This quick study moved from short stirrup to children’s jumper circuit champion in one short year.
Winning a Winter Equestrian Festival circuit championship in Wellington, Fla., is no simple feat. But for 13-year-old Marquee Cincotta, Rockledge, Fla. it was easier than she expected in 2007.
The talented young rider is the daughter of Kim Johnson and Mark Cincotta, former equestrian acrobatic performers in the Royal Hanneford Circus, which is the second-largest circus in the United States.
Steve Stephens, 2008 Olympic show jumping course designer, and Debbie Stephens, a Pan American Games bronze medalist, are her uncle and aunt.
Through her relationship with the Stephens, Marquee started riding competitively two years ago. In 2007, she moved up from the short stirrup division to the children’s jumpers on Words Of Wisdom, a 21-year-old, Thoroughbred gelding owned by Debbie.
The transition was easy, and Marquee started winning. She won the blue ribbon in more than 35 classes last year and earned the WEF circuit championship aboard Words Of Wisdom to launch their successful season.
Although her parents were involved with horses, Marquee wasn’t raised on horseback. Her mother began vaulting on horseback as an after-school sport in Sarasota, Fla., and from there she joined the circus and eventually met and married Mark, whose family has been in the business since his grandmother traveled with the Ringling Brothers from Germany to the United States.
Kim stayed with the circus for 25 years and traveled to Latin and South America and all over the Eastern United States. Marquee’s older sister Teara was part of the family act too. Because her parents divorced soon after she was born, however, Marquee didn’t participate in the family business.
After Marquee’s mother remarried, the family moved to Orlando, Fla., where Marquee eventually learned to ride. Through their family connections, Marquee and Debbie learned of each other’s involvement with horses and their relative proximity—the Stephens’ farm is in Palmetto.
“Her mom brought her up one weekend. We got some of the older retired ponies out, and she was very natural,” Debbie said. “The following year, we organized it so that she could come every other weekend and show in the short stirrup at WEF. Last year was her first real year of showing on the circuit. To be WEF champion, and all that she won, was just amazing.”
Marquee rode two horses in the children’s jumpers, both former grand prix jumpers, who taught her the ropes. She piloted Chappie, Debbie’s former mount, and Words Of Wisdom, who has a storied career. He competed with Laura Kraut in the grand prix ring and has started numerous riders, including Todd Snell, Chloe Field, Tim Boulton and Michael Morrissey.
“When I first got him, everyone said how lucky I was because he’s such an awesome horse,” Marquee said. “When Laura Kraut said she had him, I was like, ‘Wow. That’s amazing. What a good opportunity I have with him.’
“Words Of Wisdom is the horse I’ve really learned on that you can’t go slow and expect your horse to do everything. [He’s] a wonderful horse with a huge heart for jumping,” she added. “He taught me so much. I don’t think I’d ever be in the jumper mode that I’m in now, going fast and making short turns and all that,
without him. He’s one in a million.”
Debbie said she believes that Marquee’s improvement this past year was dramatic and attributes much of that to her place in the barn. Although she’s family, Marquee isn’t given the opportunity to ride as a
“She’s learned so much, not just from my coaching but from watching the grand prix riders. She doesn’t really stay at her peer level. She walks all of the grand prix courses. Listening, watching and being in the schooling area have allowed her acceleration to a more sophisticated level faster than most,” Debbie explained. “I think that being part of the stable, meaning cleaning her own tack, tacking up her own horses, and doing other people’s tack, she learns.”
Marquee’s family has also seen a change in the young girl who now wants to ride for the U.S. Equestrian Team in the future.
“It’s great to have a 13-year-old who is totally focused,” her mother said. “I think a lot of that comes from Debbie. She picks up her confidence level, which is great. I know from watching her that she’s very competitive. She definitely loves it. Nobody is pushing her to do anything. This is what she wants to do, and it’s a wonderful opportunity for her that I could never afford.”
Winning the WEF circuit championship was a goal from the beginning of the year for Marquee. “I told Debbie before circuit started, ‘We have the long circuit coming, and I really want to do well every weekend and go for circuit champion.’ And I did; it took a lot of classes to win, but my horse and I accepted that and went for it! I learned so much last circuit about riding and even about the horses.”
Like last year, Marquee will spend the winter in Wellington and have a tutor. “I love school, but it’s a big balance between it and the horses. The tutoring allows me to be at the horse show during the week when the professionals are showing. Being able to watch the professionals gives me an invaluable experience, which the kids who come on the weekend miss,” Marquee said.
Marquee and Chappie will move up to the junior jumpers, and her goal is to stay consistent and make a bid to represent her U.S. Equestrian Federation zone in the Prix des States competition at the Pennsylvania National next fall.
“I think she’s realistic, that to duplicate last year’s success in the children’s division would be difficult,” Debbie noted. Marquee and Debbie are also planning a small tour in Europe or at Spruce Meadows (Alta.) for her to gain experience.
In addition to competing, Marquee also became a rider ambassador for Just World International, a non-profit organization that implements sustainable, culturally sensitive projects that benefit underprivileged children around the world.
“I think that’s crucial,” Debbie said. “She’ll probably go with [Just World Executive Director] Jessica Newman at one point to Honduras on a three-week tour so she can really see firsthand how privileged we are, especially in the horse world.”
Marquee also noted that she hopes to expand her equestrian education this year.
“My favorite part about riding is that you know at the end of the day everything’s not over. There’s always more to come and much more to learn,” she said. “It’s one sport that takes courage that some people don’t have, and just being around the horses is so much fun. There’s not one boring moment about riding, and that’s what makes it my favorite sport.”