By Catie Staszak/Catie Staszak Media, Inc.
Heading into the $24,999 Regional Standard Grand Prix at Fox Lea Farm, Hailey Royce stood out. At just 16 years old, she was the youngest rider in the field.
But Royce has never let age stop her. By the event’s conclusion, the talented teen was recognized with a different distinction. She and her mount Sonic Boom posed for the win photo, topping a four-horse jump-off; the victory marked the first in grand prix competition of Royce’s bourgeoning career.
“I’m feeling amazing,” Royce said. “I’ve only been riding Sonic Boom for about a month now, and we’ve done a few bigger classes, but this is a great accomplishment for so early in our journey together. I am so excited for what’s ahead with this horse and am very grateful for the opportunity to ride him.”
Royce trains with Alan Korotkin’s Castlewood Farm in Wellington, FL. Her family moved from their longtime Chicago, IL base to Wellington in 2019 to support Royce’s riding goals, and her results attest, she is undoubtedly achieving them. Royce jumped to wins in the High Junior Jumpers as well as the USEF Medal at the 2021 Winter Equestrian Festival; she credits much of her success to making the most of catch-riding opportunities and improving her fundamentals through the equitation divisions under Korotkin’s tutelage.
“I’m still learning all the time, but I’m comfortable in the bigger classes,” Royce said. “I really started [my show career] in the jumper ring, and I was able to jump some big classes at a very young age. I think that really helped me get a lot of experience in the ring, and I think that’s really paid off.”
Royce teamed up with the 9-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding Sonic Boom (Seacoast Wonderful x Nougat), formerly ridden by Mexico’s Daniel Michan, in May, and the pair have appeared to click almost instantly. In their one month of partnership, Royce and “Booms” also won Fox Lea Farm’s $15,000 1.25m Prix and the $10,000 1.40m Open Stake at the ESP Summer Series in Wellington, FL.
“He’s very opinionated in the barn, and I love that. He has his own ideas about what he wants to do and what works well for him,” Royce said. “He’s only nine, so he doesn’t have a ton of experience, but he has all the talent, and I’m really excited to see where we go.”
While Royce jumped in the first half of Saturday’s Grand Prix, in the jump-off, she had a more advantageous position: She returned third of just four riders to produce clear first round efforts. Still getting to know her mount, Royce entered the arena with one goal: to jump double-clear. She executed her plan successfully and took over the lead—and when the final combination added a rail to their score, Royce secured her coveted first grand prix triumph.
“[Sonic Boom] felt incredible in our warm-up, and I felt confident going into the ring” Royce explained. “It was a fun jump-off. There were a lot of places to gallop, but there were a few tighter turns, too. I’m just getting to know him, so I had to take a little bit of a risk and challenge him a little bit, but it paid off.”
Royce returns to Fox Lea in search of a second grand prix victory before heading north for the USHJA Platinum Jumper Championships in Tryon, NC, which she will use to prepare for a start in the North American Youth Championships, set for August in Traverse City, MI. There, she will represent Zone 4 in Junior competition. Royce had her first NAYC experience at Saugerties in 2017, where she competed on Zone 5’s Children’s team.
“We’re going to come back to Fox Lea this week and give the grand prix another shot,” Royce said. “Then he’ll get a little rest before we head to Tryon, and then we’ll aim for [NAYC] in August. I can’t wait!”