Ava Mikkelsen finished her 2023 season with a bang, winning a slew of her junior/amateur medal classes at the BCHJA Fall Finale at Thunderbird Show Park in Langley. The 17-year-old took the BCHJA Jr/Am Hunt Seat Medal 3’3″ Finals and the flat, jumping and overall classes in the Equine Essentials CET Mini Medal aboard Fleetwood, affectionately known as Marshmallow around the barn. Just a week earlier she won the Good Hands & Seat .90 Medal Final at the Harvest Celebration. A working student of Kate Paynton who trains on the road with Rodney Tulloch and Tracey Dlin, Ava is now at Royal West in Calgary, competing in the Eclipse Medal Series and Performance Hunter division.
The Kelowna, BC native, who watches past equitation finals videos to help her focus, has her sights set on more success in the equitation and derby rings ‒ and beyond. When not at the barn, you can find her training at the gym or volunteering at her local horse show in-gate with her favourite drink in hand, a chai tea latte.
How did you first get involved with horses?
I started riding when I was eight years old, just for fun. When I turned eleven, my parents and I started to take the sport seriously and I went to my first show in October, 2018. I rode in the two foot with my mom’s horse ‘Lorely’, a 16.3-hand Canadian Warmblood. She wasn’t the easiest horse to ride, but I still had so much fun and learned lots from her. My mother grew up doing the sport, so I always had the opportunity to take lessons here and there.
Tell us about your current partnerships.
I own one horse and lease one. Bing is the first horse I ever got to myself and that I didn’t have to share! He’s an 11-year-old chestnut 16.3-hand Canadian Warmblood. When I was a working student in Delta, BC, I got Bing as a lease horse. He took me from the 2’6″ to the 3’3″ in just two years. Bing and I earned multiple championships in the equitation divisions, and top placings in the derbies. We bought him in late 2021 after leasing him for about a year. He isn’t the easiest horse to ride, but that’s what I love about him. He’s 14 years old but acts like he’s six. He’s definitely not shy about showing his personality as soon as you meet him. Unfortunately, Bing got injured in August 2022 and we are taking it slow rehabbing him.
In early June this year I started leasing Marshmallow, a 12-year-old 16.2-hand grey gelding (Fleetwood is his registered name). I was used to the difficult horses, so to get on one that already knew his job was a great feeling. Marshmallow is an international derby horse who I brought into the equitation with me. He’s brought up my confidence in such a short amount of time, and I will always be grateful for the chance to be partnered with a horse like him.
As much as Bing is my heart horse, Marsh is pretty close to being in a tie with him! Really, Marsh is just a big pony ‒ he’s super easy to deal with and will cuddle with you all day every day. He loves bananas. Every time I step into the ring with Marsh, I have a feeling he wants to win just as badly as I do.
You’ve had some great results in the equitation ring and derbies this year; what is it about these two disciplines that you enjoy?
I love the difficulty and challenge of the classes and really just being able to show off what we’ve been working on at home. Marsh is so good at the derbies ‒ he’s really good at everything, honestly. I’ve always loved doing the derbies because it’s a good challenge trying to make the round look flawless when I’ve had a difficult horse. Having Marsh just really lets me show off and have fun ‒ we’ve won two back-to-back derbies together. Marsh is like a breath of fresh air and has helped me accomplish things I never thought I could do.
Proudest moment of 2023?
I think the proudest moment in the show season so far has been winning the three medal finals. I had hoped and was confident that I could win the three classes because I have worked so hard to prove to myself that I can win. Another proud moment was getting in the 90s in all my finals, which has never happened to me before. I got a score of 92 in phase 2 of the Mini CET.
Do you have an embarrassing horse show memory?
In July, 2022, I was having some struggles with Bing during the season and things … weren’t going the way I planned. We were in the show ring showing the 3′ Children’s and going down a diagonal line towards the oxer and we had a stop. I fell off into the jump and weirdly, his fake tail came out! If you think that is crazy, both of his front shoes came flying off ‒ one shoe fell beside me and the other one flew to the judge’s booth!
If you could ride any horse in the whole world, who would it be?
For the hunters, I would love to ride Babylon, who is owned and ridden by Ariana Marnell, but also ridden by John French. He seems like such a fun ride and his expressions are so incredible. For the equitation, I would ride Dominic Gibb’s old equitation horse, Cent 15. His technique and just the way he goes around the course seems so flawless and it looks like he would be a dream to ride. For the jumpers, it’s got to be Carissimo 25. It’s still hard to process how he jumps a 10 out of 10 every time he steps into the ring; he looks like such a fun horse to ride.
Favourite horse show venue?
Desert International Horse Park has to be my favourite. I went down there to groom last year, and this year will be my first time competing there. Thunderbird Show Park is also my favourite venue to show at as I’ve grown up there over the years.
Any show ring superstitions?
No show ring superstitions, but I do have a routine before I go into the ring so I’m completely focused. As soon as I step into the saddle, I do not talk to anyone unless it’s my trainer, and that really helps.
Goals for 2024?
It will be my last junior year, so I would like to do as much of the equitation as possible. My goal would be to qualify for the Jump Canada and CET finals and be able to compete in Toronto at the Royal Winter Fair. Another big dream of mine is to go down to the Maclay Finals, and I think with a lot of time in the saddle, these goals can become a reality.