Reality TV Star or Pony Champion? How I Became Both

Photo © Autavius Productions


Lights, Camera, action? Well, not quite. In my case, my mom’s idea of a simple video project somehow turned into the concept for a new reality TV Show. 

It all started in Tryon when videographer, Autavius Smith, came to the show grounds to get some footage.  The original idea was to get a video diary of my experiences showing, what it takes to even get to the ring and my life outside the barn. It was good timing because this was a different kind of show for me. It was my first time away from my mom, who is usually my trainer, groom, and best friend. I ended up staying in a house full of horse girls, while under the wings and watchful eye of my show trainer Josee Stedding. Plus, I got to ride, show, train, and ride for another owner who sent two ponies just for me to work with. It was the beginning of a whole new experience for me. 

Photo © Autavius Productions

I’ve been fortunate enough to attend many horse shows before, but this time there was a feeling of newfound independence that was invigorating. And on top of all that? A videographer wanted to capture it all! 

I gave some boundaries to the filming process since there are some things I want to keep to myself. Unlike other reality shows, I wanted to make sure that from the beginning I had a say in what was filmed and how I wanted to be portrayed. Autavius has been so respectful and understanding of that fact from the time we started working together. 

Autavius Smith. Photo © Autavius Productions

The experience is definitely kind of funny. I never imagined that I would have this person—or lens—following me around at so many events. But I have to say the camera has become like a good luck charm. At Tryon I was champion and Autavius got to film it all. My mom and I got to be interviewed. It was such an interesting experience.

When I went home, I kept showing and training—getting ready for my first ever Pony Finals. We had been in Kentucky for almost three weeks showing to lead up to the week that I had been waiting for my whole life. Two days before it was time for me to show, we received a call that producers had seen our first segment and were flying Autavius out to capture my Pony Finals experience! This might have made some people a nervous wreck, a first time at Pony Finals with a camera crew following you around for the entire day, but I was laser-focused. From the day that I got “Sparkle,” my goal was to take her to Pony Finals— nothing was going to distract me from that. 

I woke up that morning and knew nothing was going to stop me from giving Sparkle the ride that we had practiced so hard to achieve. I knew this would be my only shot with her since I have grown about a foot since I first started riding her. 

The cameras were with us the whole day—at the barn, on way to the ring, at the schooling ring, the trip, and even when I came out of the ring. My trip went so well I was literally vibrating with excitement. Mom and Josse were crying and we all hugged. I walked into the ring ranked 32 and after my trip shot to number 1.  Autavius captured the most special moment of my life!

Photo © Autavius Productions

It was then that I really realized how special this opportunity has become. I am not only living my riding dreams but that I am also helping him live his. To film and capture real life, no script, just as it should be. Filming to Autavius is just as much of a passion as riding. As an up-and-coming African American filmmaker, his talent comes through in his films. For him, it is about capturing the real story. And I learn so much from him as well.

It is such an arduous process to edit, and piece things together in a way that makes sense and is appealing to the viewer. The experience of sharing the inner working of my passion, the hours of practice, the endless show weekends, and the desire to be nowhere else than at the barn is one that I wish to share with others

Photo © Autavius Productions

My story has been about me and my mom bringing along green ponies/horses and making them Champions. The film crew came out to our farm to capture all of that. Our next filming event with be at WEF 2022. I will be showing four horses and one pony. None of which I have ever shown before. Every WEF is such a different and unique experience for us. So now my goal is to beat my personal best. I can’t wait to see what amazing things happen in 2022 and rewatch it all through the eyes of Autavius Smith.

Elliena Apollo is a junior Equestrian, 13 who is from Palmerton, PA. Originally from NJ, she started riding when she was 2 and started doing her impromptu interviews with famous riders when she was 5. Elliena has had her interview featured online and most recently in the Weekly Wire Newspaper that is published each week at The Wellington Equestrian Festival.