Quest For The Eq With Riders United Students Zoie Brogdon And Morganne Craig

Phelps Sports’ contributing columnist Winter Hoffman has been documenting her quest to support diversity and inclusion in the hunter/jumper/equitation rings through her support of Riders United. Read all about one of the great successes of her mission as Riders United students Zoie Brogdon and Morganne Craig were awarded opportunities to compete in the equitation divisions at the Desert Horse Park this fall.  Click here to read Winter’s previous interviews with Zoie Brogdon and Morganne Craig. 

A specific goal evolved in June from our community riding ring in Sullivan Canyon initiating a relationship with two riders of color from Riders United, previously Compton Junior Posse. The equestrian world has historically been mostly white.

My recent efforts to include two riders of color has involved some challenging new hurdles. Initially the goal was to reestablish fifteen-year old Zoie Brogdon’s confidence after the horse she had been riding began stopping at fences. Then my focus shifted to also offer Morganne Craig a suitable horse to ride. For both girls, I offered my horse Transmission, winner of the CPHA Lifetime Achievement Award. When it became apparent that Zoie would benefit from a more challenging ride, I reevaluated the goal and reached out to our local organizations with the ask that both riders be sponsored for membership.

In reviewing the year-end finals criteria as qualifying points were waived and dates changed, a revelation occurred. Zoie could compete in the Ronnie Mutch Equitation Challenge on November 1st at the Desert Horse Park by special invitation. We took on a seemingly impossible goal with assistance from many individuals! Preparing for a 3’6” Equitation Championship via equitation immersion in five weeks is not something I would encourage, but Zoie is an exceptional rider and we were able to partner her with equally exceptional horses.

Under the tutelage of my daughter and 2009 ASPCA Maclay National Champion, Zazou Hoffman, Zoie made her preparations for her equitation debut aboard Hannah Warde’s Canasucre. The Ronnie Mutch Equitation Challenge took place on Sunday, November 1st as part of the Sunshine Series. The class features a unique format where riders are responsible for their own course walk, as well as the management and schooling of their own horse. Communication between a rider and their trainer is strictly prohibited. The class emphasizes horsemanship skills and decision making, all while testing their equitation. 

Zoie Brogdon and Canascure, Photo Provided by ESI Photography

When asked about Zoie’s journey during their time working together, Zazou shared, “This effort to help Zoie was really two fold – one being that I think it is so important to encourage a more diverse and accepting atmosphere in our sport, and the second being to promote the equitation as a strong base for riders to continue on to the top of the sport. Zoie has lots of ambition and a great attitude which made the experience fun for everyone! I believe that for Zoie to be part of the Meadow Grove Farm team for a week was highly educational and she was able to take home a lot of great knowledge about effective position, horse management and preparation, and many more small details that go into the operation of keeping high level show horses competing week in and week out.”

After putting in a beautiful round, Zoie shared her takeaway from the experience. “The goal was to improve my riding by slowing down and focusing on the little things. The jumpers go by so fast and you’re allowed to take shortcuts. But in equitation, you really learn to go in slow motion and everything you do affects the ride. I was able to practice slowing down and focusing on my position. I utilized my riding aids to control the horse at such a speed.” 

Zoie Brogdon, Photo by Winter Hoffman

Asked to reflect on the competition, Zoie concluded that, “Equitation has already benefited my riding quite a lot. My position is better, I’m more quiet and effective with my aids, and I’m able to take the tips and tricks of the equitation ring and bring them into the jumper ring.”  

Canasucre’s owner, Hannah Warde, drove from Arizona to watch Zoie’s class had an emotional response to seeing her much-loved repurposed jumper that had not been in the show ring for nine years perform. “Showing in the equitation, especially in a class like the R.W. Mutch Equitation Championship, is a real test of one’s horsemanship. It is not easy to show up and show out amongst some of the nation’s top junior riders. Through this immersive experience Zoie demonstrated a great deal of confidence, competence, and humility. It is clear she has the talent and mindset to be competing in the bigger equitation classes and I am excited to see where her junior career takes her.”

For 13 year-old Morganne Craig, the goal was to compete in the LEGIS Cornerstone 2’6” Equitation Class on a large pony generously donated by the Tomsic family. It was

Morganne Craig, Photo Provided by ESI Photography

Morganne’s first time at this large and intimidating facility in the desert and she navigated the layout with aplomb. The generosity of the community was astounding and I was profoundly touched when a groom loaned  his personal bike for Morganne to use to get about the show. 

Not only did Morganne get a ribbon for her efforts, but she shared one of the many lessons learned along the way. “The equitation helps me to perfect all the technical things in jumping with my seat. When I go into the jumper ring equitation helps finding a good distance, getting my rhythm and finding the correct speed. I think about my distance, strides, position, am I going too fast or too slow while going in the course? There is a lot to think about in addition to paying attention to what your horse is feeling and what you’re feeling, because if you’re both not in a good mindset you can mess up the whole round.”

Reflecting on this ambitious project, Stacia Madden’s observation, which she shared online in regard to the equitation divisions, ring relevant. Stacia shared, “Jumping is a complicated sport. The equitation division can provide short term goals for riders and teach them how to handle pressure and manage expectations while ‘the training wheels are coming off’ so to speak. They learn how to set goals, manage to have the horse and rider peak at important events, and compete on a championship level. I believe this is all applicable to showing competitively in the jumper ring… I love watching former students stay in the sport. It does not matter if they become a hunter rider, a jumper rider, an assistant trainer, or perhaps they start their own business.”

In addition to her heartfelt statements regarding the importance of equitation divisions and the impact that they have on the growing careers of young riders, Stacia shared some past results which she had pulled from various 3’6” Finals dating back to 2001, including the USEF Talent Search East and West, the USEF Medal Finals, the WIHS Equitation Championship, and the ASPCA Maclay Finals. Her findings were nothing short of marvelous, showing that over 40 out of 72 of the champions since 2001 are currently competing at the Grand Prix level of show jumping. 

Stacia’s conclusion was a passionate one, stating: “I know it was said ‘you can’t just compare to the top of the sport, but these statistics clearly show that the American equitation division provides a great foundation for the young riders of today to go on and pursue their dreams!”

Jeni Brown, President of California Professional Horsemen’s Association, echoed this: “The equitation division helps to teach the riders a great foundation for position, balance, track, pace, distance and feel. The courses are challenging and to make it look seamless the riders have to develop all these skills. The addition of all the jumper medals, like the CPHA Style of Riding and the CPHA Foundation WCE Medal, help to educate the riders ability to be smooth, efficient, and influence the horses to jump cleanly over these difficult jumper courses. A rider who is competitive in the equitation is well on their way to success in the jumper ring!” 

Archie Cox President of Pacific Coast Horse Shows Association further concludes “The equitation division allows riders to develop the foundation needed for success in the jumper ring. Pace, track, position and accuracy are all requirements for quality rounds allowing horses to compete at their best.  Many of the Pacific Coast Horse Shows Association medals have been won by Olympic Medalists. Meredith Michaels Beerbaum and Lucy Davis are excellent examples of the PCHA’s equitation legacy.

A huge thank-you goes out to all involved in helping get Zoie and Morganne to the horse show, especially the trainers and grooms at Meadow Grove Farm, owners Hannah Warde and the Tomsic family, Archie Cox and Jeni Brown for their generous sponsorship of the PCHA and CPHA memberships for both girls, Steve Hankin and the group behind Desert International Horse Park, as well as the trainers and riders at Sullivan Canyon, Jenni Kayne, Marci Dinkin, Lauren Rojany, and Debbie Tomasi, and Susan Adamson.

About the Author:

With a background in filmmaking, fashion and contemporary art, Winter Hoffman brings a unique perspective to the equestrian world. A lifelong 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 a trainer and professional rider at Meadow Grove Farm in California. She has competed on several developing rider Nations Cups representing the United States.

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