Leading the victory gallop of the Grand Prix at Wesley Clover Parks in Ottawa, ON, on October 3rd, Kelley Robinson found herself in a uniquely rewarding position. The win came aboard Blue’s Yer Daddy, the 13-year-old gelding she’d bred and trained herself and whose dam is Esprit de Lys, the mare with whom she’d won team gold at the North American Young Riders Championships 20 years ago.
Esprit de Lys was purchased when Robinson (nee Small) was 16 and the mare became her first 1.40m horse. “Esprit was very special,” Robinson remembers fondly, “but she was a lot of horse for me as a 16-year-old. She was almost impossible to mount, couldn’t be ridden to or from the ring, was very spooky and oftentimes she felt like you were riding a runaway train.
“That being said, she had a heart of gold and she taught me a lot of skills that I use today. She would jump no matter what and try her best to jump clean, no matter how many mistakes I made.”
Robinson first started riding at the age of nine and began under the tutelage of Jill Henselwood at 13, quickly immersing herself into the world of jumpers. “It was a difficult transition,” she laughs. “I think I had time faults for the first year.”
She experienced success as a junior rider in the equitation, hunter and jumper rings with Esprit de Lys and also another special horse, Calibur. “He surprised us with his ability,” she says. “We jumped bigger and bigger classes until we found out that he could jump at the top of the sport. I was so fortunate to be able to compete at 1.60m at Spruce Meadows and across North America with such an incredible horse. I always had talented horses when I was young, but they were not necessarily the easiest and I think that it is important to teach younger riders that sometimes the best horses aren’t easy.”
In 2007, Robinson and husband David opened Cimarron Show Stables in Russell, ON. They began developing young horses, something that she admittedly didn’t have much experience with, but that initially came as a necessity. “The horses that I had at the time were either unbroke or young horses without a lot of miles,” she says. “It was a very long process, but all of them went on to jump either national or FEI grand prix.”
Breeding for talent was a solution that arose from the difficulties many young professionals face: a lack of funds required to purchase a horse with the experience necessary to jump the big tracks. “When I became a professional, it was difficult not to give up on my dreams of having grand prix horses, but I couldn’t afford to buy one,” she explains. “I have been faced with the dilemma many times of whether or not I should sell the horses that I am developing and make a profit, or if I should try to keep them for myself to jump grand prix. It’s a difficult question to answer if you don’t have unlimited financial resources. Make money or try to reach your goals?
“I have sold some of my horses along the way out of necessity, but it is hard to let go of the ones that I’ve bred, not only because they’re talented, but because I’m extremely attached to them.”
Henselwood’s ability to impress upon Robinson years ago the importance of treating horses as individuals has come in especially handy with the two half-siblings in her own string. She laughs that despite both being out of the same mare and growing up in virtually identical environments, her two top horses are complete opposites.
“Blue [Esprit de Lys x Mr. Blue] is enormous and cold and Lise [Esprit de Lys x Clinton] is tiny and spicy … but Esprit passed on her amazing heart to both of them. Blue has jumped many FEI classes for me; he has more scope than he knows what to do with. He is, however, very strong like his mother and he is a complete menace to society in the barn. His sister is the most intelligent horse that I’ve ever sat on. From the first time she showed, she knew how to be fast. She is opinionated in the best possible way, and is truly offended if she touches a jump.”
The list of victories for the half-siblings is long, with Lise racking up impressive wins including the Eastern Canadian Five-Year-Old and Seven-Year-Old Finals.
In addition to the added stresses of running a business during the unprecedented COVID-19 restrictions imposed on the industry, 2020 has been an especially difficult year for Robinson, whose mother passed away in May.
“When I won the grand Prix in Ottawa it was bittersweet, as I imagine every success will be from now on,” she explains. “I wish she could have been there to see her favourite horse win. She was an incredible person, loved the horses, and was adored by everyone. My mum and dad have always been so supportive and encouraging every step of the way and I wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for them.
“I still aspire to one day have a horse at the top of the sport, to compete at Spruce Meadows once again, and to represent Canada. However, I enjoy teaching as much as I enjoy training young horses, and I would be equally happy if one of my students made it there before me.”
Home stable: Cimarron Show Stables, Russell, ON
Blue’s Yer Daddy, aka “Blue” [Mr. Blue x Esprit de Lys], 13yo Belgian Warmblood gelding
Lise, aka “Miss Piggy” [Clinton x Esprit de Lys], 9yo mare
Top 2020 finishes:
1st $25,000 World Equestrian Center Grand Prix, Wilmington, Ohio (Blue’s Yer Daddy)
7th $25,000 World Equestrian Center Grand Prix, Wilmington, Ohio (Lise)
1st $30,000 Assante Wealth Management Grand Prix, Ottawa, ON (Blue’s Yer Daddy)
1st $10,000 1.30m Terlin Construction Grand Prix, Ottawa, ON (Lise)
Favourite Netflix Show: Blacklist
Favourite Food/ Restaurant: Burritos/Chipotle
Coffee or tea: Coffee
Favourite Band: Tragically Hip
Competition superstitions: Socks … some are lucky, some are cursed…
If I could ride any horse in the world: Azure
Can’t live without: My dogs!