Friday, May. 24, 2024

Eventing Horseman Of The Year: Gina Miles

At first glance, Gina Miles seems an unlikely fit for the role of professional event rider, particularly an Olympic individual silver medalist.

Miles and her only advanced horse, McKinlaigh, are based in central California, a continent away from the traditional eventing hotspots. Barely 35 years old, she’s a devoted wife and the mother of two young children. She attempts to spend almost every spare moment at Disneyland. She wears lipstick.

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At first glance, Gina Miles seems an unlikely fit for the role of professional event rider, particularly an Olympic individual silver medalist.

Miles and her only advanced horse, McKinlaigh, are based in central California, a continent away from the traditional eventing hotspots. Barely 35 years old, she’s a devoted wife and the mother of two young children. She attempts to spend almost every spare moment at Disneyland. She wears lipstick.

But the intense look on Miles’ face when she and McKinlaigh gallop around a CCI**** cross-country course is proof positive that having a life outside of horses hasn’t dulled her competitive edge.

“Gina’s obviously become very good,” said U.S. Chef d’Equipe Capt. Mark Phillips, who coached Miles and McKinlaigh to their silver-medal finish last summer. “In Hong Kong she was totally focused and single-minded, and the results speak to it. If you’re going to be a successful competitor, you have to do things in a balance.”

Miles’ assistant trainer Rebecca Braitling sees that balance in action on a daily basis.

“Gina is always bubbly, and she definitely makes the whole work thing very entertaining,” Braitling said. “But she can totally focus whenever she needs to and knuckle down and get the job done. Because she’s a mom, she’s so talented at being able to multi-task. She can definitely get in the zone.”

Miles also utilizes her take-charge attitude as chairman of the U.S. Eventing Association’s Professional Horseman’s Council and the Eventing Standards Task Force. In the past year, she’s adopted two controversial pet projects: instituting an optional technical merit score on cross-country and creating a new level between training and preliminary.

“I didn’t want to be one of the people who just complains about the stuff that’s going on,” she said. “If you don’t like what’s going on, you have to jump in there and help make it better.”

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Miles said she never charted out her family life, riding career and leadership roles, but she’s made them work over the years.

“I really never thought through how tough it would be,” she admitted. “But I always knew I wanted to have kids, and I knew I wanted to do all this with the horses. Now I wouldn’t want it any other way.

“Everyone knows you can have a rough day at the barn, but you can come home to your family, and they’re so happy to see you,” she continued. “And you can have a really rough day at home with the 2-year-old’s tantrums, and you’re really happy to go to the barn! They balance each other out, and it makes you feel really well-rounded.”

Miles’ high school boyfriend and now-husband Morgan grew up on a cattle ranch and competed in bull riding in college, also tagging along to support Gina on many Pony Club excursions across California. Their two children, 10-year-old Austin and 3-year-old Taylor, also harbor interest in horses, especially now that Gina has started a lesson program for children ages 6 to 10 at her Atascadero, Calif., training facility.

Personal Profile

Age: 35

Hometown:
Creston, Calif.

Family:
Husband Morgan, son Austin (age 10) and daughter Taylor (age 3).

Favorite Vacation Spot:
“We’re serious Disney fanatics. We went to Disneyland in Hong Kong after the Olympics and spent five days at the California Disneyland over Thanksgiving. My life’s ambition is to get into Club 33, which is the private restaurant and bar at Disneyland.”

Extracurricular Exercises Of Choice:
“I love to dance. I’ve been known to dance on some tables at competitors’ parties. And I used to downhill race in high school, so we’ve now started taking the kids skiing.”

Where She Keeps Her Medals:
“[The Olympic individual silver medal] has been traveling with me everywhere I go in its little case in my purse. But there’s a spot waiting for it on the mantle. For my [team gold and individual bronze] medals from [the 2007 Pan American Games in] Rio, Morgan made a little stand for me out of McKinlaigh’s shoes and my cross-country pinney.”

When she was 10, Gina attended the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games and had aspired to compete at the Games ever since. She worked her way from the Hobby Horse Pony Club to the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s Young Rider Program, also serving as a working student for David Adamo in Petaluma, Calif. She then began riding with Brian and Lisa Sabo while earning her crop science degree at California Polytechnic State University. They helped her attain her A Pony Club rating and compete at the 1993 North American Young Riders Championships, where she placed sixth individually.

After college, Gina and Morgan took over the management of Thom Schulz and Laura Coats’ Rainbow Ranch in Creston, Calif. Schulz and Coats would soon after unite Gina with their 5-year-old Irish Sport Horse, McKinlaigh.

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During the next 10 years, Gina had Austin, McKinlaigh began competing, and Taylor later joined the crew. Schulz also shared his passion for planes with Morgan, who’s currently in the process of joining the California Highway Patrol’s Pilot Division.

“They’ve all grown up here,” Schulz explained. “When you’re living on a ranch together, there’s nothing that’s sacred. They’re just like family.”

Like Schulz and Coats, most of Gina’s supporters have been with her from the beginning. Sara Williams first rode with Gina in Pony Club, and the two remained close while attending Cal Poly together. Now a busy defense attorney and lesson barn owner, Williams makes time to fly to every major competition to groom for McKinlaigh.

“It’s really exciting to see one of your best friend’s dreams basically come true,” Williams said. “We don’t have the normal groom relationship, but it’s worked because she’s been so flexible about me always flying in at the last minute. It’s Gina’s way of including the people she loves and being equally supportive of all the people who support her.”

Unstinting support from Morgan, who has made countless trips across the country with a horse trailer, as well as from her mother, owners and friends, has allowed Gina to compete all over the world with McKinlaigh, eventually culminating in their Olympic medal. After a decade together, she said her bond with the horse is nearly telepathic.

“The two of you are just going, and you know what the other one is going to do,” she said. “It’s an amazing feeling. It’s the most fun ever. Every course is just such a real pleasure.”  

Kat Netzler

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