“Being my last junior year, I really wanted to finish it off at The Royal,” said Leanna Lazzari. “The Royal is so special because of its history, which you can feel when you walk in the building. My family has taken me to The Royal ever since I was a little girl. It was always my dream to show there, and once I got to show there, I wanted to be champion. Once I was champion there, I wanted to do it again. It definitely holds a special place in my heart.”
Hailing from Mississauga, ON, Lazzari will have a busy schedule at The Royal, showing in not only the Jump Canada Medal Final, but also in the junior hunter division with two horses, Claudia Wagner Wilson’s Playlist and the Samuel family’s Impressionist, and in the Knightwood Hunter Derby with her equitation horse, UFO de Nisi.
“I’ve never been champion in the junior hunters at The Royal, so that’s definitely one of my goals for this year,” said Lazzari. “I want to try and get that accomplished.”
The 18-year-old has had a charmed career at the Royal Horse Show, collecting five championship titles in the pony and children’s hunter divisions between 2013 and 2016. She rode her own pony, Morwel Hightide, to the small pony title in 2013 and has also added the Rowfantina Collage “Skippy” Memorial Trophy as Best Child Rider to her record in both 2015 and 2016.
In 2018, Lazzari chose to bypass the Royal and instead competed in the prestigious ASPCA Maclay National Horsemanship Final at the National Horse Show in Lexington, KY. She had also qualified for and competed in the Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunter Seat Medal Finals at the 2018 Pennsylvania National Horse Show in Harrisburg, PA. She had the option of heading south of the border to contest those finals again this year but chose to make The Royal her goal instead.
“The Maclay Final last year was a great learning experience, but I have to admit that I was sitting in my hotel room watching the live stream of The Royal every second I could!” she said. “Being my last junior year, I really want to finish it off at The Royal.”
A Thoughtful, Talented Rider
Lazzari has been riding with Lois and Peter Mulligan and their daughter, Francesca, at their Stoney Fields in Schomberg, ON, for seven years. Francesca was thrilled to see Lazzari prioritize showing at The Royal this year.
“It was a very mature decision, and we’re really happy to have her there,” said Francesca. “She really wanted to step into the ring for the last time as a junior in Toronto.”
Ever since Lazzari joined the Stoney Fields team as an 11-year-old, Francesca has watched her develop into a thoughtful, talented rider.
“It’s been nice watching her grow and achieve the goals that she sets for herself,” said Francesca. “She’s been a kid that, year by year, gets better and better. She’s a great mentor to our younger riders; they all look up to her.”
Lazzari currently owns her equitation mount, UFO de Nisi, and her small pony, Morwel Hightide, which is leased to younger riders, but she keeps busy catch-riding sales horses and green horses for the Mulligans.
“They’ve always given me opportunities to not only improve my riding on my own horses, but also to be able to develop some of their horses,” said Lazzari. “That’s made me a much better rider in that I can get on different ponies and horses and adapt my riding to them. It’s also helped to learn how to handle horses that don’t always cooperate or are very green.”
Francesca is quick to note that Lazzari isn’t the type of rider who waits on the mounting block for her horse to arrive.
“She’s back at the barn in the grooming stall, helping to get horses ready,” noted Francesca. “She’s always been very involved behind the scenes. Any new staff member I have, I say to them, ‘If you have any questions, ask Leanna, she knows what I want.’ She really knows her stuff, which is nice to see, because I think sometimes that can be lacking with junior riders in our sport. It’s so much more than just swinging a leg over and going around the ring. It’s knowing your horses and knowing the preparation and everything that goes into it.”
It’s not just in the barn and in the ring that Lazzari works to develop herself. She watches other riders, both professionals and fellow juniors, intently, absorbing all the knowledge she can from their performances.
“She’s always wanting to learn,” said Francesca. “She knows her horses so well, from in their stall to in the ring. She can communicate what she’s feeling from a horse. She’s extremely focused, and that’s the number one thing that you want, which is for these kids to be focused, set goals for themselves, and work toward those goals.”
Growing With UFO de Nisi
Lazzari set a goal to win a major equitation final when she started competing in the equitation divisions in 2017. She spent that year learning the subtleties of the equitation ring, then bought UFO de Nisi, known as “Milton” in the barn, in early 2018. The 11-year-old gray warmblood gelding had experience in the jumper ring, so Lazzari and the Mulligans set out to acclimate him to the equitation division.
“My trainers and I worked really hard to teach him,” Lazzari said. “The first year I did the equitation I was getting to know everything, and it was more of a learning experience. When I got Milton, he was still a little bit green even though I had more experience at that point. I had to teach him the ropes. This last year, everything fell into place; he knew his job, and I knew what I had to do. We grew together.”
Lazzari and Milton claimed the overall zone championship in the Jump Canada, CET, and Ontario Hunter Jumper Association Medals as well as winning the Rider’s Habit Medal. Thanks to consistent results, Lazzari won the Doug Hood Memorial High Point Equitation Award for the third consecutive year.
“He just has such a great personality,” said Lazzari of her equitation partner. “You can tell that he really wants to go in and win; he has that attitude. In a test is where I can really show off our skills, because he can do those inside turns, and instead of doing a simple change to counter-canter, he can do the flying change. He just has such a great work ethic, and he’s learned to listen to everything I ask him to do.”
Lazzari’s mental approach to the sport lends itself to success in the equitation.
“She’s very methodical and organized, and I think she’s that way in all aspects of her life,” Francesca said. “When she applies that to riding, it really serves her well. She can look at a course and strategize. She knows what’s going to work for her horse and what may be challenging for her horse in particular. She has this uncanny ability to go into the ring and block everything out and do what she came there to do. For young riders, it’s so unusual for them to not let anxiety or pressure get to them and hinder their performance. No matter where she shows, if it’s a small show or The Royal, she has her plan and she’s able to execute and deliver.”
The Mulligans have made it a point to prepare Lazzari and Milton for whatever they might encounter in the Jump Canada Medal Final. They’ve set variations of bending lines, built spooky fences, and created inside turns for her to practice. In addition, they’ve encouraged her to watch video footage of previous equitation finals.
Showing in hunter derbies started as a way for Lazzari and Milton to get more mileage together, but they ended up doing quite well in them and qualifying for the Knightwood Hunter Derby at The Royal.
“I had so much fun doing them that we kept going,” Lazzari said. “He definitely excels at it because he’s very brave. He’s not really considered a hunter, but he really loves them.”
This year’s Royal might be Lazzari’s last as a junior rider, but she has goals set for the future as well. She graduated from high school in the spring of 2019 and is taking steps toward a career in teaching. She’s currently taking a year in a co-op program at her high school, working with a teacher to explore teaching as a career. She will be attending university in the fall of 2020, pursuing a degree in education. She wanted to focus on her riding for her last junior year and once she’s in university, she’ll also continue to ride, showing Milton in the hunter derby series and branching out into the jumper ring.