August 2020 - Senior Spotlight: Sophia Siegel

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A positive outlook on things beyond her control makes the most of an unusual junior career finalé.

by Kim F. Miller

For all its privileges and pleasures, the horse life can be humbling, too. Through three years of going out for the North American Youth Championships Zone 10 teams, Sophia Siegel knows that first-hand. She’s batting .300: good for baseball, but not so much in the horse world and especially when two of three at-bats disappeared without even getting a swing in.

 


Sophia represented the Zone 10 Junior team in 2017, and had earned a team spot for 2019 when an injury sidelined Eleganto VDL, aka “Elmo,” shortly before leaving for New York. Another top mount, Classic Verite, aka “Charlie,” also went on the injured reserve around the same time.    

 

Happily, both were ready for a return to work early this year, and a relatively green mount, Barracuda, is coming along nicely.

With Charlie, Sophia was aiming to make the NAYC Young Riders (1.45M) team this summer. This time, the pandemic put paid to the plan. Originally slated for July, the Championships were cancelled fairly early in what became three-and-half months of show cancellations.  

Sophia graduated high school in June and had high goals and hopes for what she could accomplish in her last junior year of showing. “It’s a bummer, but it’s OK,” she says. “The show season is obviously not going to be what we expected.” She sees an upside for her horses’ mental health. “I don’t think my horses have gone this long between showing. They’ve always been on the go and it’s been nice to see them take a deep breath.”

Sophia has enjoyed keeping her show horses fit, healthy and ready to return when the time comes.
    
Good Use of Extra Time

The time-off has given her more time for horsemanship pursuits beyond the show ring. One of those is a 2-year-old that lives at Branscomb Farm in Half Moon Bay. The dam is Suleika 525, Sophia’s first NAYC prospect. The sire is Grand Prix jumper and elite Belgian Warmblood Jonkheer Z, who stands at Pomponio Ranch.  

She’s also had more time to volunteer with the Into The Light Horse Rescue and Sanctuary in Woodside. This rescue is a little different than others because most of its charges are young, typically between 2 and 5 or 6. Most originate from wild Mustang populations.

Highlights of her first year of helping at Into The Light include being the first person to sit on one youngster’s back and helping others progress on their paths to being re-homed as safe, sane riding horses whenever possible. “It’s not like starting a show horse,” Sophia says. “They are much more chill because of the environment in which they are raised.”

Sophia Siegel. Photo: Sophia Jain

Working with these horses helps maintain a broader perspective on the horse world, Sophia reflects. “In our sport, and especially when jumping at the high levels, it can be easy to lose touch: to view the horses as a vehicle for success.” Helping horses who might otherwise have been headed to slaughterhouses ensures that she never takes anything for granted.

These hours of hands-on horsemanship also made it easier to cope with the lack thereof during the stable shut-downs in her Peninsula area. She was grateful to be able to keep taking lessons with her coaches Harley and Olivia Brown in Portola Valley, but not a fan of showing up and going straight to the mounting block. “We had to wait outside the barn for my horse to be magically brought to me, ready to ride. That was tough because I enjoy spending time with them and grooming them. I love them like pets. But, I do consider myself lucky to have been able to ride. I know other barns were not that fortunate.”

Her observations all fit her coach Harley Brown’s description of Sophia as a horsewoman: “She is really dedicated, she works really hard and she loves the horses.” Even without Sophia able to compete at NAYC last summer, Harley Brown Equestrian had three riders on the Zone 10 silver medal winning squad. “Our barn is chock full of competitive young riders and Sophia fits right in,” Harley says. Along with riding chops, “Everybody likes her and she’s easy to train.”

Sophia started riding with Toni and Colin McIntosh, then rode with the Thomases at Willow Tree Farm before moving to the Browns about a year ago.

Good News, Too!

The disappointment of the COVID-19 show cancellations was offset with the realized dream of acceptance to Stanford University this fall. “It’s been my dream,” Sophia says. She enters as a biology major with special interest in environmental conservation and marine biology.

Having juggled high level riding and academics throughout her life, Sophia expects to keep doing the same throughout college. She lives 20 minutes away from the Stanford campus and she can keep her horses and continue riding with the Browns in Portola Valley.  Given the COVID-19 situation, her first fall will most likely be online, which makes it a little easier to juggle studies and competing.

In late June, Sophia and her horses returned to competition, trekking south to the Nilforushan Equisports Events Temecula Valley National Summer Series at Galway Downs. With her relatively green jumper, Barracuda, she was second in the High Classic during Week 1. And Elmo is coming back nicely, taking a red ribbon in a 1.2M class the same week.

“It is really refreshing to see everybody again,” Sophia says. “It seemed like everybody picked up where they left off: nobody missed a beat. It does make me appreciate the sport and the fact that it’s outside, especially as Gov. Newsom just announced the closing of indoor group activities. I think we’ve all been a bit lonely and it’s really nice to see everybody and to see them doing so well. Everyone is being team players and congratulating each other on being back and doing well.”

Sophia’s next shows were as uncertain as everybody else’s at press time, but she is sure about eventually moving up into the Grand Prix ranks. “I’m really grateful for all the horses I’ve had, but they’ve all been a little challenging.” Although she was always stepping up herself, “I had to be their guide as we moved up.”  She and the Browns are scouting for a new horse for the Grand Prix division.

Meantime, she’s happy to keep bringing out the best in the horses she owns and those she gets to work with, from her jumpers to the Into The Light steeds and her 2-year-old.