Zazou Hoffman’s 2009 USPCA Maclay Equitation Final win put her on the map, but it wasn’t the first step towards success in her riding career. The 26-year-old professional from Southern California still carries the lessons that Missy Clark and John Brennan instilled in her as a teenager, when she traveled East as a working student.
Today, as manager and rider of Meadow Grove Farm, where Hoffman works with Dick Carvin, Susie Schroer, and Francie Steinwedell Carvin, she puts those lessons forward to raise her sights both in, and out of the saddle.
After a successful winter season on the HITS Thermal Desert Circuit, where she captured her first career grand prix win, Hoffman is jumping up the level at the competitive Spruce Meadows Summer Tournaments, where every week brings CSI5* competition and being at the top of your game is a requirement. We caught up with one of the sport’s most authentic young professionals to learn more about the respect, organization, and dedication it takes to stand out in the sport.
Noelle Floyd: What’s your overview plan here at Spruce Meadows?
Zazou Hoffman: I started the circuit with both my two horses in the 1.45m, and this week and next week I’ll do the 1.50m. I did one 1.50m last week for the first time here, it was big but he was good. I’m riding Samson III and W Zermie W, they’re both owned by Saree Kayne of Woodacre Stables.
NF: How did you prepare for stepping up at Spruce this year?
ZH: I jumped basically all of Spruce last year in the 1.45m, and just tried to be really consistent. Then, I came home from Spruce and started jumping 1.50m at home in California, but it’s really different up here, because it’s stronger courses and competition.
But basically, all through the winter circuit and Thermal, I started trying to be really consistent at that level, in preparation for coming back to Spruce.
NF: Your string of success over the winter circuit at HITS Thermal certainly had to have given you a boost.
ZH: Yes, the win at Thermal was super exciting, Zermie is really, really competitive, but I wasn’t expecting that win at Thermal. And to follow up two weeks later and win again, was really great. I felt like I had really accomplished something, and I felt like I had been trying so long to be competitive and go faster, so that was good.
NF: Going back a little, what was it like transitioning from that successful junior career you had, all the way to winning at the grand prix level?
ZH: It’s been hard. So much of my junior career was just about being really quiet as a rider, and soft. It definitely was not easy for me to transition to the bigger grand prix classes. But luckily Meadow Grove’s program has a lot of focus on flatwork and position, and they really helped me make that transition over.
NF: In your current role at Meadow Grove Farm, you manage something like 32 horses—how does that work? Have you always been organized?
ZH: Luckily we have enough staff and support team at Meadow Grove to keep it all organized, but I definitely learned all of my management skills from North Run’s Missy Clark and John Brennan.
Being organized and being respectful, and being smart about your work—thinking ahead and planning ahead for what you’re going to need, and being conscientious of the horses’ needs are the most important parts of managing the stable well.
Missy was great – she is really tough and she has a strong program that is not easy, but she taught me a lot, and it was invaluable experience. North Run really teaches you how to be an all around horse person. In general, my experiences grooming and managing there, are what come with me every day, day to day in my job now at Meadow Grove.
NF: And how have the two horses in your string been influential in your current success?
ZH: Saree, who owns the two horses that I am mainly competing on now, has been completely instrumental in helping me get to this level. She owns Zermie and Samson, and it’s been really nice because they are both experienced horses. For me to go into the ring and already know that they are ready for this level—I’m just lucky. I don’t think that many people get that opportunity.
She owns another horse, Woodpecker, who is the one I started on initially. We decided to leave him home this time, but I have a nice group of horses right now.
NF: When you are at home, what do you find most important to work on with your horses?
ZH: We do flatwork and mostly small exercises, we don’t jump big at home very often. For sure getting down and around and more connected with my horses on the flat, and really pushing myself to expect more of them—I’m almost a little too sympathetic of a rider. When I get on and they don’t want to quite collect, my instinct is just to leave it. So being a little firmer with myself about expectations and how that carries into the ring is important.