Covid changes, circuit championships and … cows? Allyson and Evan Coluccio find success (and some surprises!) with Agatha and Alexa Lignelli
By Lindsey Long
When 10-year-old Agatha Lignelli was champion with her large pony hunter Chiccobello one week at WEF this winter, she opted out of the parade of champions because she felt her pony was tired and deserved a break. Instead of celebrating her win, she went back to the stalls, gave Chiccobello a bath, took out his braids, and tucked him into his stall to rest.
“She’s a completely unique, special kid. We do have help, so it wasn’t like she had to do that,” says trainer Allyson Coluccio of Hidden Ridge International. “You don’t find many kids who are so dedicated to animal care at such a young age.”
Though Agatha opted out of the initial parade of champions, a few weeks later, she’d get to take part in the parade of champions at the end of the circuit. Agatha earned circuit championships in the Large Pony Hunters aboard Chiccobello, and the Low Child/Adult Training Jumpers aboard Fox Creek’s Curious George.
Her sister, Alexa Lignelli, 13 joined her in the winner’s circle with Girl Scout, Low Junior Jumper Circuit Champion. Alexa also earned great finishes in USHJA National and International Derbies as well as weekly tricolors across the Junior Hunter divisions. It was an exceptional season for Alexa and her equitation mounts, with multiple top Maclay finishes and a top twelve finish in the annual WEF Equitation Championship aboard Don Stewart’s Any Given Sunday.
A Pandemic Pivot
It was the common ground on horsemanship and quality care that motivated Allyson to rejoin the show circuit with the Lignellis as clients. Hidden Ridge International, operated by Allyson and her son Evan Coluccio, has earned a reputation for importing and breeding the highest quality ponies and horses since the early 1990s. Evan showed sales horses as needed and did some training at shows upon request, but Allyson had not been a regular on the show circuit for almost 20 years.
“I was selling an average of 40 horses a year,” says Allyson. “But then in 2020, the pandemic happened, and suddenly I’m not going to Europe every three weeks buying horses.”
At the same time, the Lignelli family was looking for a home barn to train Agatha, Alexa, and their small herd of ponies and horses. They had purchased several ponies from Hidden Ridge International in the past, so the Coluccios were a natural option. “The Lignellis would make copies of every award that our ponies earned and send it to us,” says Allyson. “No one else had ever really been like that. I got to know them quite well as a family over that time, and they retired several older horses with us.”
The Coluccios are no strangers to the A-circuit and the pressures that come with it. With the Lignelli sisters, a return felt right. “I didn’t want to train kids who feel everything is the horse’s fault, or deal with parents who will insist on showing a horse that isn’t feeling well. For the Lignellis, the horses are part of the family and receive the best possible care,” says Allyson. “Both girls are really special; they’re just amazing kids. They know their horses, their idiosyncrasies, their pet peeves.”
While Allyson didn’t plan a return to the show circuit, she considered it solely because of her and Evan’s close relationship with Agatha and Alexa, and their parents, Catherine and Jeff. “Sometimes, things happen for a reason,” says Allyson. “It just fell together.”
Evan agrees, and enjoys working with both girls for different reasons. “Alexa is a crazy good student in every way,” he says. “If she makes a mistake, we talk about how to fix it and she won’t make that mistake again. In a way she almost trains herself. She’s really smart.”
Agatha is also exceptional in that she has cultivated impressive horsemanship skills even at her young age, Evan adds: “Agatha likes to know the preparation and she’s very much trying to understand all of it. She’ll make sure that her ponies don’t stand in the sun for too long, and that they’ve walked enough, that their feet are clean and that they’re in a good mood. She just wants to be part of every aspect of it, which is really refreshing and fun.”
If Agatha isn’t riding or taking care of her own ponies, she can be found setting jumps, walking her sister’s horse to the ring, or observing the farrier or vet. “She just wants to know everything,” says Allyson. “She wants to know why a jump is set a certain way, why the ground line is in a certain place, every detail. She probably knows more than 90% of the 18-year-olds.”
Evan adds that he’s proud of how Agatha’s riding skills have progressed through the winter circuit, and credits her jumper pony for helping develop her confidence. “Putting her in the jumper division was the best thing we ever did,” says Evan. “She was timid when we first started working with her—successful, but timid. Previously if a pony was sassy she would have pulled up and suggested someone else ride. Now she just kicks harder. She’s super brave and confident now and it’s just so fun to see.”
(Way) Outside the Show Ring
Agatha’s love for animals extends beyond equines. She recently bottle-raised two calves after rescuing them from slaughter. Milkshake was two months old when he was found abandoned at a neighboring farm, and Pepita was only three days old when her mother was sold, leaving her orphaned. The Lignellis and Coluccios worked together to bottle feed her and get her healthy.
“Every time they hear Agatha’s voice, they moo to her and are so happy to see her,” says Allyson. When she had a week off from school in Wellington, Agatha flew with Allyson to the farm to visit all the animals. When she can’t be there in person, Agatha is also able to check on the cows through an app on her phone that connects to cameras in their stalls.
Agatha has also developed a special relationship with the rescued alpacas that live at Hidden Ridge, and she has taught them to jump small courses. “They’re super unique,” says Agatha. “They’re a little stubborn but they’re willing to learn, especially when you make a partnership with them.” Hidden Ridge is also home to sheep and bunnies (in addition to the alpacas, cows, ponies, and horses), and Agatha helps take care of them all.
Allyson enjoys being able to share her passion for animals with Agatha, and has even taken on a new hobby: breeding miniature cows. “They’re just so cute,” says Allyson. “Breeding them is much less complicated than horses or ponies, and they’re less maintenance. But they’re adorable and friendly and have great personalities.”
Although she’s only ten, Agatha knows her future plans will involve animals.
“I just want to do anything I can to help animals and give them better lives,” she says. Allyson sees it, too: “I really think that one day we’ll see her changing the world where animals are concerned.”
Allyson plans to resume her import business again with trips abroad once it’s safe to do so. “I’d like to get closer to pre-pandemic levels,” she says. Hidden Ridge is also hoping to take the Lignellis to Europe next year to experience horse showing there.
For now, Evan is enjoying being able to work with horses for a longer amount of time than he previously had when he was riding and showing mostly sales horses. “Before I would have horses and may show them only one time before they’d be sold, so having horses to show consistently was never a thing,” he says. “Now we’ve got this whole show schedule and I have a few horses I’m bringing along in the bigger jumpers. Eventually some of those horses could be for Alexa and Agatha.”
Both Allyson and Evan are excited about the future of Hidden Ridge International with the Lignellis. “There are a lot of wheels turning, and there are a lot of moving parts to our operation,” says Evan. “The future is definitely bright.”
Aundrea Hillyard: Hidden Ridge’s Star Working Student
Aundrea Hillyard is Hidden Ridge International’s working student and a vital part of the success of the whole team. At 16, she’s still small enough to school the ponies when needed and has had great success in the show ring, including earning a championship in the Low Children’s Jumpers at WEF aboard iCloud, owned by Hidden Ridge.
“She’s amazing and works super hard and is a super rider,” says Evan. “She’s a team player. She’s one of those students who is more behind the scenes, but she’s a huge asset to us, and is part of the family team.”
Fox Creek’s Curious George
2006 Half Welsh Bay Gelding
• Tricolors at WEF, Harrisburg, and Washington, Medium Pony Hunter
• Circuit champion, WEF, Medium Pony Hunter
• Circuit champion, WEF, Low Children’s/Adult Amateur Training Jumper
*This story was originally published in the May 2021 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!