Don’t let Alex Joerg’s slight Southern drawl and unfailing politeness fool you. This 17-year-old has a thread of fierce determination running through her. Years of mucking stalls, throwing hay bales and cleaning tack have paid off in a big way for Joerg, who’s in Harrisburg, Pa., this weekend for her first Pessoa/USEF Medal Finals.
“It’s an absolute blessing. It’s almost hard to believe I’m at these big finals,” said Joerg. Two years ago, she came to Harrisburg to groom for Bowers Cone, the son of her trainer Gene “Beanie” Cone. “I remember watching all the riders and learning SO much. My riding then was basically just hang on, pretty much,” she said.
“I watched all these people at this horse show and I went home and told myself, ‘Sit up.’ Watching them helped me so much, as a visual aid. I went home and practiced riding like the people I’d watched at Harrisburg. And now here I am, one of those people. Without the money to really do it, it’s more rewarding that I’m able to just be here.”
And in the last two years, Joerg, of Collierville, Tenn., has upped her game enough to be competitive. She’s been in the top 10 of the Region 3 Maclay qualifiers the last two years, and she showed in the ASPCA Maclay Final last year.
“Because I’ve never done it, I don’t have super-high hopes, because I’m not like Tori Colvin or some of the others who do these finals all the time. But I was top-10 at regionals and I’ve gotten around at the Maclay Final last year. It would be amazing to be in the second round,” Joerg said.
Alex Joerg is at home back in the barns with Vainquer, or “Van,” since she’s spent years as a working student to afford her showing. Photo by Molly Sorge
It’s all part of Joerg’s plan to become the best rider and horseman she can be. “She came to me when she was 13 or so and she’s one that wants this to be her life,” said Cone. “She works hard. So I ended up letting her clean stalls, groom horses, go to horse shows. She was my groom, whether I had 12 horses or seven horses. She did it all and did a great job at it. She did it better than anybody.
“Then we decided to start paying her and she’s become a working student,” Cone continued. “She works for everything. She makes feed, if we get hay in, she’s be out there helping. She just does it all. I put her on more and more horses and you could tell she has the potential and the drive to do it.”
Joerg spent every spare moment she could at Cone’s Hunters Edge Stables in Memphis, Tenn., doing whatever tasks needed to be done around the barn and riding whatever horses Cone offered her. Then she started completing her schoolwork via an online program when she was a sophomore, a move that allowed her to expand her horizons.
In the winter of 2014, she spent a few months in Ocala, Fla., working for trainer Shachine Belle and veterinarian Robert Barber. And this winter she spent in Wellington, Fla., working for trainer Alan Korotkin. “That really showed me how hard it is, and after that, I still loved it. I figured if I could get through a season of WEF and love it, I can do this,” she said.
“I went to look for an equitation horse for finals. We went to look at Alan’s farm and Beanie told him, ‘She really wants to come and work for someone here,’ and Alan said ‘I’ll take her.’ So after Thanksgiving last year, I went to Wellington and worked for him. He put me on a lot of horses and I got to show a little bit,” Joerg said.
Joerg’s time in Ocala last year was also a game-changer for her. “It’s made me a better horseman. I really loved working for Dr. Barber, because I got to learn so much from the horse care perspective,” she said. “I got to see it’s not all about riding and jumping and pounding their legs. The whole winter was all about taking care of them. There was one mare who was pregnant and foundering; we’d sleep in the stall with her. I had some intense moments with her that really changed my life and the way I look at things.”
Joerg owned a pony for a brief time when she was younger, and leased a horse from Cone for a few years, but the majority of her rides have been catch-rides. In fact, her horse for the Medal and Maclay finals, Vainquer, belongs to a client of Korotkin’s and is on loan for the month.
Alex Joerg has the ride on Vainquer for the Pessoa/USEF Medal Finals and they were 10th in the Region 3 Maclay qualifier as well. Photo by Sassy Strides Photography
The fall equitation final season is the only time Joerg asks her parents to contribute to her showing. “After I started doing school online, my parents told me riding is my responsibility,” she said.
“Beanie helps me out financially and Alan helped me out a lot. But I make the money by doing stalls and helping with hay and grooming. I ride some customer horses. Beanie was nice enough to put me on some of them and let me show them, and I was able to show those owners that I really want it and I can ride. Last week I rode a customer’s horse in a derby in Louisiana and we won it, so that’s great and hopefully they’ll let me ride more,” she continued.
Joerg shared a story with me that epitomizes how she’s achieved her goals. Cone couldn’t be with her for the Maclay regional competition, so she asked Liza Boyd, a rider she’s looked up to for years, to train her for the weekend.
“Liza said, ‘Yes, but don’t pay me. Come and work for us for a week.’ So, I did, and I had a great time and learned a lot,” Joerg said. She’s extremely appreciative for the helping hands that professionals have given her. “It’s been incredible. I can’t thank all of them enough,” she said. “Beanie has gone above and beyond for me. I could not have done it without him.”
For Cone, it’s enormously gratifying to see Joerg’s hard work pay off and he’s excited to see what she does in the future. “Some of the kids, the ones who want it, grasp hold of it like she does. The ones who want horses as their life, they’re looking at her as a mentor,” he said.
Want to keep track of Alex Joerg on her quest for the Pessoa/USEF Medal Final? Make sure to follow along with the Chronicle because we’ll be live-blogging the class on Sunday, Oct. 11. Don’t miss a minute at our website www.coth.com and Facebook page.