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A Portrait of Two Equestrians

It Takes More Than Money to Ride

 

by Courtney Maum

There’s a saying that the way to heaven is on horseback, but even veteran riders would admit that the journey is expensive. Happily, the careers of two local trainers prove that passion and moxie can make up for what your bank account might lack.

Norfolk local Viktoria Sleeper started riding when she was six years old. In order to offset the high cost of riding lessons as she grew up, she convinced barns to let her muck stables and groom horses in exchange for lessons. She found a willing partner in Still River Farm and hasn’t looked back since. Even today at her Terra Cello Farm locations in Norfolk and out of Lakeridge in Winchester, Viktoria encourages a “hands-on” experience for her riders, encouraging them to groom, tack, and cool down the horses in order to learn personal responsibility and show gratitude.

A licensed veterinary technician, Viktoria specializes in dressage, a tradition informally known as ‘horse dancing’ that develops a horse’s natural athletic ability and capacity to perform. Dressage is a useful and beneficial form of training for all levels of riders, and is generally safer than show jumping, although like with any equestrian pursuit, accidents can occur. Because Viktoria believes in the therapeutic power of horses, she goes the extra mile to make her programs affordable and accessible to children with emotional and physical challenges, including autism. Although she loves helping riders overcome fear and confidence issues, her chosen vocation isn’t without its setbacks. “Currently, my biggest challenge is the economy,” she admits. “I offer a service for a luxury item. I find that there aren’t as many kids interested in being outside getting dirty as there were when I was a child. Once we get the kids and adults in the door, though, they seem to fall in love and always come back. Horses are soothing to the soul.”

Cyran Itkovitz is a native of Paris, France.

Cyran Itkovitz is a native of Paris, France.

Cyran Itzkovitz, a Paris native now based in Litchfield, had a much different trajectory. Having ridden since an early age, Cyran allotted himself one year after college to devote to professional riding, but this hiatus turned into a seven year adventure that has taken Cyran everywhere from the legendary Spruce Meadows in Calgary to the Netherlands where he trained personally under the Dutch Grand Prix rider, Albert Zoer.

Unlike Viktoria, Cyran specializes in show jumping. Another difference is that Cyran focuses more on the horse than the rider. At White Bridge Farm in Litchfield where he works for the Halcyon Equestrian Center, he’s prized for his fearlessness and his proven ability to develop young horses for competitive show jumping in the US. In fact, he’s been so adept at navigating the differences between the European, Canadian and US horse markets, he’s often sent abroad to hand pick mounts for clients. “It’s so different over there,” admits Lindsey Knight, Halycon’s head of training. “In Europe, clients are willing to wait four years for a horse to be properly conditioned in dressage. Here, people want their horses ready to compete the minute they buy them. It’s an incredible asset to have someone with intricate knowledge of both markets who is so ambitious, capable, and wiling to go the distance to find the right horses.”

There are perks to working with Grand Prix horses and the people who can afford them, but Cyran’s job necessitates a nomadism that isn’t always glamorous (on any given week, he can be found trying to catch up on sleep in one airport or another, waiting to accompany his horses in flight, or driving countless hours to a remote town to scout talent). And he’s the first to admit that even the glitzy realm of show jumping isn’t immune to financial concerns. “Horses are expensive,” he admits. “And especially good ones. Yet to be successful, you need to pick out the good ones and somehow bring them home, hoping you were right. Good horses work hand in hand with successful business to create a virtuous circle; bad horses, on the other hand, could ruin your business.”

Regardless of whether you want to ride competitively or simply learn more about equitation; grit, determination, and a can-do attitude will get you far. In addition to the facilities cited, Norfolkers are lucky to have Rustling Winds Stable, Riga Meadow and the newly opened Sunny Rose Farm nearby.

Photos by Bruce Frisch.

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