BY JESS CLAWSON
Alliyah and Kierstin Antoniadis are young riders demonstrating the value of horsemanship to a successful riding career.
Many adults remember being horse crazy kids who were dropped off at the barn for an entire day- scrubbing buckets, cleaning stalls, riding whatever fuzzy lesson ponies they could get on. It’s a great way to learn about horses, but kids don’t always have those opportunities these days.
Alliyah and Kierstin figured out how to make opportunity for themselves from a very young age. Before discovering horses, they tried some typical kid activities, like soccer and dance, and then realized they wanted to do something different. So when Alliyah (now 18) was eight, and Kierstin (now 16) was six, their mother, Denise, signed them up for a horse camp at Greystone Stables in Slate Hill, NY. There they met their first coach, Jody Moraski.
“We were obsessed,” laughs Alliyah. “I think Mom knew she was in trouble.”
The girls signed up for lessons and started to compete in small shows here and there. Soon, they found they had a knack for green ponies. With Moraski, they competed in Pony Finals and at Marshall & Sterling Finals and learned the basics of horsemanship.
The kids needed that. Their father passed away when they began riding lessons. They needed the horses to help them cope with their father’s death. They had to learn how to do everything for themselves so they could keep going in horses.
After a couple of years in the lesson program, Denise started buying Alliyah and Kierstin project ponies which they would then sell to help pay their way at horse shows. Eventually, they were paying board on several ponies. So, the family decided it was time to lease their own barn. Denise and her daughters, ages eight and ten, began running their own operation full time.
At that point, Kierstin began riding with Gary Duffy at Littlebrook Farm for her pony hunter and junior years, while Alliyah dabbled in equitation and jumpers with BJ Ernhardt and Lisa O’Neil.
“Having our own barn was challenging, but had a ton of benefits that help me even now,” said Kierstin. “Learning to have a work ethic from a young age is crucial if you don’t have the funding to have a full care board type situation at some point in the future. It also gave me a lot of insight as to what my life would be like if I continued showing at that level.”
Their commitment to doing the work themselves is what makes these young women special in the industry, and the people around them are noticing.
“Alliyah is the kindest, most hard working 18 year old I’ve ever met,” said Jenna Weinfurt, owner of First Blue LLC and Alliyah’s trainer. “Every day she comes to work excited and ready for whatever comes her way. She always happily asks if there’s anything else she can do. Alliyah is truly a big asset to my business, and I am so impressed with her loyalty to the horses, business, and clients. We are very lucky to have found each other, and I hope I can make her dreams inside the horse business come true.”
Weinfurt’s business partner Justin Dye concurs. He was impressed that Alliyah approached him and Weinfurt asking for a chance to learn more about horses and the business. “From the beginning we fell in love with our new member’s bubbly personality and willingness to work,” he said. “Her patience with the animals and true love for the horse shows in every aspect of her work allows for a special bond with all of our animals. The horses love her just as much as we do. From learning how to laser the horses to spending time in the saddle, Alli is hungry to learn and makes for an exceptional student for me to help in the ring. There is never a ‘no’ or an ‘I can’t’ in her vocabulary. Because of this attitude she will go far in this industry and we are so blessed to have her as part of the team.”
Before going to Wellington, Alliyah spent some time working for Chad Keenum in Virginia. “I learned so much about sales horses and that part of the sport. He taught me so much,” she said.
Kierstin is currently riding with Andre Dignelli in New York. “Kierstin is very appreciative of help, and she’s willing to put in the hours and the time. When she first came to us, she kept staying under foot, asking what can I do? Can I clean any tack? That’s how it started,” he said. “I put her on a nice green horse and it went well, and we’ve kept going from here.”
Dignelli appreciates how much Kierstin, Alliyah, and Denise have invested into the horse industry as a family. “They eat, sleep, and breathe it.” Denise now serves as a manager and organizer for Dignelli. “She’s part of the team,” he said. “They’ll do anything. You just don’t see that many old fashioned horse people these days, who are caring for their own horses. They ride them, trailer them, braid and clip them. It’s a lost art, but that’s how they do it. That’s why they’re succeeding and why they’re getting attention from people like myself. They’re lovely to be around, too. You just want to help them. They’re likeable.”
Kierstin is still in school, completing her high school education online. “Although I understand that education comes first, riding has always been what I wanted to pursue, so my mom was super flexible with allowing me to dedicate my life to what I wanted to accomplish,”
Kierstin committed to Auburn University and plans to ride for their equestrian team. “After college, I definitely plan to go professional. I can’t imagine my life without riding and showing competitively.”
Kierstin currently focuses her competing on riding in hunters and equitation and loves the horse show atmosphere. “I hope my professional career includes both hunters and jumpers,” she said. “Equitation has built a great base for me when I start riding in the jumpers more.”
Alliyah is working on her college degree online and working for Weinfurt and Dye full time. While she does go to horse shows and enjoys riding in the jumper ring, her real passion is in the barns, bringing along green horses and teaching young riders. “Competing is maybe a quarter of the sport,” she said. “The rest of it takes so much hard work and passion. Teaching horsemanship is super important to me. The horses do so much for us, we need to know everything about them to keep them healthy and happy.”
She sets a good example for young riders everywhere. “I want them to see why getting to the horse show grounds at 5:30am to start taking care of the horses is important,” she said. “We have to be there first thing in the morning and be part of it all and not just show up at nine for our class. My mom made sure we knew what we needed to know so that if we were at a horse show by ourselves for a week we can manage that. Probably half the sport can’t do it.”
Kierstin loves getting to know people and making friends through participating in the sport, which she says has brought so much to her life. But she wishes it was more financially accessible to more people. “I meet so many kids who have the talent to make it big in the sport, but they can’t pay to get the exposure they need to take the next step,” she said. “I’m so fortunate that my mother has dedicated her life to my sister and I fulfilling our dreams.”
Although Kierstin and Alliyah ride in different barns now, they are very supportive of each other. “You can always hear us laughing together at the in gate,” Alliyah said. “We’re best friends. We have a lot of fun together.”
Alliyah and Kierstin Antoniadis exemplify dedication to horses and commitment to horse sport. With their mother beside them at every turn, the young riders continue to create opportunity for themselves through humility and hard work, talent and tenacity.
You can find Alliyah and Kierstin on Facebook at facebook.com/Akashowstoppers.
Alliyah is on Instagram at @alliyah__anttoniadis, and Kierstin is at @kierstin.antoniadis.
Photos credits: Nicole Bailyn, Sportfot, The Book LLC, Alliyah Antoniadis, & Denise Antoniadis
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About the Author: Jess is a professional historian and educator who lives in northwestern Virginia. They completed their undergraduate degree in English at William & Mary, and did their masters and doctoral work at the University of Florida. Jess is an event rider with a passion for thoroughbreds, and has extensive experience in community organizing around queer identities, racial marginalization, and labor.
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