A summer of showjumping
One year into her four-year study at Trinity College, Julia has earned a much longed for summer holiday. It will not be spend with lazy days on a beach though, but in the stables of her father at Stal Tops in Valkenswaard, Netherlands.
After two long and hard semesters of studying, Julia welcomes a change of scenery and environment – and looks forward to focus only on her riding. “I had to sacrifice a lot of riding this year for university. The Canadian system is so condensed; I started in September and finished the third week of April – which is a very short time to do two full semesters. So, I basically left my horses here in Europe with my father, and he has a rider who obviously keeps them in good shape for me. Meanwhile, I have been flying in about once a month on a Thursday night to ride during the weekend and then flown back Sunday night to return in time for class on Monday. It’s quite intense, but I am used to it,” Julia explains.
When at Stal Tops, Julia prefers to get the most out of her days: “I like to wake up early, and ride when it is quiet before everyone else rolls in,” she laughs. “I try to get my horses done in the morning, and then I will ride any horses my dad has on the list for me to help with. When I am done, I will go watch everybody else school here – which I enjoy a lot. Many of those training here is at such a high level, so I try to pick up as much as I can. Also, to see my dad train them and to see the approach he takes to different horses is something I learn a lot from. After lunch, I will take my horses out another time and maybe trail ride a little.”
Julia’s current companions for the summer season are Zero and India Blue ZF, although she hopes to welcome a couple of new mounts during the next months to help take her up in the classes. While Zero is a new horse for Julia, India Blue ZF – aka Apple (Julia has a thing about naming her horses after fruits and vegetables) – is home bred and has been with her rider her whole life.
“I got Zero at the very end of the Winter Equestrian Festival-circuit. He used to compete with Jessica Springsteen, and took her up in the classes and we hope he can do the same for me. Zero is such a good boy and would do whatever he is asked, although he is a bit quirky,” Julia tells.
“Then I have Apple, that my mum bred. The journey with her has been really exciting, because I have been riding her since she was five – obviously professionals have helped with her education – but I have known her since she was a youngster. Apple is the cutest and bravest soul you will ever find. For my mum it is a bit like her baby on her baby, so she gets very nervous though,” Julia laughs. “To have a horse from the very beginning is fantastic. I have watched her go through every phase; and it just makes you more familiar with how every aspect of a horse came to be.”
You might expect that showing takes center stage for Julia when getting to spend four months in Europe. But, no – for the young Canadian rider it is all about spending time with her horses. “Training and competing is obviously a huge perk, because I get to improve myself a lot,” she says. “But most of all, spending time with my horses and establishing a connection with each of them is what I enjoy the most about being here. This is also a huge reason why I love this sport and chose it over something else, because you create a relationship with an animal. And there are a lot of moments where you need this special relation to perform well; when you come a bit deep or a bit far in the ring and have to ask a bit more – if you then have a bond with the horse it makes it a lot easier.”
Learning from the best
With trainers and mentors such as her parents, it is no wonder Julia can be expected to have a great showjumping career ahead of her.
“My mum is my ultimate role model and inspiration in life,” Julia says. “She has been such a great mum to me, and I have so much respect for her – she is my rock in life.”
“As to my dad: He’s extremely wise. I can ask him every kind of question and he will always give me a pragmatic and correct answer, which a lot of times has worked as my moral compass in life.”
Several big names within the equestrian industry have had a big influence on Julia’s showjumping career though, not only her parents. “I have always trained with a bunch of different people to learn as much as possible,” she says. “I first started training with Lauren Hough when I did the equitation and hunters, and she is amazing! Lauren taught me so much about proper preparations: How to walk the course, how to warm up properly and how to be ready for the ring. Then I trained a while with Eddie Macken, and he was great at telling me to trust my gut and to have conviction to what I saw in the ring. Also Francis and Dick Carvin have meant a lot to me; they both really made me become a lot stronger mentally and become more focused.”
With her eyes set on the 2020 Olympics as her ultimate goal, Julia is still all about balancing. “Academics is still very important to me and always will be, so I think I will have to find a way to balance that with the sport. I love learning and challenging myself with the academics, and I feel like that is a huge part of me that I am not willing to let go.”