As Canada works to bolster its supply of up-and-coming show jumping riders, Stella Chernoff hopes to position herself among that special group.
At just 17 years of age, the youngster has opened eyes this summer, particularly as part of the Canadian squad that finished second at the Junior Nations’ Cup at Thunderbird Show Park in early June.
The teenaged contingent included Chernoff riding Fay, Eric Krawitt, Brooklyn Deacon and Ava Wong. Chernoff and Fay posted double clear rounds as Canada ended up in second, sandwiched between Mexico and the U.S.
Nice progress for someone who first teetered on a horse at age one. Her mother, Dina, rode western while her older sister, Nyah, took to the English brand. The Okotoks family has a ranch in the BC interior near Kamloops, and riding became something that was natural, although not necessarily a given.
“We just kind of fell into it,” Chernoff explained. “My sister, when she was around six, was looking for a new thing to do. She was tired of dance and soccer and stuff so she started riding. About a year later, I was like ‘I want to do whatever she’s doing’ so I started riding and we both fell in love with it immediately.
“It’s never really been very competitive between us,” she added. “I’ve always just wanted her to do her best and I think she’s always wanted the same for me. It’s supporting each other.”
After her successful stint in Langley she’s been competing at the Spruce Meadows summer series, experiencing her debut in the daunting International Ring.
“It was really, really special,” Chernoff admitted. “I’ve always come here to watch the shows and watch everyone in the International Ring and it’s always been a dream to go ride in there, so it was really cool.”
“I don’t think she was nervous at all,” added her barn manager, Melody Layden. “I was more nervous going into the All Canada ring last week than walking in there,” Chernoff agreed.
She is happily partnered with Fay, a 12-year-old Dutch warmblood mare. “She’s really special,” said Chernoff. “Over the time I’ve been riding her, we’ve kind of built a bond. At the beginning it did not go well at all! It was about us just figuring each other out, seeing what she likes and what she doesn’t. We figured out her program now so she doesn’t get ridden at all until the shows.”
“She never has a bit in her mouth,” said Layden. “She’s extremely unconventional.”
“I’ve learned to ride her with a bit of a longer rein as well,” Chernoff explained. “She really likes that and I think we’ve figured each other out and now she just flies over the jumps. She’s so brave. She’s never really intimidated; so confident and so calm.”
Chernoff did a lot of U25 division classes last year with a couple of horses, including the final in September. She was second overall for the entire season. She also has great things to say about Connador, a greenhorn at 10 years old who she was teamed up with in January.
“He’s been super fun so far,” she said. “I really enjoy riding him and I think he’s going to be a really, really cool horse. And I think we’re going to be able to grow together, because he is a little bit younger. He definitely has his green moments, but overall he’s very brave and willing.”
Life, as it is wont to do, gets in the way and it will for Chernoff who, a recent graduate of Strathcona Tweedsmuir High School, heads off to Queen’s University in the fall. From there, her riding will take intense scheduling. “I’ll definitely try to do as much as I can while I’m away,” she insisted.
Her horses will get ridden and the program will stay the same, relying heavily on fellow rider Braden James, who teaches the Chernoff sisters. “The horses are ready to go, so whenever the girls can ride it’s all ready,” noted Layden. “It all ticks.”
That extra planning is something that Chernoff is willing to do for her chosen sport and her short-term goals, which involve “moving up the divisions and jumping more grand prix and stuff like that. Getting more confident in the bigger classes.”
Chernoff credits the influence of a couple of riders she deeply admires with her quest to constantly improve. “I think Beezie Madden for sure is definitely an inspiration. I always watch her from the ring and think ‘that’s the one’. Also my trainer Braden; I really admire how he works with the horses and even at home, the way he interacts with them. It’s really admirable.”