BY EDITOR SISSY WICKES
Many of us on the east coast will recognize Erica Quinn as a young rider who is as easily seen hacking horses in the ring at dawn as showing them under the stadium lights. She may be in jeans walking a hunter up to the ring to show or in a shadbelly studying an International Hunter Derby course. At 30 years old, Erica has worked every job in the show horse business – grooming, exercising, arranging travel, submitting entries, mowing fields, setting jumps – no job was too menial. “If the job needed to be done, I would do it,” she states. “It was anything to be able to ride.”
In 2018, Erica’s hard work and perseverance have paid off. Aboard Penelope Ayers’ young hunter, Lancaster, and with Rodney Bross as trainer, Erica has hit her stride as a hunter rider. With only seven horse shows on his resume, Lancaster has demonstrated his acumen for the hunter ring with a Championship in the 3’3” Performance Hunter and a Reserve Championship in the 3’3” Green Hunter divisions at the storied Upperville Horse Show. Against a field heavily laden with the best hunters in America- green and open- Lancaster proved his mettle with fabulous performances and high scores. Quinn praises the handsome bay, “He was so brave and wonderful at Upperville. His jumps feel effortless and he always tries to please.”
Erica Quinn has landed in the winner’s circle not by luck, but by hard work and perseverance. She is testament to the fact that there is a pipeline to success in our business, but it is not easy nor predictable. No golden parachutes, no easy ascension to the upper echelons of hunter/jumper sport. Work and more work, coupled with the willingness to learn from everyone and agility to take advantage of opportunity is the formula.
Quinn was born in Cincinnati, OH, and her first introduction to horses was at a friend’s seventh birthday party where they offered pony rides. She laughs, “I sat on that pony and was instantly hooked. I went home and told my mother that I wanted to ride, and she took out the phone book and opened the Yellow Pages to horseback riding.” As the first of what would become many fortuitous turns in the road, Erica landed in pony camp with Patty and Richard Rogers whom have had extremely successful careers in the industry. Quinn claims that Richard told her later in life that it took her six months to learn to post.
The more she rode, the more she wanted to ride and soon Quinn had a string of three to four horses and ponies that she showed with the Rogers. Until she was fifteen, Erica had the enviable position of traveling all over the east coast showing multiple horses at each show. Suddenly, it all came to an end when Erica’s parents sat her down and grimly told her that due to an economic downturn, there was no more money for horses. If she wanted to ride, she needed to figure out how to do it on her own. Undaunted by the reversal of fortune, Erica left Cincinnati at the age of sixteen to travel to the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, FL as a groom for rider Jennifer Waxman. “I wanted to be there because I knew that was where all the best riders and horses were. So, by myself at sixteen, I went,” she explains. Unsupervised, she homeschooled herself in order to graduate from high school.
From grooming for Waxman, she next became a working student for the late Jay and Dee Matter. “They had a bunch of sales horses and they needed a junior rider to get the horses into that ring. “ The Matters needed a rider and Erica needed a sponsor. A mutually beneficial relationship was formed and Erica began to get time in the show ring again.
When her junior career ended, Quinn needed to find the next opportunity to ride. At the age of 18, she went to work for famed hunter trainer, Rodney Bross. For five years, Quinn worked for Bross’ Independence Hall doing every job asked of her. “It was hard work,” she remembers. “I did everything around the farm plus ride. I would finish riding in the morning and walk over and grab the weedeater. Whatever needed to be done I did.”
From Bross’, Quinn next worked for successful jumper rider, Debbie Stephens. “I arrived as a groom for two weeks and just after I arrived, Debbie had a fall and broke her hip. ‘Can you ride at all?’ Debbie asked me. She watched me flat a horse and then gave me a job riding. She became an amazing mentor.” Stephens is known as an advocate of young riders, and Quinn benefited from the tutelage. Over the next four years, Quinn learned from the master and ended up with an impressive resume in both the hunter and jumper rings, even ascending into Grand Prix competition. “Debbie is one of the most important people in my career. She taught me so much about horse care and horsemanship. She is incredibly detail oriented- an attitude that I took with me. I am very appreciative for all that she taught me.”
After leaving Stephens, Erica had several more jobs that focused on catch riding. Continuing her friendship with Bross, she stopped by for dinner the day before she left for a new opportunity in California. There, she saw Larry Glefke and Kelley Farmer. “California?” Farmer asked. “When you want to come back, you have a job with us.” Two weeks later, Quinn arrived back on the east coast and began to work for Glefke’s Lane Change Farm. “I wanted to work with top hunters; no one has better horses than Larry and Kelley,” she declares.
With Lane Change, Quinn was offered the opportunity to show top caliber hunters. Longtime friend Rachel Kennedy offered Quinn the ride on Celtic Fire, Glefke assigned her Need I Say and the young professional suddenly had two top Derby contenders. Numerous top ribbons in USHJA International Hunter Derbies from Chicago to Pennsylvania to North Carolina marked Quinn’s rise to the top ranks of the hunter world. “I was given the opportunity to get into the ring and be recognized. I am forever grateful to them,” Erica states.
Again, the road to success took a turn when Glefke was suspended from horse showing and Celtic Fire contracted pneumonia. Quinn found herself again needing to pivot and find rides. Freelancing in Florida in early 2018, she received a call from longtime friend, Rodney Bross. He needed a rider at the shows in Gulfport, MI; would Erica be interested? “Rodney knows good horses and he has been a friend for a long time. I packed my things and drove to Gulfport,” Erica recalls. In Mississippi, Erica met Penelope Ayers and Dudley Macfarlane, clients of Bross’ who have had long, successful careers in the Amateur Owner hunter division. Quinn again found a situation to afford her quality horses to compete.
During the 2018 WEF season, Bross was asked by longtime friends at The Ridge, Nona Garson and George D’Ambrosio, to help them with some of their young homebred horses. Bross, an expert at schooling and developing prospects, gladly gave his time to them. It was at these training sessions at The Ridge that Bross first saw Lancaster (Languster x Talia). The now six year old is sired by Garson’s successful Danish Grand Prix mount, Languster (Lobster x Freja), and was bred and raised in the U.S.
Bross recognized the great mind and athletic talent of the handsome gelding. “He was a good mover with steel shoes on and a really good jumper. George and Nona had been thinking of him as a jumper, so they had jumped him really big,” Bross remembers. “I thought he was slow and quiet and better suited for the hunter ring.” Bross continued to work with the green prospect and the horse impressed him more with every session. When Penelope was looking for another horse to develop into an amateur mount, Bross took her to see Lancaster. “It was a short trial,” Ayers recalls. “The minute I sat on him, I just loved him.” Ayers purchased Lancaster in March, 2018, and the two have slowly begun their partnership. “I am getting to know Dennis (as he is called) and I really enjoying watching Erica show him. She is a great rider and a nice person. I am so happy for her success, “ Ayers said.
The future looks bright for Lancaster and his connections. Bross says of the horse, “Lancaster is the nicest one I have had in a very long time. And I have had some nice ones.” This statement is all the more significant because Bross started and trained the iconic hunter, Rox Dene. “He makes me look good,” he says of Lancaster. “The most important thing is to stay out of his way. It’s all natural.”
For Erica Quinn, the fruit of persistence and grit is the opportunity to ride a horse with the talent and potential of Lancaster. Asked for advice for younger riders seeking advancement in the show world, she responds, “Don’t give up. Take the job and step out of your comfort zone. Do what you need to do to get to the top. It’s worth it.” Watch for Lancaster as we cheer him on his way to a long, successful career.
Photos © A&S Photography, Erin Gilmore, and Chicago Hunter Derby