Harrisburg, Pa.—Oct. 18
If there’s one thing Kelli Cruciotti has learned, it’s to never assume a win is a given. And as she exited the Pennsylvania National ring after a clear jump-off in the $50,000 Big Jump, she kept remembering that fact.
Sure, she had bested current FEI World Cup champion Beezie Madden by a tenth of a second. And sure, she’d known her horse Hadja Van Orshof for coming on three years. But she was still only the fourth rider in the seven woman jump-off with plenty of turning and burning left to catch her time.
“I never know anymore,” said Cruciotti. “The riders are so fast that come behind you. So you try not to get your hopes up. You obviously always keep your fingers crossed, but it’s never over ‘til it’s over.”
As a junior Cruciotti had racked up an impressive resume like winning the 2015 Pessoa/U.S. Hunt Seat Medal Final. Upon turning professional after her 18th birthday deadline, she decided to join her mother Cindy Cruciotti at Serenity Farm (Colorado) and take on the next challenge.
“Being a professional, it’s like the hardest and best job all combined in one. I’m fortunate to have the greatest team,” said Kelli, who also trains with Peter Wylde in addition to her mother Cindy. “I have amazing role models which makes it easier. But it’s tough—the competition is so much harder. They go so much faster. So you’re always pushing yourself to do better and be better. So when it actually works out it feels amazing.”
Work out it certainly did as no one could catch 21-year-old’s time, earning her the blue above a field of 34 packed with Olympians, World Cup riders and World Equestrian Games competitors.
“[It’s] a feeling like no other. I feel very privileged to be here,” said Kelli. “And they’re fantastic role models for me to be able to follow. So I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
But to make the moment even more rewarding, the win came aboard a mare that wasn’t always a given herself. Kelli purchased the gray Belgian Warmblood (Cabrio Van De Heffinck—Victory Van Orshof, Darco) right after turning professional. And the mare’s sensitivity led for a “slow and steady wins the race” mentality.
“When we got her, she took a while to get up to this level,” said Kelli. “She’s so sensitive about things around her like people or crowds or new people, so it kind of took us a long time to build her up to this level. We went really slow [and] took our time.”
With Kelli’s encouragement, Hadja Van Orshof started learning to enjoy the spotlight—soon connecting the dots between the big classes and the big treats afterwards. The Big Jump win not only represented the progress; it also gave Kelli a taste of the future.
“We’ve put a lot of time into her. So to see her develop like this for the whole team it’s really special,” said Kelli. “I’m really excited for the next few years with her. She’s just 11, so I’m hoping we have a big future together.”
The Chronicle will be on-site at the Pennsylvania National bringing you beautiful photos, interviews and more, so check back throughout the competition. Don’t forget to follow the Chronicle on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @Chronofhorse. We will have full analysis of the competition in the Nov. 5 issue of the magazine.