It takes a lot to understand the mechanics of getting an event horse to show jump clear on the third day, especially at the upper levels. How do you take a fit, but possibly tired horse, who just galloped several miles across country over nearly 30 obstacles at 550 meters per minute and make him be careful and tidy the next day?
With the extremely competitive modern sport, there’s been a need for a show jumping specialist coach for the Land Rover U.S. Eventing team who could travel to competitions and help riders, as well as work with them individually during training sessions.
With chef d’equipe David O’Connor’s ambitious plan for the team’s international success laid out last year, a call for applicants for the new position went out last December from the U.S. Equestrian Federation, and Silvio Mazzoni was chosen in early February.
“It’s never an easy process because a lot of these guys have their own people that they ride with and everyone is really busy and has a lot of clients and people and horse shows that they do on their own, so finding the right match was key—someone who could work really well with David and really well with the riders,” said USEF Managing Director of Eventing, Joanie Morris. “Everyone felt like Silvio would be that person.”
Morris, who attended a training session in Ocala, Fla., where Mazzoni was helping riders, said the last few months have been a “getting-to-know-you” phase for both Mazzoni and the horses and riders.
“He’s got a nice, quiet way about him and he seems like he’s a really good horseman,” she said. “He understands the horses and the lessons are very individual for the horses and what they need. I think the riders appreciate that. He listens to them and works with them and doesn’t just come in and say, ‘This is what we’re doing.’ The goal is not to make them all the same—the goal is to maximize their strengths and hopefully all jump clear rounds.”
Mazzoni, 41, will work with horses and riders throughout the season. He made his first appearance as show jumping coach at the Red Hills Horse Trials (Fla.) on March 6-9.
“I think everyone’s excited about the new relationship and getting someone in to help us as the show jumping becomes more and more technical and really important,” said Morris. “It’s a big deal and it’s good to have someone with that level of knowledge and expertise to help David hopefully get us jumping consistently and dependably good rounds from here on out.”
A soft-spoken family man, Mazzoni splits his time between Middleburg, Va., and Reddick, Fla., with his wife, amateur jumper rider Jessie Mazzoni, and two daughters, Senna, 4, and newly arrived Mila, born in January. The couple recently renamed their business Senmila Farm, after their daughters.
Born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Silvio started his riding career in the jumper ring in his native country, but soon found his way to eventing. He competed to the CCI*** level in South America with Piko’s Triky and was named to the Argentinean team for the 1998 World Equestrian Games (Rome), but the gelding unfortunately pulled a suspensory ligament at the last minute.
After he was rehabbed, Piko’s Triky’s owner sold him and Silvio decided to switch back to show jumping. “In Argentina, there’s not much money in eventing and it was a lot of time and training for one horse, so I decided to keep going with jumpers,” he said.
Silvio brought his grand prix jumper at the time, Guillit Shagal, with him when he moved to the U.S. in 2003 and worked for Acorn Hill Farm and Windsor Farm in Virginia before branching out on his own eight years ago with a thriving teaching, training and horse sales business. He’s competed to the grand prix level on several different horses, most recently on his wife’s horse Terra Hornero, and that horse’s sire, Remonata Habano.
The Chronicle recently talked with Silvio about his plans for the U.S. Eventing Team. “You’re the only person who’s gotten so many words from me!” he joked. “I don’t talk too much.”
Why did you want to apply for the job?
“When we moved [to Florida,] I started a new business and I worked with a lot of eventers and liked the opportunity and the challenge.
"I’m very excited. In the jumper world, it’s not about me anymore because I have two daughters and my time is for them. I want to focus more on the training than competing. When you’re competing, you need to travel all the time on the road. I like to teach more.
"I couldn’t believe [I got the job.] I never thought I was going to [get it] but I was very excited. I love to teach and I did eventing and I know how an eventer feels after cross-country and after a gallop at 550 mpm for 12 minutes. The next day, the horse is tired and to put everything together is not easy. I know how it works, so I think I can help.”
What are your first impressions of our upper level riders that you’ve worked with so far? What are you focusing on?
“I’m getting to know the riders and horses and watching them go to try to see the problems and start fixing them. We are focusing on balance of the horse and balance of the rider. There are very, very good horses and riders.
"I [like to be able to] open and close the step of the horse, like an oxer to a tight vertical to an oxer. Or oxer-oxer where the horse has to go and slow down and balance again. After the cross-country, the step is really big and working on opening and closing the step makes it easier on the last day to get a better jump, even with a tired horse.”
What do you think you’ll offer to the U.S. eventing team?
“I hope to get us to more clean rounds!”
What has it been like working with David O’Connor? How do your ideas fit with his?
“It has been great; we think very similarly so it works well. As part of a team and to make things work across all three disciplines, we have to be on the same page. I watched him giving lessons [at the training sessions] and he’s with me when I work with the riders.”
What are your current plans for working with the eventers?
“I’m going to be there [at competitions] as much as I can. Some of them still have their own trainers, but I’ll be there watching them and talking with their trainers and try to be on the same page.”