Cover Story: Back Country Offers the Best

Above: Sydney Shulman at International Hunter Derby Finals. Photo by © Grace Tuton Photography.

By Sissy Wickes

The Shulman’s Back Country Farm represents the family’s dedication to providing the best in horse care and training. With breathtakingly beautiful locations in Greenwich, CT and Wellington, FL, Back Country offers an exceptional experience for riders and horses. Sydney and Jill and their able staff teach all levels- from kids beginning their riding experience to those competing at elite horse shows. Sydney is the primary rider who loves training young horses and is equally successful in both the hunter and jumper divisions.

Jill and Sydney began their equestrian journey when Sydney was a small child. “I have always ridden with my mom,” she explains. “I started when I was four years old and was showing small ponies at seven. I got to ride amazing ponies from Geoff Teall, Charlie Moorcroft, and Robin Greenwood. And, my mom always supplied me with great ponies.” Unusual to her education is the fact that Sydney was involved in breaking and training young ponies from the start of her riding career. She explains, “I had the opportunity to start many of the ponies that Robin Greenwood was breeding. It was so much fun and I was taught the process of bringing them along. It was an amazing learning experience. I think that is why I have patience and love to train young horses.”

The Shulman team had a stellar career in the pony ring. With Sydney in the irons and Jill on the ground, the duo produced wins and championships in major shows on all sizes and in all rings. On well- known ponies such as Top Notch, Center Field, Broadway Star, Dream Big, Love And Logic, Blossom, Rosmel’s Millennium, and Lets Play Too, team Shulman won classes at Devon, Pennsylvania National, Washington International, and USEF Pony Finals. On her pony jumper, Set Sail, Sydney won both Team and Individual Gold Medals at USEF Pony Finals in 2009 and 2010.

Along with her mother as primary trainer, Sydney also benefitted from the sage counsel of accomplished coaches such as Stacia Madden, Max Amaya, Frank Madden, Brianne Goutal, and John Roche. With their help, the capable young rider followed a trajectory of success from pony hunters and jumpers to equitation, junior hunters, and junior jumpers. Many of her rides were owned by Back Country Farm, but many were catch rides as other trainers recognized the combination of skill and experience in Sydney Shulman. Her roster of catch rides consisted mostly of green and sales horses. To provide an offset to that experience, Jill made sure that her daughter also had the benefit of older, solid horses on which to learn. Sydney remembers, “My first High Junior Jumper, Gun du Desfi, was an old Nations Cup horse. I was fourteen and he was eighteen. He was perfect for me to learn on. My mom always supplied me with good, experienced horses, so my transition to bigger divisions was always easy.” The strategy proved to be fortuitous as Sydney rose through the ranks as a top junior hunter and jumper rider. She won rounds in the North American Junior and Young Rider competitions on two separate years. She had top many top placings in Medal, Maclay, and Washington equitation classes, and competed at the Grand Prix level while still a junior.

Sydney and Jill Shulman. Photo courtesy of Back Country Farm.

Behind every great rider is a great team, and for Sydney that team was led by her mother. Jill Shulman has been involved with horses throughout her lifetime. Growing up, Jill’s mother was an avid Saddlebred rider. Jill was involved with all types of horses and worked for an array of accomplished professionals in the Midwest and South. She was a professional rider and trainer in Florida before she moved north with her husband and began a family. Her professional equestrian career took a backseat as she raised her four children. Unwilling to completely eschew riding, Jill became an amateur jumper rider when her children were small. As she explains, “I always had horses and showed, but my focus was on raising my kids.” Soon, her two daughters began to ride ponies and the Shulman’s began their foray back into the equestrian world. They built a barn at home to house their personal horses and Jill began to teach her kids. When they reached full time school age, Jill restarted her professional career. “Horses were always part of my life and I loved the business. I always wanted to get back to it and when I could, I did.”

Photo by © Shawn McMillen Photography.

Back Country Farm has bloomed into a large, full service, multi-location business. The Shulman’s operate two facilities, one year-round at Lion Share Farm in Greenwich, CT and one seasonally in Wellington, FL. The amenities at each location are unparalleled. Lion Share is one the pre-eminent facilities in the U.S. with ample state of the art stabling, two outdoor rings, a jumping field with natural obstacles, and an indoor arena. The bucolic setting is surrounded by grassy turnout and a relaxed atmosphere in which horses thrive. Back Country’s farm in Wellington offers a gorgeous, airy barn, ring and trail riding, and a location close to all competition facilities. Riders and horses alike will find the best of the best at Back Country’s two locations.

The long driveway leading up to the barn at Back Country’s Wellington, FL seasonal location. Photo courtesy of Back Country Farm.

An aerial view of Back Country’s Lion Share Farm in Greenwich, CT. Photo courtesy of Back Country Farm.

Jill and Sydney have built a business reflective of their collective experience. They enjoy a large contingent of beginner, short stirrup, and pony riders at Back Country. As Jill states, “We have a group of kids on ponies that is the cutest thing you have ever seen.” Sydney concurs, “We still own a lot of ponies and our kids ride these famous old ponies. I love it! It is who’s who of old winners. I love going to the ring with them.” The Shulmans and their teaching staff are able to provide an experience catered to each young rider’s needs. Trainer Gabrielle Hero is an invaluable asset to the business. Gabrielle brings years of training and riding experience and is often the liaison between locations. Her efforts in the winter months enable Back Country to provide a continuum of excellence in both their northern and southern strings.

For multi-sport, after school recreational riders, Back Country offers a fun, light atmosphere. Sydney states,”I am always kind toward my students. I am strict, but I want riding to be fun. We fashion a child’s riding program to their ambition.” For serious riders, Back Country offers a serious equestrian program for all ages and levels in the hunter, jumper, and equitation rings. Currently, they teach a large group of young jumper riders from ages 12-17. Sydney’s extensive experience in the jumper ring makes her an ideal trainer and role model for kids aspiring to follow her career path. Jill has the invaluable experience of bringing along young riders from their first horse show to the highest level, as evidenced in the success of her daughter.

While managing a large group of clients and horses, the Shulman’s still retain the ability to give each client personalized attention. Sydney trains a few private clients outside of the Back Country clientele. She explains, “We cater to all needs. We provide a fun environment in a large barn setting, or we can do a quiet, private situation.” For all riders and horses, the emphasis is on quality and attention to detail. From individual client meetings to organized, detailed training programs to the latest in nutrition and equine therapies, Back Country strives to provide outstanding care and training.

Photo courtesy of Back Country Farm.

Eighteen years after their first experience together with horses, Sydney and Jill Shulman continue their prolific partnership. Recently, Sydney won two 3* jumper classes in Tryon, NC, was second in the Rolex Central Park U25 Grand Prix, won three classes at the American Gold Cup, and won three classes, including the U25 Grand Prix, in Lexington, KY. In addition to their jumper success, they have recently purchased an International Hunter Derby horse to campaign. In the future, Sydney wants to continue to “rise to the occasion with the great horses that I have. I will focus on the FEI classes and Derbies in the U.S. And, I really want to help the kids that we train to reach their goals.”

Photo by Irene Elise Powlick.

Over the past several years, Back Country trained riders have consistently earned top ribbons and championships in the hunter, jumper, and equitation divisions at Old Salem, Fairfield, Ox Ridge, Kentucky, USEF Pony Finals, Devon, Harrisburg, Washington, and the National Horse Show. In addition, they have won top placings on the European Young Rider Tour, International Hunter Derbies, Equitation Finals, and Grand Prix throughout the country. Back Country has a large contingent of adult and amateur riders in addition to junior and pony kids. The older riders range from solely lesson participants to those competing in the hunter and jumper rings. One distinct advantage of Back Country is that the team carefully prepares each of their mounts before competition. “It is important to me that every horse is ready to be their best for the rider. We often have our professionals do warm up classes in order to make sure that the riders can make the most of their opportunities,” Jill explains. In addition to training and teaching, the Back Country team is adept at developing horses from importation to winning with junior and amateur riders.

Back Country Farm represents personal integrity and success. The accomplished, proven staff can accommodate everyone from the casual rider to one who aspires to jump in the Grand Prix, Derby Finals, or Medal Finals. The Shulman’s bring a depth of experience and understanding of the equestrian industry that ensures a positive outcome for horse and rider.

Sydney Shulman’s 2017 Highlights

Tryon Fall:

Champion 1.35m Jumper

Winner 1.30m Power and Speed

Central Park Horse Show:

2nd Place U25 Grand Prix

American Gold Cup:

Winner $35,000 Hermes Classic

Winner Danbury Audi 1.40m

Winner 1.35m Jumper

Kentucky Summer:

Winner and 7th Place Welcome Stake Grand Prix

Winner U25 Grand Prix

Winner 1.35m Jumper

5th and 9th Place $50,000 Grand Prix

Winner 1.40m Jumper

Devon Horse Show:

Winner FEI $40,000 Speed Stake

4th Place $30,000 Speed Derby

Kentucky Summer:

Winner and 7th Place Welcome Stake Grand Prix

Winner U25 Grand Prix

Winner 1.35m Jumper

5th and 9th Place $50,000 Grand Prix

Winner 1.40m Jumper

Fairfield Hunt Club June:

2nd Place Grand Prix

Ox Ridge Hunt Club:

2nd Place Grand Prix

Champion 3’3 Performance

Champion 2’6 Hunters

About the Author: Sissy is a Princeton University graduate, a lifelong rider and trainer, a USEF R rated judge, a freelance journalist and an autism advocate. Her illustrious resume includes extensive show hunter and jumper experience. She lives with her family in Unionville, PA and Wellington, FL.

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