Here we look at a few more young riders who have been learning the ropes in hunter and equitation classes at the big US winter circuit shows.

Florida = More Opportunities (+ Warmer Weather!)

Mac McQuaker of Gryphon Farm in Schomberg, Ontario, had two junior riders, including daughter Addison, make the trip to Ocala to compete at the World Equestrian Centre. The team travelled arrived in December ‒ an early start to what McQuaker says has evolved into a year-long season. “Going down early provided a nice warm-up to the main winter circuit and was important from a business perspective as more sales and leases are being done pre-circuit than ever before,” he explains.

“The competition year has now become a complete four-season opportunity. Finding the right balance between summer, fall, winter, and spring shows can be a challenge. In the old days we would show heavily from May through to November, and then nothing for five months. Now, we try to balance the year so the horses have a better competition schedule, with more time between shows for resting and further training.”

McQuaker explains that from a trainer’s perspective the winter circuits down south offer further opportunities for the development of young horses, sales, and leasing. For his customers it’s about the passion of riding and showing (and warmer weather!) that keeps them going. “Being able to compete against a different group of competitors from who we see all summer helps raise our level of competitiveness and gives an increased opportunity for training and competing while getting to watch some of the best riders in the world compete.”

A young woman on a horse; her bother standing.

Proud mom Christi McQuaker with daughter Addison.

Addison McQuaker

Age: 16
Grade: 11
Horses: Golden Ticket (junior hunters), Clash Heldenlaan Z (equitation)
Favourite Horse Show treat: Everything
Notable results: ‘Snoopy’ (Golden Ticket) was reserve champion for the circuit in the Older Small Junior Hunters. We also placed top-five in the 3’6/3’9 hunter derbies on four occasions while being second in the first 3′ hunter derby of the circuit.
Proudest moment: Top-three placing in the 3’6/3’9 derby.

Why is it a good experience? Florida has always been a favourite destination for us. The rings are beautiful and the jumps are decorated so nicely they just invite you to jump them well. Showing in Florida this winter allowed me to start competing against the professionals in the bigger derbies. Snoopy has always done well in the 3′ junior/amateur derbies the past couple years, so we figured this was the year to step up to the bigger derbies. It’s really good practice if we want to show in Kentucky this summer at Derby Finals. Jumping against the professionals is a little nerve-wracking, because they don’t make many mistakes and the horses are really top quality. Getting some top five results was really rewarding and also helped build confidence that we can be competitive at the top American shows.

What’s your horse’s opinion? Snoopy loves Florida ‒ he seems to thrive in the warmer weather!

Favourite horse/rider you got to watch in person: Lafitte de Muze with Amanda Steege


A girl and a man standing with a bay horse.

Ava Campbell and Brady Mitchell with Cellini during her Florida stint.

Learning from Top Trainers at WEF

Ava Campbell made the trip down south with the goal of qualifying for the Junior Hunter Finals with her large junior hunter Cellini. Trained regularly by Sandi Ballard at Looking Back Farm in Tottenham, Ontario, Campbell joined trainers Brady Mitchell and Adam Graham at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida, where she showed weeks 9, 10 and 12.

“I love being able to see how the top American trainers run their barns, seeing the preparation and conditioning of the horses, and their overall routine.”

Of the many benefits to competing on the winter circuit, Campbell loves the ability to hit the ground running when the regular circuit begins and the opportunity to challenge herself against stiff competition. “I get to compete a lot more than someone who stays home for the winter, and I get a lot of extra saddle time,” she explains. “I like showing against people who make me ride better and are great riders themselves, and I love winning against the best as it makes it so much more rewarding for me. The winter circuit is very competitive and I really like coming down here and being against different people, different horses, watching the best show and overall being coached by one of the top trainers in the US. All of this definitely gives me an advantage for when the circuit starts back home.”

Ava Campbell

Age: 16
Grade: Grade 10 at Robert F Hall in Caledon
Favourite treat: Carrot cake cookie from Crumble
Horse: Cellini
Division: Large junior hunter
Favourite horse show treat: Strawberry smoothie

Notable winter circuit results: One weekend I was first, second and third with scores of 89 and 88, and missed reserve champion by one point! At WEC we did the USHJA $37,500 International Junior Derby and were third with a first-round score of 91.

Proudest moment: When we were third in the derby. I had never done a derby on him before, that was literally my first time. I just wanted to make it a good experience and to be happy with my round and overall just ride well. It was definitely a challenging course-there were a lot of different tracks, different features, and a lot of different ways that you could jump it. I was super proud of our result!

Favourite memory: All of it! I love being in Wellington at the show, and I love being at the barn all day in the sun. It’s an incredible experience to be around the best in the industry, watching and learning a lot. I love being able to see how the top American trainers run their barns, seeing the preparation and conditioning of the horses, and their overall routine. I can then bring tips back home to Canada and apply them to the way I do things around the barn.

Did you learn anything that will stick with you moving forward in the 2024 season back home? The experience is always so good when I’m there, and lots of opportunity to learn as much as I can to bring it back and apply it to my summer with Sandi Ballard. A big reason I love coming down here is I love watching my Uncle Brady Mitchell show, as he makes a hunter look so smooth and patient. He is a huge inspiration to me as a rider. He always tells me, ‘that’s your time in the ring, never rush it, it’s yours, so use all the time you want.’ I think a top hunter round looks slow, but not so slow because you are adding strides and pulling; it looks patient and rhythmical and never rushed.

Favourite horse/rider you got to watch in person: Along with watching the top hunter riders I really enjoy watching the top jumper riders. The big Saturday night classes are super fun to watch. You get to see the best in the world compete against each other with top horses. Whether it’s the way they make an inside turn or how straight they jump a jump or how they jump a certain line, there is always something to learn. One of my favourite riders to watch is probably McLain Ward.

A young girl patting a grey horse.

“Good girl!” Giuliana and Coco.

Ballard/Ferder Bootcamp

Giuliana Dim’s winter circuit experience was conceived as a one-month bootcamp at Ilan Ferder Stables. Along with her trainer Erynn Ballard, Dim recognized she needed some time to sort out a few challenges in her partnership with her horse Coco (Chanel VH Withoeve Z) that had arisen during the Canadian summer circuit. What began as a one-month adventure became a full WEF winter and spring circuit, with the Smithville, ON, native travelling back and forth for school.

“Training and competing over the winter on such a competitive circuit really allowed me to spend more time in the show ring, to learn from others, to get to know my horses better and to improve as a rider,” says Dim of the experience. Dim also acquired a new mount during February of the circuit, Espoir de L’ermitage, and used her time down south to develop a foundation with her new partner.

Giuliana Dim

Age: 15
Grade: 10
Favourite horse show treat: Donuts
Horse: Espoir de L’ermitage
Division: 1.20m-1.30m
Favourite treat: Carrots
Horse: Chanel VH Withoeve Z
Division: 1.15m-1.20m
Favourite treat: Soft Mints

Notable results (Coco): Moving to the 1.20m with Coco and placing fourth in a very competitive class and having multiple clear rounds over circuit. (Espoir): In our first class together we placed third in the 1.15m, then sixth in our first 1.25m and we ended the season moving up to the 1.30m and placing third in our first ever 1.30m jr/am class.

Proudest moment: Being able to work through my challenges in my partnership with Coco with the help of Erynn Ballard and Ilan Ferder. Continuing to believe in the process and coming out on the other side. It has been my biggest challenge and personal success as a junior rider.

Favourite memory: All of the new people I have met from all over the world and the friendships I have made. Not only was the time I spent down south with the IFS team the experience of a lifetime, but it allowed me to grow significantly as a rider. I would not have been able to continue to grow as a rider or to advance over the winter if I had stayed in Canada.

Anything you learned that will stick with you? I have learned so many things from my winter training and circuit experience that I will take with me back home, including better equitation and show-ring strategies. The one thing that has stuck with me that I will remember for the rest of my riding career is what Dave Ballard told me: that as a competitor in any class, the only thing I am in competition with is the course. People sometimes say they are competing against other riders, which can be distracting. We would only be in competition with other riders if we all rode the same horse on the same course, which is not the case.

Favourite horse/rider you got to watch in person: My personal #1 favourite horse/rider combination is Erynn Ballard and any horse she rides! Erynn is a special rider who can take a new horse into the show ring for the first time and rise to the top of the leaderboard. Watching Henrik Von Eckerman in person was pretty cool, too.

Favourite fun experience: Saturdays at Ilan Ferder Stables means dozens of Jupiter Donuts. This is not only a big hit with the riders, but with the horses too!

Read more profiles of nextgen riders here.