Erynn Ballard gave herself a deadline: by the time she reached the age of 40, she would make sure she gave herself a chance to wholeheartedly pursue the top levels of show jumping. She hasn’t procrastinated, and in 2018 the Tottenham, Ontario native has fast-tracked herself on the road to five-star success.
Erynn, 38, captured the spotlight at the inaugural Longines Masters of New York in April, winning the Longines Speed Challenge despite jumping in the first third of the class. She followed that performance up with another podium placing, finishing third in the oh-so-coveted Longines Grand Prix. Both results came aboard the 13-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding Fantast, a horse she’d only shown three times before. She got the ride on the bay speed demon from rider, trainer, and horse dealer Ilan Ferder, with whom she’s joined forces after buying from, and developing horses for over several years.
“There’s a big carry forward, [even if] it’s just in confidence [after a big performance like I had in New York],” Ballard says. “But I practiced, and we worked all winter toward that show. Success makes you confident, and confidence makes you successful.”
Erynn has committed herself fully to the sport in many ways since her junior riding days. In the late ‘90’s, she spent her time flying back and forth to the U.S. to catch ride for trainer Missy Clark at various horse shows, and in 1998 she became just the second Canadian to win the holy grail of junior-dom, the ASPCA Maclay National Championship. A year later, she earned individual gold at the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships with the Irish Thoroughbred gelding Leacock, and she became a professional as soon as she turned 18. She helped bring home gold in her first Nations Cup appearance at Spruce Meadows in 2006.
While Erynn has competed at the five-star level on numerous occasions, she never fully thrown herself into the international five-star circuit, committing herself to running her business at home - family-owned Looking Back Farm. Owned and operated by Erynn and her parents - trainer Sandi and course designer Dave - Looking Back Farm, 40 minutes north of Toronto, is home to both Erynn’s personal horses and those belonging to clients that compete in hunters, jumpers, and equitation. Ballard is what you might call a ‘triple threat’- if not quadruple or beyond. In addition to her current push in the big show jumping world and previous awesomeness in the eq ring, she’s poised to qualify other mounts for the USHJA International Derby Championships in the hunter ring.
“My business at home is based on fact that I can do both [hunters and jumpers],” Erynn explains. “I have a great facility in my backyard, and it’s never been something I felt I could get up and leave. My parents don’t have [the farm] for themselves - they have it for me. My mom still does a lot, and I have my assistant, Katie Uloth, who does a lot, as well as Meghan Button and Courtney Basco, who manage my own personal horses when I’m away. Those three girls [and my mom] keep it all going!”
But it was Erynn’s string of horses—along with support from Ilan Ferder—that let her know it was time to branch out, and that included getting the ride on Fantast. The duo first competed together in Wellington after Ilan himself jumped the gelding at the two-star level at the Winter Equestrian Festival.
“I said to [Ilan], ‘I really like to watch you on this horse,’” Erynn recalls. “He said, ‘I want you to have him, but you have to promise me you’ll win a class.’ I’m glad I lived up to my promise!”
After the bay caught eyes with his performances in New York, he quickly sold, successively executing the business plan Erynn and Ilan had laid out.
“The whole point of riding Fantast was to sell him,” Erynn explains. “It’s how I’m going to make this [opportunity] work. It’s what works for Ilan and his business. When he ends up with horses ready to go at that level, we have to showcase them. Ilan said, ‘That’s the cycle of horses.’ You always need young ones coming up.”
And she does. She’s currently campaigning a strong arsenal of mounts, many of which she’s developed herself. Her string includes the 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare Bella Donna, who recently finished second in the CSI 2* Welcome Stake at Caledon Equestrian Park; and the exciting 9-year-old Catoki’s Son Z, who was third in New York in the five-star 1.50m jump-off class; among others.
“I have a group of [upper-level] horses at home, and Ilan has a group,” Erynn explains. “There’s Catoki’s Son Z, whom I rode on the Nations Cup team in Florida. He’s only 9 [years old]. Because I’ve had great opportunities with other horses, we’ve been able to develop him exactly the way we want to.”
“I have one also owned by Sagamore Farm, named Bella Donna,” she adds. “It’s nice that I can continue on with them; it’s kind of a big deal to be able to ride for a farm like Sagamore. I also have a new horse, Darkos Promise, and I have Handy van HD. Ilan is also sending horses to Toronto.”
So, Erynn is back to jet-set life with frequent commutes across the border, traveling to New York on a regular basis to work with the horses in Ilan’s care. But this time, as she hits the road for some increased summer traveling, she’s also bringing some of her clients with her—in addition to heading home for Canadian shows at Angelstone, Spruce Meadows, and Ottawa.
“I’m going to run with it,” she says. “I have a show schedule, and my business is going to fit into [Ilan’s] show plan. I had some hunters in Devon [in addition to my FEI horses], I have customers [doing] Upperville, and I’ll also have customers in Michigan [Traverse City].”
“It’s great that we have people even at home that are looking outside the box and looking to do different things,” she adds. “We have people showing in Toronto that are wanting to [branch out] and getting to do different things.”
Erynn hopes to set some new short-term goals for herself as well, and she's seriously going for it. She aims to crack the top 100 on the Longines Rankings next month, with her eyes on being among the top 10 female show jumpers in the world, as she says, “sooner rather than later.”
“I was ready for it,” she says. “The group of horses I have are mostly nine and 10. When it is available and you do have success, it’s a lot easier of a decision, but you have to rip off the Band-Aid of your comfort zone.”
With two years to spare on her deadline, Erynn has done just that, officially taking the leap she promised herself—and she’s not coming down anytime soon.
“I am lucky that every time I’ve been at this level, I’ve been successful,” she says. “I think that it just goes to show that I’m basically as ready as my horses are. I’ve gotten faster this year, for sure, with the opportunity to ride faster horses. It’s a partnership. I had a great relationship with [Fantast], even though it was short-lived. I have faith in Ilan, even though it’s also a very new partnership. History has shown, when I’ve had a horse ready to compete at that level, I’ve been ready as well.”