For some, family time is spent around the dinner table, but for Celia (16) and Liza Cram (15), familial bonding happens in the barn and on the road between shows. Their mom, Cathy Cram, trains students at their Highfields Equestrian in Aiken, South Carolina, and their dad, Rick Cram, manages horse shows through his Progressive Show Jumping, Inc.
Liza and Celia have earned plenty of accolades in the hunter, jumper and equitation rings, with both girls claiming wins in the regional equitation finals in South Carolina. Liza earned the Pony Jumper Style Award at the 2018 USEF Pony Finals and claimed the 3’3” small junior hunter championship at the Pennsylvania National this fall as well as the Claire Mawdsley Scholarship Award, which goes to the highest placing junior who attends a “brick and mortar” high school on a full-time basis. Celia placed seventh in her first international hunter derby and earned team gold two years in a row at the USHJA Zone Jumper Team Championships. Both girls qualified for the Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunter Seat Medal and the ASPCA Maclay Finals this year.
Junior reporter Ella Doerr gathered a few of their championship director chairs near their stalls at the Pennsylvania National and chatted with Cathy, Celia and Liza about life in the family business.
What were the logistics behind getting both girls to the big eq finals this year?
Cathy: To go to the Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunter Seat Medal Finals, we had to haul other horses, bring our own shavings, groom, load, unload. We created a Facebook group to connect with other people going who were traveling on their own. With other independent competitors coming together, we ended up splitting a tack stall and sharing other expenses with several other travelers. We teamed up for rideshares and accommodations.
Liza, you came here to show in the junior hunters and the Medal. You were champion in the 3’3 small junior hunter division on Notable. How did that feel?
Liza: The first trip he was pretty tense because, unlike most of the horses there, he had never shown indoors. After the first line he took a breath, and he just got better from there. The handy is my favorite class, and after his prior tour around the ring he was ready to go. Everything I asked of him he did, and he was so amazing for me. He really trusts me, and that’s what makes us a good team. I’m with him all the time, no grooms. I flat him in the ring; I tack him up; I unbraid and wrap him after. Doing all of these things helps me get to know all sides of him. Winning champion, to be honest, was amazing, and it made it feel that much more spectacular that I put in all the work to make it happen.
Why did you decide to scratch him from the Medal?
Liza: “Monte” had been so good all week, and it wasn’t fair to ask him to do a demanding course when he was tired.
Celia, your Medal trip didn’t go as you hoped, and your horse stopped. What are your thoughts looking back at your experience?
Celia: It was an amazing experience to train with Bobby Braswell. He used to train my mom as a junior, so that was cool. He has so much to offer, and he has had people win the Medal in the past, so he knows exactly what the judges will look for and what will help me. He immediately understood my horse wasn’t as nice as some of the others and helped me so that I could give my horse a good experience. Although it didn’t turn out as I had hoped, I am looking forward to the Maclay and coming back next year better than ever.
What is it like working as a family?
Liza: It’s hard because she’s my mom and my trainer and so that’s difficult because we argue, but we work through it.
What’s it like riding together and being siblings?
Liza: Oh gosh, it’s super competitive.
Celia: Yeah it’s super competitive.
Liza: She gets mad at me because I’m younger, but sometimes I do better, but sometimes because she is older, it makes me want to do better.
Do you ever ride against each other?
Celia: I beat her in the eq.
Liza: And I beat her in the hunters!
Liza: Celia has a jumper, but she likes the hunters. I have a hunter, but I like the jumpers.
How is that working out?
Celia: If the other sister can ride it better then we will have the other one get on it.
Do you have any special show superstitions?
Liza: I always wear mismatched socks. If I wear a new pair of socks then I don’t do well, but if I wear mismatched socks then I’ll usually win at least one class.
Celia: I wear mismatched socks every day, but it doesn’t seem to make any difference.
Did you both start out doing leadline?
Celia: We started out in leadline at Blowing Rock [North Carolina]. We rode two ponies, Marshmallow and Friday. Then we did walk-trot, walk-trot-canter, cross-rails. I skipped short stirrup and went straight to small ponies and then mostly catch rode larges. Then I did the junior hunters.
Cathy: Liza’s allergies were so bad, we would put her on a pony, and she would just sneeze and sneeze and sneeze. Her face would turn red. She would be like, “Mom I do not want to do this anymore.” So she stopped. I tried really hard not to take her to the barn, and I wouldn’t have any horse laundry in the car, and then one day she saw Celia cantering for the first time on Molly, and she was like, “I want to do that.” And so then she picked it back up, but for a long time we wouldn’t let her groom or anything, and she caught up with her riding pretty quick.
Liza: I had the best short-stirrup pony in the whole world. His name was Farnley Byron. He was perfect. I mean he could be rotten, but they all can be. I did him in the smalls. Then I rode some mediums, and then I got Venice the pony jumper. She’s pretty perfect. Then I got my horse Notable (Monte).
Cathy: Robin Greenwood is extremely generous to us. She sent us a pony for each kid. It really helped them a whole lot. It was a huge leg up to ride some very nice quality animals that we could not necessarily afford the access to ride ourselves.
What are your biggest fears?
Celia: I used to be super nervous before I would go into the ring. I would shut down, and then I talked to Erin McGuire. She is a sports psychologist, and we just talked about my nerves, and it’s now a whole lot better.
Cathy: Liza is the person you want walking next to you at night down a dark alley.
Liza: But if there is a spider I’m running the other way!
Cathy: I think she meant your biggest riding fears.
Liza: Oh! Seeing it long and knowing that your horse is going to three-leg it or chip. I just give them the reins and think, “Oh God, sorry buddy!”
What are your future goals? Where do you see yourself in five years?
Celia: I want to go pro. Hopefully, I can go to college close to home. We have a family business, so I won’t have to buy my own place, but they won’t retire for a while, so I think I can get a good base as a professional in the horse world. I want to win [the USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals], but you need a really nice, scopey horse for that, so who knows.
Liza: If I get a sponsor I’ll be in Europe riding grand prix horses! Going to the Olympics is my goal.
You fund your riding with your horse sales business at home? What is your process?
Cathy: When a horse comes in, we evaluate it. Each girl rides it, and we figure out which [girl] suits the horse better, and after that they become assigned to the horse. Sometimes one can help a horse work through a problem better than the other. They can also interpret things differently and give feedback to people on the ground and to me; I don’t ride. It was never my intention, but the girls riding them has worked out so well because prospective buyers see videos of girls riding them instead of professionals, and it’s really helpful.
Celia: I feel like now I can point out things. I’ll watch, and I’ll say, “Mom, tell Liza to do this or that.” And now when I ride I know what Mom is going to say before she even says it, and that is giving me more confidence that I will be able to teach and do that for others as a pro myself.
Cathy: It’s important for them to be interactive. I always ask them how their horse feels and what they think instead of telling them what they should do. They comment on each other’s riding, and most of the time it’s appreciated and accepted, but they also know that they can take that input and say, “But that doesn’t feel right,” and then we stop and talk about it again and make sure it works for the horse and the rider.
Celia: Because we have had the opportunities to ride so many catch-rides, and no horse is the same, we have learned so much. We have a lot of experience teaching lead changes, and that helps us teach others how to do the same.
Cathy: They are very intuitive with the horses, I think because they spend so much time with them. We are always the first ones to a horse show, and everyone has to do everything. We don’t have grooms.
Speaking of that, congratulations on winning the groom award.
Liza: We went in for the champion presentation, and they asked who the grooms were, and we said, “We are,” and they said, “Who are you?” And we said, “We are the Cram family.”
Who falls off more?
Liza: Definitely me! I fall off a lot because I do stupid things. I ride bareback and bridleless a lot. We have a ride-a-buck at our just-for-fun shows—you put a dollar under your thigh, and you do a flat class and most of the time end up jumping, and whoever still has the dollar at the end wins everyone else’s money.
Cathy: Liza has steel legs like vice grips.
What’s really hard?
Liza: I’m allergic to horse hair. Clipping is really bad. I have to shower in the wash rack.
Any advice for young riders?
Liza: Never give up. If something happens at the beginning of your course, stay focused and keep going. Don’t give up because you could end up still getting a piece of it if you keep trying.
Celia: A lot of the kids these days have grooms, super ponies, and train with big names, but there are kids out there who don’t have any of that, and my advice to them is to just keep riding and keep getting better. People will see that you’re trying and will give you nice horses to ride.
Liza: Always be grateful too, even if your pony is bad. Never take anything out on your horse. It’s better to have a positive attitude.
What has given you a leg up in your life?
Liza: Byron the pony was perfect because in the beginning I was terrified. Screaming doesn’t help by the way. I used to go around screaming. I had a green pony that was pretty bad and scared me pretty good. Farnley Byron brought my confidence back.
What’s your least favorite thing to do?
Liza: Muck paddocks because I have broken so many pitchforks.
What’s your favorite thing to do at the barn?
Celia: Bareback riding.
Liza: Bareback riding. And grooming too. It’s satisfying. We have a music festival series once a month in the summer, and it’s dark, and we will sometimes ride our horses bareback in the dark with the music going, and it’s really fun.
Ella Doerr, 16, from Avon, North Carolina, is a recipient of the USHJA Youth Leadership Award and the USHJA Foundation Gochman Family Grant. She competes in the pony hunter division and the equitation, and she keeps her ponies at home.