Aiva Gamelin Connects with Quirky Horses to Shine in the Show Ring

By Ann Jamieson

Six-year-old Aiva Gamelin had a choice—to get a fancy show pony with a great record or… Cosmo, a tiny (at 11.1 hands) grey chunk of a cranky pony known for lying down to rid himself of anyone pesky enough to attempt to ride him. She chose the latter. A failed pony ride mount, Cosmo ended up in a paddock in Aiva’s grandmother’s (Sue Peterson) Another Farm, in Woodbury, Connecticut. He hadn’t just failed being ridden, even leading him rarely proved successful for a kid foolhardy enough to attempt it. 

Aiva spent time with Cosmo, sitting quietly with him in his paddock, just being with him. Sometimes she would crawl up on him and just sit on him while he grazed. He didn’t try to dump her. Aiva patiently brought the pony along with her grandmother (a knowledgeable and well-loved trainer), and mother’s (Yvonne Milewski Gamelin) help, teaching him to do flatwork and learn to jump.Two years later Aiva and Cosmo were Year End Short Stirrup Equitation champions for the Connecticut Hunter Jumper Association and the tiny pony won a Conformation Pony Hunter class against eight “real conformation ponies.” 

Yvonne says Aiva has the drive, and Cosmo had the heart, “That’s when I knew I was in real trouble!”

What began with Cosmo has continued through Aiva’s junior career. She had not only the skills, but the empathy to bring out the best in ponies and horses who others gave up on. With Native American Abenaki blood in her veins, Aiva’s innate spirituality enables her to connect with horses and ponies in a way that few others can.

Aiva outgrew Cosmo and went on to small and medium pony hunters and pony equitation, winning championships and year-end awards across much of the country. Working with Abbi Ferrigno of Rabbit Hill Farm in the pony divisions, Aiva scored countless championships and year-end awards. Abbi also taught Aiva how to nail a Pony Derby, Aiva’s favorite class (in which she scored many wins), and handy hunters, and set her up for future successes in the hunter world. With her phenomenal small pony hunter Rock Lobster, Aiva scored fourth in the national standings in 2019 and was Zone Champion two years in a row.

Other highlights include seventh out of 197 in Pony Medal Finals (at 10!), USEF Small Green Hunter Division Champion and Reserve Grand Champion on catch ride Clovermeade Heartbreaker (owned by Reily Robertson), and Medium Green Pony Hunter Zone Champion on Clovercroft Swing Away.

Moving up to horses, the big eq, and jumpers have been just as successful.

After training with her grandmother, and her mom, Aiva began riding with Steve and Jenni McAllister at their farm in Ocala, Fl. Jenni, a World Cup and Grand Prix rider, along with Steve, taught Aiva to focus on sportsmanship on the ground and in the saddle, following all FEI rules. Aiva spent the last two winters riding their jumpers, and bringing her own jumper, Mr. Lopez, along. A very talented horse, Mr. Lopez, just like Cosmo, has some issues. 

While he loves the jumpers and is blessed with abundant talent, “George” hates the schooling ring. Facing an oncoming horse there can send him into a panic. Aiva is careful to school George when they can be alone in the schooling area. It was a super successful approach; George won almost every High Children’s Jumper in Ocala last winter. One of Aiva’s favorite parts of spending the winter with the McAllisters was learning about alternative treatments to drugs for horses, such as acupuncture, chiropractic, magna wave, stretching, icing, and exercises to build George’s muscles to help prevent injury.

Aiva will be starting 9th grade at Shepaug Valley High School while continuing to work hard as a rider and taking on the many opportunities her grandmother and mother have provided her. 

Currently training with Shachine Belle from Belle Equestrian at The Hill at Graywall Farms, Aiva says she “is so lucky to have the best of the best working with my horses and me.” Always grateful to her trainers, she says they are all “hard-working, hands-on, and always look out for the best interest of the horse.” She is grateful also to the many friends that have helped her by giving her incredible sale horses to ride and show to help improve her career, such as Amanda Nicole Shine Wise and Topher Lamond from Penniless Farm in Wagner, North Carolina, who took her under their wing for several months in 2021 when Aiva was 12. 

“They allowed me to ride so many of their amazing hunter/Jumpers and they have the most amazing farm. It was such an incredible experience. I’m also grateful to my grandmother Sue Peterson for everything she has done for me to get here and for introducing me to several opportunities but most of all for finding George “Mr Lopez”. 

Sue knew George was a star, and her close friends and boarders (John and Karen Pollard) purchased him so “he could be retired in the long run at my grandmother’s farm. He loves his night turnout and treats, two important factors in his training. He does not like head-on traffic in the schooling area so we have to be careful and keep him focused but he is a winner in the ring. He has so much heart, once we get in that ring together we get in our zone and just go for it, we just trust each other.” 

The two won the $2500 High Children’s/Adult Classic in Ocala, Florida at the HITS Horse Show, and were the High Children’s champion and reserve Circuit Champion 2022 HITS Ocala. They came back north for HITS Saugerties winning the $7500 High Children’s/Adult Classic during week two, and then took the win in the Low Jr Jumper at the Saratoga Horse Show. At the HITS Summer Festival, they were the $2000 High Children’s Classic winner, slicing two seconds off the second place time of 32 seconds to come in in 30 seconds.

All these wins and championships added up to the most exciting invitation a rider Aiva’s age could ever dream of attaining: an invitation to compete in the Young Riders Championships! She and George just competed in Zone 1 and 2 Championships at Week VI at the HITS Horse Show Saugerties, where they were Reserve Champion Team for Zone 1 High Children’s Jumpers. They competed in the Gotham North American Young Riders Championships in Traverse City, Michigan.

Aiva was thrilled about qualifying for the prestigious event. “I was crazy excited because all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes has gotten us to my goal.”

She has been busy this season taking The Clarkson University course Business and Bias in the Equestrian Industry with Dr. Piper Klemm and is a proud member of The Metropolitan Equestrian Team. Aiva is extremely grateful for the amazing network around her for giving her so many opportunities. It’s a family affair with her mother and father trucking her to horse shows and her mother helping her on the ground for that extra hand as Aiva does all her horse care on her own.

About the Author: Ann Jamieson wanted to be a horse show judge since she was a child, and has now held her USEF “”r”” judge’s cards for over 30 years. She writes about both horses, and travel, (and particularly loves combining the two). Ann is the author of the “”For the Love of the Horse”” series, four volumes of amazing true stories about horses, and the proud mom of her Secretariat grandson, Fred Astaire (Tucker).
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