MASTER CLASS| By Nina Fedrizzi| May 1, 2017
Special thanks to Noelle Floyd Style for writing this feature on Sloane!
Hunter/jumper rider Sloane Coles has certainly learned from the best. Not only did she grow up with two horse riding parents, she cut her teeth traveling the country and the world to train with some of the top names in the industry—from John and Beezie Madden to Mark Leone and Lauren Hough, and Belgian Olympian, Francois Mathy Sr.
Four years ago, Sloane decided to return to the place where she began: The Plains, Virgina, and the vast, rolling hills of Orange County hunt country where she works for top training facility, Spring Ledge Farm. And while, these days, Sloane is equally successful in the hunter and grand prix jumper rings, she hasn’t forgotten those important, early lessons she learned outside the arena, as a young rider growing up on horseback in Virginia’s bountiful countryside.
“I [still] try to get out as often as I can,” Sloane says, adding that the picture below was taken just last fall.
Here are 10 riding lessons Sloane Coles has learned from the hunt field:
1. Changing position.
Learning what to do with your weight and body as the different terrain and uphill/downhill gradient changes the balance of your horse.
2. How to ride at speed.
What to do with your body, weight, and control at a much faster pace than you would in the show ring.
3. Developing feel.
I learned to ride by the seat of my pants and worked at developing my natural feel in the field before I had many lessons in a ring.
4. Lean back!
When leaning back and riding down a hill, it’s more about using the entire body weight behind you. Believe it or not, this is about much more than leaning back—it’s about getting every ounce of your weight behind your heels. Creating this subtle shift is a huge advantage in triple combinations in the show ring as well as when simply protecting a horse’s front end.
5. Letting go of the distance.
In the field, it’s not a matter of looking for the perfect distance. What’s more important is concentrating on the obstacles behind the fence—ditch, stream or fallen tree—whatever it may be.
6. Gallop 101
Hunt riding has taught me how to truly gallop in all kinds of natural environments.
This one is simple, but if you don’t trust your horse, you aren’t going to get very far in this environment.
8. One-handed riding.
Riding with one hand on the rein (one of my personal favorites!).
9. Love of the Thoroughbred.
The American Thoroughbred’s natural ability to gallop and jump in an open field is unmatched.
10. Enjoying the moment.
There’s nothing like the thrill of being able to experience the beautiful countryside by horseback!
The Springledge team of horses and riders, based in The Plains, Virginia, traveled to the Winter Equestrian Festival circuit in Wellington, Florida, for the 2017 winter season and has already enjoyed ample success during the first four weeks.
During WEF 1, held January 11-15 at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, Connor Husain earned Springledge’s first blue ribbon with victory in the Low Amateur-Owner Jumpers aboard MTF Betina. The pair sped to victory in a field of 75 competitors for an impressive win.
“She’s a really cool horse, and I get along with her really well,” said Connor, who purchased the bay mare in Europe where he spent the summer of 2016 training and showing. “I competed her there in the 1.35m speed classes, and she always placed well. She’s naturally quick without trying.”
After beginning his riding career in the eventing world and achieving international-level success at the Junior and Young Rider levels, Connor, 23, has transitioned full-time to show jumping and is working to rise up the levels in the discipline under the tutelage of trainer Sloane Coles.
“I’m currently showing in the Low and Medium Amateur-Owners and came to Florida to gain more experience,” he said. “In the eventing world I was pretty far along, but in show jumping I’m still facing a learning curve. I’m improving quickly now, but I’m still making small mistakes and hope to stay it this level until I get confirmed with the horses I have. My aspiration is to represent the United States on a senior team one day. I’m still a long way off, but I’m going to work hard to make that happen!”
Connor’s family owns Morningside Training Farm in The Plains, Virginia, a United States Equestrian Federation elite training center, with the mission to produce top three-day eventing students at all levels. When not on the road, Connor is based there with his string of horses, including Betina, Birmingham, MTF Saint Simeon and MTF Madame X.
Sloane enjoyed ribbons of her own during WEF 1, including 10th place in the $8,000 1.45m class aboard Esprit and seventh out of 51 in a 1.35m class riding Binja. Both horses are owned by The Springledge Group.
During WEF Weeks 2, 3 and 4, Springledge continued to achieve major goals and added more ribbons to the banner.
Highlights included Binja’s two blue ribbons in the 1.40m classes with Sloane aboard. During WEF 3, she outran a field of 33 for the top call,and during week 4 she repeated the victory over 22 challengers. Sloane found the 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare (Colandro—Naomie) in the Netherlands last summer and imported her as a sales horse.
“She’s stepped up and done the 1.45m classes, too,” said Sloane. “I think she’ll be a super Junior Jumper. She’s extremely fast. I actually didn’t set out to win both classes; she just turns so quickly and doesn’t take much time in the air, so she’s naturally fast. She’s a real competitor. I’ll continue to bring her along until a good kid comes along to buy her.”
Connor debuted with MTF Saint Simeon during Week 1 in the Amateur-Owner Jumpers and moved up to the Medium level during Week 3, where he earned ribbons at the 1.35m level. During Week 4, the pair moved up to the 1.40m level during the Palm Beach Masters CSI3*, where they produced solid results.
“She’s very exciting,” said Sloane of Connor’s newest horse. “She’s going to be the horse he moves up with. They were great in the $25,000 1.40m this week. He had a couple of rails down, but he was solid from start to finish. Connor is riding great, and being able to get in the ring so often has allowed him to improve so quickly.”
During Week 4, February 1-5, Sloane and Esprit contested the $216,000 Ariat Grand Prix CSI4* out on the expansive grass field. “The jumps were huge!” said Sloane. “There were some 1.60m fences out there. We had a couple down, but I was thrilled. He tried really hard, and it’s so nice to be out there in that company. I’m especially proud to be able to do those kinds of classes on a horse that was bought as a Junior Jumper. I’m so lucky to have him!”
Sloane was also proud of Connor’s MTF Madame X , a 10-year-old mare he purchased to bring up the ranks. With Sloane aboard, the bay Oldenburg (Continio—Walona) placed fifth out of 43 in the $6,000 1.40m Speed Challenge.
“I’m really excited about her; she gives you an amazing feeling,” said Sloane. “Jumping is so easy for her, and she’s naturally careful. She’ll have a bright future with me or someone else. She’s only 10, and she’s very talented.”
Springledge will remain in Wellington through the 12-week WEF circuit, where Sloane is accepting new clients and horses.
Sloane Coles was featured in the November 2016 issue of Sidelines magazine with a profile article in the Rider Spotlight department.
For more information about Sidelines and to view the article online, please click here.
Most young hunter/jumper professionals who hang out a shingle to begin their careers have ample show ring experience. Perhaps they’ve earned championships at the country’s top shows since childhood, trained with some of the best instructors in the business and have ridden talented ponies and horses.
While Sloane Coles certainly fits this description, the 25-year-old Virginia native takes it a step farther. In addition to a comprehensive and successful show ring career—including multiple national and regional championships in hunters, jumpers and equitation—Coles has lifelong experience riding cross-country and foxhunting.
“I think when my upbringing in Virginia and background showing in equitation, hunters and jumpers is combined with my continuing education in horsemanship it all provides a unique set of skills,” said Coles. “I’m equally comfortable hacking cross-country, crossing streams as well as jumping grand prix courses and showing green hunters.”
Coles comes from a long family tradition of equestrian sport growing up in The Plains, Virginia. Her parents, John and Julie Coles, are both lifelong riders and horsemen, with John being an MFH at Orange County Hunt since 2001 and Julie a successful amateur hunter/jumper rider.
Following graduation from The Hill School and Foxcroft in Middleburg, Virginia, Coles spent most of the following decade immersed in her continuing education. She earned a business degree from Drew University (New Jersey) while also balancing a passion for sports. She graduated from Drew in 2011 as an All-Landmark Conference Lacrosse player and a Grand Prix show jumper.
Coles has worked with such trainers as two-time Olympic gold medalist Beezie Madden and husband John in New York, international rider Mark Leone of Ri-Arm Farm in New Jersey, Belgian Olympian Francois Mathy Sr., in Europe, and Olympic show jumper Lauren Hough in Florida.
Now that she’s spent time traveling the United States and into Europe to study riding and horsemanship from some of the best trainers in the business, she’s realized home is where she wants to be. So Sloane established her new business, Spring Ledge LLC, based out of her parents’ farm The Oaks in The Plains.
When she takes the winding drive down to the barn from Landmark Road, she now sees a field full of young, green Thoroughbreds grazing in the fields, paddocks holding talented warmblood show jumpers and stalls with the elegant faces of top show hunters waiting for her.
“Returning to Virginia is what I’ve always wanted to do,” said Coles. “It feels right and comfortable. I’ve made connections all over the world, and while there are always more to make, I feel prepared and am ready to work hard and move forward toward my goals.”
And after just six months back home in Virginia, Coles has already made her presence known in the show ring, both locally and nationally.
During the popular Twilight Jumper series at Great Meadow in The Plains, Coles picked up some impressive placings, including victory aboard Remonta Eden in the $5,000 1.30m Mini-Prix on Aug. 30. The win came over a field of established professionals that included Ian Silitch, Ragan Roberts and Manuel Torres, to name just a few.
“It was a great class,” said Coles. “Remonta Eden is an Argentine Warmblood owned by Sandy Van Dyke that I have in to sell. He’s naturally very fast and careful and knows his job. He’s a great horse for this level, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to show him.”
Coles has also been equally successful on the other end of the spectrum with young and less experienced horses. She caught the attention of the judges and established hunter professionals during the inaugural $157,990 USHJA Pre-Green Incentive Championship in mid-August when she guided Nilani Trent’s Autumn Rhythm to impressive placings in Lexington, Kentucky.
Coles and Autumn Rhythm placed fourth overall out of 107 entries during the first day of competition, qualifying them for the Championship Round. Coles was just behind eventual winner Hunt Tosh and ahead of renowned hunter pros Jennifer Alfano, Havens Schatt and Peter Pletcher in the standings.
“He couldn’t have gone any better at the Pre-Green Championship,” said Coles who also collected 15th place in the Championship Round. “I was very happy with his results, especially the first day. It was great to be a part of the first championship and to be among so many great hunter riders. He’s come a long way over the past few months, and I’m really proud that he stepped up to be seen as one of the best Pre-Green horses in the country.”
Coles has designed Spring Ledge LLC to offer a variety of custom training options for horses and riders, from those aspiring to top-level hunter/jumper competition to ship-in lessons for eventers and foxhunters wishing to hone their skills in the show ring. The Spring Ledge facility includes 20 stalls, an expansive indoor arena and outdoor ring, and ride-out in Orange County Hunt territory
“I really enjoy training young horses and helping people improve their relationships and skills with their horses,” said Coles. “It’s always about the relationships and discovering what works best for each partnership. If a horse or rider needs a unique approach in solving a problem or improving a performance, I’ll work hard to figure out that ideal way.”
While Coles is focused on growing a business, she hasn’t lost sight of her own riding goals and taking her talents wherever they might lead.
“My ultimate goal is to have top-level grand prix horses and a successful client base and sales program,” said Coles. “I also enjoy working with all types of horses, including Thoroughbreds for the show ring and hunt field.”