opportunity and a pathway to go out and make a name for themselves and progress in the sport.”

What are your goals, short-term and long-term?

Ortiz: “Short-term I’d love to keep doing equitation with my own horse and hopefully be in the top in all of the finals. Every year, I have almost been there, so I’m hoping it will work out for me for my last junior year. I’d love to step more into the jumper ring and move up a little there. I’d love to pursue a career in the industry and hopefully become a professional, but I will be going to Texas A&M University and riding on their equestrian team, so I’ll be doing that first and see what happens from there.”

Moore: “Short-term, I just want to keep working towards having a successful year with my horse Quinn. We just moved up recently so we want to be consistent and successful and maybe get to the 1.30m division by the end of the year. Long-term, I’m not sure yet. I still have two more junior years. I know that I want to keep riding, and this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I can’t imagine not having horses.”

Hill: “The biggest thing on my radar right now is that I plan to go to Ocala and jump the HITS Million Grand Prix in March. I have some logistics to figure out. I need to see how my horse stays and make sure he is in his best shape and is the most comfortable that he can be. Figuring out the right training before that and getting advice from those who have jumped the class is what’s on my radar.”

What part of the clinic did you learn the most from and enjoy the most?

Hill: “I really enjoyed the Platinum Performance presentation. There were things that you wouldn’t typically learn about your horse – their nutrition, the microbiomes. Those are things we don’t have access to on a daily basis, that we wouldn’t think to go online and look for.”

Moore: “I agree with Summer. I thought the Platinum performance presentation was super interesting. I knew nothing about a horse’s nutrition, and learning about preventative measures you can take, microbiomes, and the things that they have coming up in the future is really cool.”

Ortiz: “I don’t mean to sound repetitive, but the Platinum Performance seminar was my favorite also. I learned so much about things that you wouldn’t even think about. You learn about horses on a molecular level. There’s so much more to a horse and their system than just the food they’re eating. It plays a huge role in how they go and how they feel. That’s one thing I’ll go home and do more research on and pay attention to more with my horses.” 

What did you each think of the panel discussion we had last night with Alex Granato,  Anne Kursinski, Todd Minikus, and Margie Engle?

Ortiz: “The discussion was great. There’s a wealth of knowledge between those four riders. It’s nice to talk to them one-on-one and realize that they’re people too. You see where they started as young riders and aspiring professionals and they have worked hard to get where they are. Talking to them really makes you realize that it is possible [to go pro] through hard work and taking the right steps. It is doable.”

Moore: “The discussion was amazing. It was really cool to hear from riders that have been my idols since day one. To see them in person and be able to hear how they came up and their opinions on things was interesting and informative. The four of them have so much experience and so much wisdom, and they’re incredible riders.”

Hill: “It’s not every day that you get to sit in a room with athletes of that caliber. That was a unique opportunity provided to us while we’ve been here. My biggest takeaway from talking to all of them was their routine. How do they prepare for a big class? How do they handle high pressure? You have to figure out your routine and what works best for you. You don’t have to do it the same as everyone else.”

How interesting did you find the workout session with Beezie Madden?

Hill: “The workout session was really interesting. It’s unique that down in Wellington, people have created workouts especially for riders to benefit from. Any type of workout is beneficial for your overall athleticism, but there are things that we need to be good at as riders. We need to be flexible, we need to be strong but not too muscular. It was interesting to get a different perspective on how they work someone out to be a rider, not just an athlete.”

Moore: “It was cool to see how someone with that much experience prepares herself behind the scenes. I thought it was interesting that they had a dressage rider who was working out too, and to see the differences in the workouts between the dressage rider and the show jumper. We work out different muscles and it’s interesting how they tailor the workouts even more specifically to the discipline itself.”

Ortiz: “Often times you get so wrapped up in your horse’s fitness and care that you forget about yourself and your own fitness and care. All of the top riders are taking care of themselves. They eat right and they workout, and I think that’s what sets them apart from other people. They put themselves as a priority to be the best athlete they can be.”

What advice might you have to another rider looking to participate in the Gold Star Clinic and be on the pathway to the Emerging Jumping Rider Program?

Ortiz: “Go and experience it. Experience the team aspect because it’s very different for riders to be competing on a team, and that’s very important if you want to be successful in this sport. Have an open mind and be willing to work hard because that’s going to get you there. Soak up all of the knowledge that you can and you’ll learn a lot.”

Moore: “Getting here has been a lot of hard work. We all went through it, but absolutely do it. Don’t think about it or question it. Go to the Zone Championships and ride your best. Competing on a team is something that doesn’t come by very often so being able to do that is an incredible experience. You learn invaluable lessons as a junior rider. I say 100% go for it.”

Hill: “Work hard. Work really, really hard. Put all of your best feet forward. Be friendly, say ‘hi’ first, make the right connections. Talk to people who can help you get there and give you advice and help you with anything. Everyone is friendly. Moving forward to the zone championships, take advantage of being on a team and take advantage of getting to work with other people. Use all of the resources that you’re given. Above all, work hard.”

For more information about the USHJA Gold Star clinics, click here 

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