The name Adrienne Sternlicht is a familiar one to those who followed the U.S. pony divisions over a decade ago. But despite finding success in the hunter ring with notable, American trainer Andre Dignelli and his Heritage Farm, Sternlicht largely withdrew from the sport when she went to boarding school and decided to focus on competitive skiing and squash.
It wasn’t until the Greenwich, Conn., native received early college admittance to Brown University in Providence, R.I., that she decided to focus completely on one sport, show jumping. So as Sternlicht began a new chapter with her education, she also further developed her riding career, working with trainer Linda Langmeier.
To gain European experience, Sternlicht also trained with Olympians Nick Skelton and Laura Kraut for two years and built her string to include two 9-year-olds and two 11-year-olds. Currently back working with Langmeier, in addition to a new training relationship with Olympian McLain Ward, Sternlicht is hoping for a breakout year that culminates with qualifying for the 2017 World Cup Finals.
The 22-year-old rider already has a handful of big results in 2015 to improve on, including winning the Show Jumping Hall of Fame Jumper Classic Series Final at the National Horse Show, the puissance at CSI3* Megeve, and multiple victories in the 1.35-meter through 1.45-meter divisions in Florida and in Europe.
Using the 2016 Winter Equestrian Festival as a building circuit, Sternlicht delivered an impressive double clear aboard Raia d’Helby in the $130,000 Ruby Et Violette WEF Challenge Cup Round VII at Winter Equestrian Festival CSI5* and placed 9th out of 71 entries. Come the end of this year’s winter season, Sternlicht plans to be successfully jumping the big grand prix classes and well prepared for Spruce Meadows in the summer, directly after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in public policy in May.
There’s a lot on the young rider’s plate, but after catching up with her in Wellington, it’s without a doubt that the focused and determined Sternlicht has the right tools and the talent to achieve the goals she has set for herself. Read on to learn more about how she juggles school with riding and what advice Ward gave her before the jump-off in the WEF Challenge Cup. But most of all, remember the name because even if you missed it in the pony ring, you’ll be hearing a lot of it in the international one.
Q: How did you start riding?
A: (American rider) Sydney Shulman’s older sister, Amanda, was my best friend growing up. I sat on a horse when I was at a playdate at their house when I was 6 years old and wouldn’t get off. I grew up riding with Andre Dignelli and Patricia Griffith. I was really serious about doing the ponies, but my parents wanted to keep me well balanced so I went to boarding school and played squash and also used to ski pretty intensely. Once I got into college, my parents decided to support my riding.
“McLain is not only an amazing and detail-oriented coach to have on the ground, but he’s also very helpful for the mental aspect. He’s like a sports psychologist type of coach.”
Q: How do you balance riding with college?
A: Brown is an amazing place for that. Right now, I take Monday and Tuesday classes, which allows me to compete during WEF. I am graduating in the spring and going to ride fulltime, at least for a few years. I’m very goal oriented, and my aim is to try to go to the World Cup Final next year, as well as the World Equestrian Games.
Q: What has your international experience been like?
A: I’ve gone to Europe the past two summers with Laura (Kraut) and Nick (Skelton). They exposed me to so much on the international level. My parents aren’t horse people, and that was when they realized that I’m a small fish in a very big pond, when I went to Europe. I jumped on a Young Rider team there two years ago. But this is the first winter that I really have a good group of horses to jump the bigger classes and to be competitive.
Q: Which horses do you currently have in your string?
A: My string of horses right now is a little big younger, with two really promising 9-year-olds and two 11-year-olds. The 9-year-old, black, Zangersheide mare is Providence (Air Jordan x Voltaire), and the 9-year-old, bay, Belgian Warmblood gelding is Helios (Couleur Rubin x Grandeur) and we bought him from Michael Whitaker. He’s so careful and brave and is probably the easiest of my horses to ride in the ring.
The 11-year-old, bay, Oldenburg gelding is Quidam MB (Quidam’s Rubin x Argentinus). I bought him when he was 7, and he’s pretty quirky and a bit unpredictable but to me, that’s part of his charm. And the 11-year-old, bay, Selle Francais mare that I rode yesterday (in the WEF Challenge Cup) is Raia d’Helby (Fergar Mail x Papillon Rouge). I bought her two summers ago, and she’s had health issues; she’s had two really serious illnesses so she’s basically not been able to compete for most of the time I’ve had her. Yesterday was the first time she’s stepped up and jumped a big class.
Q: What was your strategy for the WEF Challenge Cup, with 29 first round clears?
A: I was talking with McLain, and he said, ‘Don’t even watch because there are so many clears.’ So I decided to go for a medium (speed) double clear, which is what we did so I’m really happy with my mare.
But really, it depends on the horse for me when there are so many in the class going clear. McLain is not only an amazing and detail-oriented coach to have on the ground, but he’s also very helpful for the mental aspect. He’s like a sports psychologist type of coach so he’s really focused on me having my confidence and riding the horse that I’m ready for; the results need to be a separate entity. So I rode the course that was correct for my horse.
Q: What’s next for you and your horses?
A: I’m hoping to keep jumping FEI classes for the rest of the circuit. I have a good group of horses and they’ll get about a month and a half off then jump Old Salem. Then I graduate from college and head to Spruce Meadows. From there, I’ll hopefully do the Hamptons Classic and the American Gold Cup and maybe head to California for World Cup Qualifiers there.
Right now, McLain is focused on Rio and it’s a new partnership. Linda’s primarily been working with me, and she and her husband Kenny are invaluable assets to my program. Hopefully after Rio, McLain will be a little more involved.