A talented field, filled with veteran names, contested the challenging courses at the Live Oak International CSI3*-W two weeks ago. But from the top ten list of the usual suspects, a new name sparked the interest of competitors and spectators, alike, after she jumped double clear for a 2nd-place finish in the $35,000 Live Oak International grand prix, the day before making the jump off in the $100,000 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Qualifier to finish 10th.
The fresh face is 23-year-old, American rider Emily Short. Still an amateur, the native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania graduated from Denison University with a bachelor’s degree in English literature in May 2015. The following summer, Short decided to further her riding career and joined her trainer, Ireland’s Cian O’Connor, in Europe to compete.
Her original plans to enter the big, European shows, like Hickstead, never came to fruition when her top mount sustained an injury. Instead, her first foray into international competition involved adding new mounts and bringing her younger horses along at 2* and 3* events.
During this time, she acquired Coco II (La Poco x Calato), her partner that turned heads at Live Oak. The horse passed through the legendary hands of Germany’s Marco Kutscher, with some additional time spent with Great Britain’s Tim Wilks and the Netherlands’ Gerco Schröder, before landing at O’Connor’s barn, and Short hopes to gain valuable experience, and confidence, at the 1.60-meter height aboard the 11-year-old, AES gelding.
So what’s next for the World Cup-level newcomer? She has aspirations to turn professional and to ride for her country, but she plans to take it all one step at a time. Read on to learn more about the path she chose and how she hopes to prove that her recent top results are just the start of many more to come.
Q: How did you start riding?
A: My mom used to ride before I was born, and when I turned 5, I wanted to start taking riding lessons. It seemed cool, and friends were doing it. So my parents took my older brother and sister and me down the road to BarGee Farms in Pittsburgh. My siblings quit, but I stuck with it and started showing by age 8. It was a good place to start, and I moved up from the pony trainers to Barbara Bancroft.
I really started in the hunters and the equitation, but I was never really good at either of them. I had one horse—that I still have; he’s 28 and retired—and we did all three rings: the junior hunters, the big eq, and the junior jumpers.
Q: Did you continue riding in college?
A: When I graduated from high school, I finished a semester early and went to Ocala and started riding with David Jennings. That was when I started getting more serious. And during college, I was traveling back and forth to Florida. I was lucky to have had a flexible schedule.
Q: How did you connect with Cian O’Connor?
A: I rode with David for the first half of college. Then, for the fall semester of my junior year, I studied abroad in Ireland. I didn’t take horses, but I started riding with Cian. At the time, I still had my horses with David, so that winter, I did a bit of Wellington with Cian and did Ocala with David. I brought my horses to school with me my senior year and went full-time training with Cian.
I had bought a couple horses through Cian before I graduated and during senior year, I was traveling back and forth from school to Wellington. When I finished school, I went to Europe with my three horses and showed them in the German national classes then did a few FEI ones later in the summer then went on to Ireland.
Q: Which horses do you currently have in your string?
A: I have Coco II, the horse I showed at Live Oak. I recently started riding him in October. Cian rode him for a few months in the summer, campaigning him for his old owners. He was in the barn for a few months, and I needed a horse to jump the big tracks on, and so I tried him a few times, and we clicked.
Another of mine is Beaumont W/V (Ukato x Corland), a 10-year-old, Dutch Warmblood gelding. He’s very new to me; I jumped him in one show in Belgium in December. I’m hoping he’ll jump the 1.50-meter classes by the end of the summer. He’s an exciting one for me.
Then there’s Catalina (Clearway x Carano), a 9-year-old, Holsteiner mare. She’s one of the first ones I bought with Cian, toward the beginning of my senior year in college. She was very green when I got her, and we’ve come a long way and have grown together. I think she’s going to be a superstar—she’s super careful and sensitive and is a real trier. Right now, she and I are doing the 1.35-meter classes.
And finally, I have Hira (Cicero Z x Ircolando), a 9-year-old, Belgian Warmblood mare. I bought her last season in Wellington, and she’s been on the same track as Catalina, doing the medium amateur division.
Q: How did you approach competing at Live Oak? Did you strategize for the success you had?
A: I was really excited about the show. They do such a good job, and I was excited to get out of Wellington for a week and to jump on grass. I jumped Coco on grass in the Under-25 class at the Stadium the week before, at Week 6 of WEF. I think we were 4th.
So going into Live Oak, I was confident that he’d jump well. I was planning on going home Saturday; I thought the World Cup Qualifier would be too big for us because I haven’t jumped him around big tracks, yet. But after Saturday’s class [and placing 2nd], Cian gave us the go ahead for Sunday.
I think grass is his surface, and Live Oak has such a nice field there. I was really happy with how our first World Cup Qualifier went. Coco has been around the block with a lot of top riders, but it was still exciting to jump clear in a class of that caliber.
Q: How does Cian prepare you for a big course like the one at Live Oak?
A: We usually walk the course once together and go over a plan for my horse. My plan may be different striding-wise because my horse has a huge step so it’s usually better to leave out strides. Then I walk the course once again by myself—sometimes more, depending on how comfortable I feel with the plan. Cian’s really a stickler for planning so when you’re going into the ring, time and time again he goes, ‘What’s the plan? What’s the plan?’
Now when I’m warming up, I go over the plan over and over again, and I think that’s helped my riding the most. You have to be able to alter the plan in the ring, but riding that plan until the last jump is really important and makes you jump clear rounds. We had a solid plan going into Sunday’s class and we stuck to the plan.
Q: What else has helped you take your riding to the next level?
A: Honestly, going over to Europe after college is the best thing I’ve done, even though I didn’t end up going to any of the big shows I was supposed to go to because my horse got injured. I had lessons with top trainers and watched Aachen and saw the different styles and how they all come together. Over the summer, my position changed immensely for the better and so did my strength in the saddle. Even though I didn’t get a chance to show at the big shows, I worked very hard to better myself.
“Going over to Europe after college is the best thing I’ve done.”
I’d definitely like to make a career out of riding, but I’m not in too much of a rush to turn professional. I kind of see my time with Cian as an apprenticeship, and I want to learn as much as I possibly can from his whole team, both in the barn and in the ring. I’m excited to really work on my riding and to focus 100 percent on it because I never really did that before.
Q: What’s next for you and your horses?
A: We’re going to Belgium the week after WEF ends. The horses will have an easy month of April then we’ll pick up and travel around Europe. I don’t have specific goals for them at the moment, but I would like to jump some of the bigger, European grand prix classes with Coco—and to jump them clear.