hen Sloane Coles cantered onto the field of the International Ring at Spruce Meadows during the ‘Masters’ Tournament, she had to pinch herself. She had donned a pinque coat for the first time, had a U.S. flag sewn onto her breast pocket for the first time, and sat astride a very special horse. It was, quite literally, a dream come true.
While Sloane has been dreaming of competing for her country since her days in the pony ranks, it was her budding partnership with a 10-year-old Zangersheide gelding that helped her achieve her goals. She got the ride on Chippendale’s Boy DZ last year and was named to her first NetJets U.S. Jumping Nations Cup team this summer before heading to the Spruce Meadows CSIO5* in Calgary, Alberta, to ride alongside U.S. teammates McLain Ward, Beezie Madden, and Charlie Jacobs.
The experience was all the things Sloane expected it to be: exhilarating, gratifying, and maybe a little scary. But, she did her best to also make it a learning experience. She soaked up all she could from the events that led up to her first CSIO5* jump and is still reveling in the moments that came after. Here are five things she learned from her first Nations Cup:
1. Dreams do come true.
“I did the summer series at Spruce Meadows and jumped clear in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup. After the class, a lot of people were approaching me and encouraging me to apply for the team in the fall. I thought it would be a long shot, but I did it because I was confident my horse was comfortable and competitive at that venue.
I was in Traverse City, Michigan when I got the phone call and was honestly shocked, relieved and excited. It was a dream come true! To be chosen for my first Nations Cup team at a CSIO5* competition alongside Beezie and McLain, at one of the best venues in the world – it was all so surreal. I have been lucky to be surrounded by McLain and Beezie for most of my life, but to be their teammate adds an element of ‘I’ve made it.’"
2. Teamwork really does make the dream work.
“As a junior, I worked for Beezie and John Madden and it felt like I came full circle by being on a team with Beezie. They have been watching my partnership over the last few years and their advice was to trust my own plan for the Nations Cup, because it has been working, and that I belonged to be there.
I have a great team behind me that knows my horse. I was lucky enough to have my friends Maya Frati and Lauren Crooks by my side for the Queen Elizabeth II Cup, and I feel like that’s where it all really started. Also, I base out of my parents’ farm in The Plains, Virginia – they are very helpful – as well as my owners, Landon and Carol Butler, and Alan and Irene Wurtzle. I am lucky to be surrounded by a supportive team.
Finally, we bought Chip in the north of Holland from Tonny Leeuwen, who had been competing him up to 1.40m. Tonny bought him as a six-year-old, and no one believed he would turn out to be much. She put a lot of time into him and really made him the horse he is today. She and her mom came out to watch him compete at the ‘Masters.’ I was introduced to him by Katherine Walsh and Ben Schroeder, who set up our partnership. Katherine also joined us for the ‘Masters.’ It really felt like a ‘Team Chip’ experience."
3. Long-term planning pays off.
“I’ve always been taught that long-term plans are important. You work backwards to set yourself and your horse up for any big day. This was a goal of mine, so I made a plan and followed it regardless of whether or not I was going to make the team.
That plan went as far back as my time as a junior rider. Every lesson as a junior, every big event, I was always told, ‘When you’re in a Nations Cup…When you are representing your country…’ All of those moments were in preparation for this."
4. Chip and I deserved to be there.
“I was so surprised at how at ease I felt on Nations Cup day. It must have been because it was ingrained in me from the beginning. I was always told, ‘If you want to be a team rider, you are going to have to ride with an extra level of fight,’ and I feel like I did just that. That realization gave me confidence in myself, and now I know I can do it again.
Chip has always had an amazing jump – very careful and scopey. But his flatwork needed time, and his rideability was sometimes scary. Every time I asked him to step up a level, he improved and learned something. He jumped his first 2* grand prix at the end of his nine-year-old year. He wants to learn and has come along very quickly.
He deserved to be there, but he was also the most fun horse I could have picked to be my partner in this. Chip has a lot of personality; his groom John Alvarez thinks he is best described by the nerd emoji with the glasses. Everyone that has worked with him or taken care of him falls in love with him. He is kind of like a Golden Retriever: kind, loving and loyal … but maybe a little bit dumb. Chip’s favorite activity is trail riding in his rope halter so that he can eat grass whenever he wants.
I feel very lucky to have such a special horse. I know they are hard to come by, but I really feel like Chip is a championship horse and we are both learning this level together.”
5. I was not meant to be a horse shipper.
“Honestly, the most difficult part about this whole experience was shipping Chip to Calgary! Before I knew I was on the team, I had decided to send him to the West Coast regardless. I wanted to compete at Thunderbird in preparation for the Masters, but I was competing in Michigan while organizing (and re-organizing) transportation.
The arrangements got really complicated being that is was one of the first times I had organized cross-country shipping before. My dad thought I was completely nuts, but he knew that I was determined to get him out there. There was a point where I almost wanted to give up, but I knew I needed him out there to be the most prepared I could be. All I can say is, there are some good people in the shipping business that get things done!”
Read this next: Eve Jobs on her first time representing the United States.
All photos by Jump Media.