Interview with Maclay Finalist Ellie Ferrigno

At just 12 years old (show age 11) and in 7th grade, Ellie Ferrigno will be one of the youngest competitors at the ASPCA Maclay Finals at the National Horse Show tomorrow. (For more information on the Maclay format, read TPH Intern Caroline Nickolaus’ article).

The Plaid Horse: You are most known for your success on ponies, when did you start the Equitation?

Ellie Ferrigno: I started doing the Equitation last summer and then showed my horse Limey (Muskrat Love) all this year. We mostly did smaller shows and then starting in June this year, we have done bigger shows like Fairfield Hunt Club (Fairfield, CT) and the Vermont Summer Festival (Manchester, VT).

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Ellie with HH Harrisburg, trainer Val Renihan, and mom/trainer Abbi Ferrigno at New England Finals. 

TPH: How did the qualifying process go this year?

EF: We didn’t plan on doing the finals when we started in the beginning of the year- we just had fun riding more horses and learning. When we realized that we were close to qualifying, we planned a couple more shows to make it happen. As we weren’t sure if I would have a horse for USEF Medal Finals, even though I qualified, I decided to do USEF Pony Medal Finals in August [a rider may choose either the Pony Medal or the USEF Medal in the same year].

Qualifying for the USEF Medal came quickly, the Maclay took a little more planning, but then I won the Maclay at River Run Farm (Brewster, NY) with 16 entries, so I got double points and I was in. Since I had so many commitments in the pony ring, it ended up missing some shows in the Equitation to show in the pony divisions at other shows, such as Pony Finals.

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Ellie with HH Harrisburg at New England Finals winning the Open Equitation. 

TPH: You train with your mom (Abbi Ferrigno of Rabbit Hill Farm) and Val Renihan. What’s is your lesson, training, and showing schedule like and how have you prepared this week?

EF: I started riding with Val in Fall 2012. I have 1-2 lessons a week with her when she’s home and meet her at shows and my mom helps me practice everything I learn with her. Val is a little tough on me- she’s never mean, but it is very serious. She has really smoothed my transition onto horses.

I got to Kentucky on Monday and I have been having lessons with Val the whole week. Before the other kids got here, I got to ride a couple of extra horses, which was really fun.


Ellie with Emma Fletcher from Grazing Fields Farm at the ASPCA Maclay Rider’s Meeting yesterday at the National Horse Show. 

TPH: The Maclay is intense and full of pressure. How nervous are you and how do you keep the nerves down?

EF: I went to ASPCA Maclay Regionals for the experience and learning- there was no pressure and it went really well and I made it here. That is my goal here too- to have fun, gain experience, and learn, so I don’t think there is a lot of pressure on me this year. I have many years to come trying to win.

When I first rode with Val, I got really nervous and had trouble calming myself before I went in the ring. Val set me up with a Sports Psychologist to help me to learn how to be calm. I go 117th in the order tomorrow, so I will have a lot of rounds to watch and study before I get into the ring.

Abbi Ferrigno: I am a huge advocate for all my kids to go to Devon and Indoors and Pony Finals because everytime you walk through the gate at these big finals, it gives you that much more experience. I think it really prepares you for coming to something like this- you’re not coming through the gates for the first time in your life.

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Ellie and Muskrat Love in the ASPCA Maclay at Garden State Horse Show in May 2014. 

TPH: Tell us about the horse you are riding tomorrow in the ASPCA Maclay Finals – HH Harrisburg.

EF: Harry is owned by Double H Farm. I tried him the day before Regionals and then showed the next day at ASPCA Maclay Zone 1 Regionals. He is very straightforward to ride- nothing phases him.

The course at Regionals was tough, but Val sets the craziest courses at home, so I felt prepared and Harry makes tough courses simple. Since then, I have had a lot of lessons on him and gotten to know him really well and he is just fantastic.

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Ellie shows Muskrat Love at the Shallow Brook Horse Show in the Maclay in June 2014. 

TPH: What are your goals for the upcoming years?

EF: I really like doing the hunters. The jumpers are a fun thing for me right now and the hunters are more serious. I would like to do everything and ride as many horses as I can!

Thank you to Double H Farm for giving me the opportunity to ride Harry, Val Renihan for helping me find Harry and her wonderful training, and my family and the Rabbit Hill Farm team for helping me throughout the whole finals.


The Plaid Horse wishes Ellie and all qualifiers the best of luck in the ASPCA Maclay Championship this Sunday at the National Horse Show- watch live on USEF Network and cheer them on!