Ringside Chat: Adrienne Hillas Balances Tax Returns And Training For USEA YEH West Coast Title

Oct 28, 2020 - 3:00 PM

Adrienne Hillas calls Luxury Mail her “little brown unicorn,” despite the Selle Français gelding standing somewhere close to 18 hands. (She hasn’t put a stick on him, but he’s definitely big.)

It turns out that unicorn can really jump, as “Remy” (Jaguar Mail—Aquidam, Quidam De Revel) launched to the top of the 5-year-old championship at the Dutta Corp./USEA Young Event Horse Championships—West Coast, held Oct. 24-25 at Twin Rivers Ranch in Paso Robles, California.

Tenth after dressage, they moved up on the strength of Remy’s jumping, finishing on a score of 88.6.

“I was nervous, but I just trusted that he would do what he always does, and he did,” said Hillas, 33, Bell Canyon, California. “He gave all the jumps extra room, and he was so bold, so confident, just understood every question that was put in front of him. He couldn’t have been any better. He was amazing.”

We caught up with Hillas to learn more.

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Adrienne Hillas and Luxury Mail. Tina Fitch Photography Photo

Tell me about Luxury Mail.

I got him as a 2-year-old from Harrington Horses [in England]. My upper-level horse at the time didn’t really want to do the upper-level stuff anymore, and I was trying to figure out how I was going to afford all of it. I said, “I’ll figure it out. I always figure it out. I’ll just get the horse, and I’ll work more.”

He got here, and I’ve done pretty much everything myself. I think he had been backed a couple of times before he came here, but I’m the only one who’s ever jumped him. I’ve worked with him a lot on the ground, and I take lessons here and there. I’ve done some lessons with Hawley Bennett-Awad and Andrea Baxter, but all the work here at home has been me and looking up different exercises that are good for young horses. The jumping comes very naturally for him.

The hardest part for us is the dressage because he’s huge. I just want to be very, very careful that I don’t push him too hard because of his size, so I’ve brought him along really slowly.

I did the [USEA Future Event Horse program] as a 3-year-old to get the exposure, and then I did the FEH as a 4-year-old as well. I think that taking it slow has worked for him. He’s incredibly smart and bold and brave, and for his size and age it’s ridiculous how adjustable he is. He’s remarkable.

He’s just a giant puppy dog. His personality, he wants to be in your pocket, he wants to be your buddy. The two hardest things I had breaking him were that I couldn’t get him to stay in the turnout—he kept jumping out—and the other thing was getting on him was really hard! He’s just a good dude.

How did you get into eventing?

I started in the hunter ring, but I kept getting in trouble because I kept taking care of the horses, and the grooms didn’t like that. My trainer moved back east and suggested eventing because I didn’t really fit in the hunter world.

Mill Creek [Equestrian Center] was right down the street from our house, so I went there and trained with Cory Walkey. The rest is history. I loved it. I love the eventing community. I feel like we’re really supportive of each other. Even this weekend, it was a huge deal to me, and I think to a lot of people, that we won this. I have so many people reaching out and congratulating me. I just think that’s awesome that we can come together.

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Luxury Mail stands around 18 hands. Photo Courtesy Of Adrienne Hillas

You work a full-time job in addition to having a few equestrian clients, right?

I’m a CPA. I’m a partner in [my dad Andrew Hillas’] firm, but I love the horses, and that’s been the reason I wake up every morning, to ride. I have about eight clients that I teach, and then I do my CPA stuff, so I don’t sleep!

I wanted to be a full-time horse professional, but my dad was always worried that I wouldn’t be independent enough, and he kind of hammered that into me, that I needed to be independent if I wanted to accomplish what I want to accomplish with my life. He didn’t think I would make enough money.

He started this firm. He’s achieved all of his dreams, and he’s been a major source of guidance for me, and I wouldn’t be who I am and what I am at all today if it wasn’t for him. He instilled in me that I need my education. Nobody can take that from you, and if you get hurt, you better have something to fall back on.

I was defiant for a short amount of time while I was in college. I had 20 horses in training and a full load of classes. I was helping a dressage trainer breaking her babies, and one of them kicked me in the face. He was just really weird, and I went to get on him, and another horse walked behind him, but it scared him. He leaped forward and fired back and nailed me in the face, and I went flying. Luckily he didn’t have hind shoes. I went to the barn that day and was like, “I’m doing everything I can to accomplish what I want with my horse, and I almost got hurt on another horse.”

I was like, “All right, Dad, you’re right. I’m going to finish school.”

But I love the teaching. I have adult amateurs. They’re my favorite to teach because they really want to learn. I have a couple that are aiming to compete.

I’m based at Bell Canyon Equestrian Center. I share a dressage arena with an upper-level dressage rider who lets me set up jumps when she’s not using the arena.

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Adrienne Hillas’ fiancé Brett Seidenglanz helps her at home. Photo Courtesy Of Adrienne Hillas

Do you have eyes on the ground at home?

I took a clinic with Buck Davidson this year, and my fiancé [Brett Seidenglanz], who is trying to learn as much as he can about horses because he thinks this is the coolest thing ever, was there. When I jump now, he just repeats things he heard Buck say to me! It’s very helpful. He doesn’t understand anything about horses. He’s a heavy equipment operator, and he understands mechanics, so he can see when something’s not right, but he doesn’t necessarily know how to tell you how to fix it because he doesn’t know about horses.

But after hearing what Buck would say, he could kind of apply it. I have to give him a major shoutout.

What does your family think about your eventing?

It was really nice this weekend because I got to share it with my parents. I think my dad is realizing how important this is to me. This might be a horrible thing to say, but the best thing that happened to our relationship was COVID because now we can work from home, and he realized he doesn’t need to manage everybody in the office, and that things will still get done. He’s turned around in how much he’s supported me, and that’s been huge. It’s been hard to try to go after your dreams when you have someone telling you it’s too hard. Now he thinks this is possible. I’m like, “Yeah, it’s always been possible! Let’s do this.”

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Photo Courtesy Of Adrienne Hillas

How do you manage a full-time job and riding?

I wake up early, I get my stuff done, and I make it happen because that’s how all the greats have made things happen.

[Kobe Bryant was an inspiration for me.] You listen to him and hear how he spoke. I was lucky enough to be No. 24 this weekend, and I think that was a huge help. When I went to pick up my packet and saw I was 24, I took a deep breath immediately.

I just think about what I want to accomplish and the things I want to do, and I wake up every morning, and I’m ready to do them.

What are your hopes for the future with Remy?

I treat him like a five-star horse. I do my vet’s tax returns, so he gets free acupuncture every month. I figure if I keep his body right, then that’s the first step to success.

I would love to get [the Holekamp/Turner Grant] to compete in France at [Le Mondial du Lion d’Angers]. I would have no words if that happened. I didn’t even have words after this weekend. I was crying.

But with him, dreams are endless. I know he can do anything. If we could represent the U.S. in any fashion, I would love that. Going to Land Rover Kentucky, that would be more of a long-term goal.

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