Canadian Olympian Beth Underhill has added Sarah Johnstone to her team at Beth Underhill Stables in Schomberg, ON.

Underhill, a Canadian Show Jumping Team veteran having competed in Olympic, World Championship, and Pan American Games competition, operates her show jumping training and sales business out of Kingsgate, a state-of-the-art equestrian facility situated on 100 acres in Schomberg, ON. Johnstone joins her as a rider and trainer.

At 21 years of age, Johnstone of Aurora, ON, is considered one of show jumping sport’s greatest up-and-coming talents. Her potential was recognized when the North American Riders Group (NARG) selected Johnstone from 40 applicants as the recipient of its inaugural $15,000 Rider’s Grant in 2012.

A devoted young professional, Johnstone got her start as a working student with two-time Olympian Jay Hayes. In 2006, Johnstone joined an elite list of riders who have won both the CET Medal Final and Jump Canada Medal Final at the Royal Horse Show in Toronto, ON. In 2011, she claimed her first victory in International Equestrian Federation (FEI) competition, winning the $32,000 CSI3* Open Welcome in Bromont, QC. When it was time to consider advancing her career, Johnstone turned to Underhill for advice.

“Sarah had talked to me about the next best step in her career, and I helped organize for her to go to Europe and ride for the Hendrix’s in Holland,” explained Underhill. “I have had a good relationship with the Hendrix family for many years, and I thought it would give her an opportunity to ride lots of different horses and get into the show ring in Europe. She had a very successful tour, enjoyed a new experience, and the Hendrix’s loved both her work ethic and her riding ability.”

Spending 2012 in Europe gave Johnstone an opportunity to learn from Dutch Olympian Emile Hendrix and his brother Paul, both of whom are renowned in show jumping circles for their large training and sales business. There, Johnstone was able to compete at the highest levels of the sport, qualifying two horses for the World Breeding Championships Young Horse Finals held at Zangersheide in Belgium in September.

“I think it’s so important to get a different point of view, and I’m lucky that Paul and Emile spent a lot of time teaching me,” said Johnstone, who also won the final day of competition in the seven-year-old division of the Dutch national championships riding Abarlo. “I learned a lot about training, I had the opportunity to ride a lot of different horses, and we were showing almost every weekend. It was interesting to see the types of horses that Paul and Emile choose to bring into their business for training and resale. I learned a lot about the business, and I also made a lot of contacts over there.”

Upon her return to North America, Underhill offered Johnstone a position with her long-established Beth Underhill Stables.

“I am very excited to be working with Beth,” said Johnstone. “It’s an unbelievable opportunity. She’s a world-class rider, and I’m lucky enough to work beside her and learn from her. It’s a new beginning.”

Underhill agreed, saying, “We are really excited. We are keenly aware of developing horses for the sport, and we have a couple of young investment horses for Sarah to show. Sarah is super under pressure and she gives the horses confidence, whether it’s taking a young horse into the ring for the first time, or taking an experienced horse into the grand prix. She will also work alongside me in the stable, riding and helping with some of the teaching. I think she’ll be a huge asset to my business.”

In addition to her riding abilities, Underhill is also impressed with Johnstone’s approach to the sport.

“Not only is she a quality rider, she also has work ethic, self-motivation and passion for the sport,” said Underhill. “She is gifted observer and is always watching at home and watching at the ring. She has a very keen eye. As a rider, the horses love her; she has a calm manner. She also has a desire to learn every aspect of the industry. It’s not just all about riding these days; you have to have knowledge of the business as well. She has all the ingredients to be one of the next top riders in our sport.”

For Underhill, bringing a young talent such as Johnstone on board allows her to step into the role of mentor, a role she has experience with given the amount of students she teaches, including 19-year-old Nicole Walker, winner of the Jump Canada Medal in 2010 and the CET Running Fox Medal in 2011 at the Royal Horse Show.

“As a competitor myself, I know how hard it is to get to the top level, and what it takes to stay at the top level,” said Underhill. “I am lucky to be able to work with riders like Nikki and Sarah. They are both so talented and love the sport so much. For Canada to have riders like Sarah and Nikki coming along bodes well for the future of our sport.”

Underhill has a vested interest in the future of the sport. She and fellow Olympian Mac Cone were recently appointed assistants to Canadian Show Jumping Team chef d’equipe, Mark Laskin. Underhill was also voted by her peers as a member of the Jump Canada High Performance Committee, which includes Laskin (Chair), Gail Greenough, Mike Lawrence, and Marni von Schalburg.

“I have no plans to retire, I am just adding a few new hats to my wardrobe!” laughed Underhill. “I think it’s very important to give back to the sport. It’s an evolution.”

For now, Underhill is enjoying her own grand prix riding career and looking forward to working with Johnstone, noting, “I really enjoy working with her, and am looking forward to the future very much. Winning the NARG Rider’s Grant last year really spoke a lot about Sarah as an athlete and what the industry and her peers thing of her, and it was well-deserved. It will be nice to help Sarah achieve her goals in the future.”

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