Monday, Apr. 15, 2024

There’s “Mutch” Ado About Zazou Hoffman


Before winning the 2006 Ronnie Mutch Scholarship for up-and-coming young equitation riders, Zazou Hoffman had never ridden in a 3'6" equitation class, but it didn’t take her long to figure out how to be competitive.

After the R.W. Mutch Foundation granted Hoffman two weeks of free lessons with prominent trainer Missy Clark during the Winter Equestrian Festival (Wellington, Fla.), Hoffman began transforming herself into a force to be reckoned with.
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Before winning the 2006 Ronnie Mutch Scholarship for up-and-coming young equitation riders, Zazou Hoffman had never ridden in a 3’6″ equitation class, but it didn’t take her long to figure out how to be competitive.

After the R.W. Mutch Foundation granted Hoffman two weeks of free lessons with prominent trainer Missy Clark during the Winter Equestrian Festival (Wellington, Fla.), Hoffman began transforming herself into a force to be reckoned with.

About three years ago, knowing that her family couldn’t afford to support her riding habit and desire to excel in the show ring, Hoffman and her mother discovered the R.W. Mutch Educational Foundation website one day while surfing the Internet. Applying for the first time when she was only 12, Hoffman was voted runner-up for the scholarship, but told to try again the following year. A long 12 months later, Hoffman applied again, becoming the first recipient of the working student scholarship, a new addition to the R.W. Mutch Educational Foundation program.

“Finding out I was the recipient was so special,” recalled Hoffman, who resides with her family in Santa Monica, Calif. “I had been catch riding a little before then but hadn’t shown at that level.”

As one of the requirements for scholarship consideration, applicants had to mail in a video including flatwork, gymnastics work and jumping at 3’6″. In addition, Hoffman also had to explain on camera why she felt she was deserving of the scholarship.

“I expressed how I don’t have the financial situation to support my riding and how the Ronnie Mutch Scholarship seemed like a great opportunity to improve and learn a lot. I don’t know if they liked it or not, but I put in additional rounds because I felt that the extra video gave them more of a chance to see who I was,” added Hoffman, now 15.

A few rounds on her mare (a horse she acquired for free) in the children’s jumpers and a short clip of a children’s hunter round on her mother’s gelding as well as one in the junior hunters proved enough for the board at the R.W. Mutch Foundation to choose Hoffman as a recipient.

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“I wasn’t surprised that she won the scholarship. She’s always been brave and determined,” said Meredith Bullock, who’s been training Hoffman for nearly a decade. “I have such respect for her. She’s an amazing individual who handles herself very maturely.”

Nails For Breakfast

With only a few weeks before her maiden voyage to the Winter Equestrian Festival for two free weeks of training with Clark, Hoffman started making trip arrangements for herself and her mother.

“Of course, I was really excited to be training with Missy, but it was also very intimidating because I’d heard how strict she is,” said Hoffman who now laughs about her nerves. “I came to find out that most of it
wasn’t true. Somebody had told me that Missy ate nails for breakfast, but she isn’t like that at all! She was really nice to me and encouraging and comforting. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”

Unfortunately, her arrival in Wellington didn’t go quite as planned. The airline lost her luggage, thus forcing Hoffman to attend her first lesson with Clark missing many of the riding essentials, including spurs and chaps.

But, she wasn’t about to let misplaced baggage ruin her trip. “The horse I rode that day was extremely lazy, and I didn’t have my spurs, which made it even harder. But Missy didn’t pick on me too much. Although after that lesson, it was about me being more aggressive in my riding,” recalled Hoffman.

Wanting to make the most out of her two-week opportunity with Clark, Hoffman tried to be the first one to the barn in the morning and the last one to leave in the evening. Aside from cleaning tack and assisting with the preparation of horses for the show ring, Hoffman also had the privilege of showing in the 3’6″ equitation and the children’s jumpers, receiving a reserve call in an APSCA Maclay class.

“Zazou is incredibly naturally gifted. In fact, she’s one of most naturally gifted little kids I’ve seen in a long, long time. Her position is gorgeous, she has a soft, empathetic style and horses just love her,” praised Clark. “Not only is she a natural rider, but she works incredibly hard at it. She’s got a great work ethic—you’d think she was going on 35, not 15.”

Perhaps her most astounding accomplishment during her two-week stint in Wellington was the remodeling of her show-ring attitude.

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“We worked on giving me the mentality that I needed to get the job done no matter what. From Missy I learned that hard work really pays off, and if you’re dedicated to the sport you’ll go a long way, you just need to keep at it,” explained Hoffman. “I’m much more confident when I walk in the ring now. Missy builds confidence in her riders and wants them to feel like when they go in the ring they can win, whereas before I went in thinking ‘I may be able to get around the course.’ ”

But Clark denies having a magic wand that whispers secret words to her riders before they enter the ring. “I think the success comes from the program and us getting to know each other. They just need to keep doing it and getting in the ring and adding mileage,” said Clark modestly.

And while Hoffman agreed that mileage and practice have a lot to do with her success, she’s also quick to credit her peers who’ve been a tremendous help along the way. “I think it has a lot has to do with  the fact that Missy has so many good riders surrounding you. It makes you feel that she can help you improve too,” said Hoffman.

Soaring High

For slightly more than a year, Hoffman has been paired with Clark’s horse, Littlefoot, and they’ve become a combination to contend with. Within a few months after training with Clark for the first time, Hoffman took home the blue ribbon at the Region 1 ASPCA Maclay Regionals, held at the Grand Fall Classic (Westbrook, Conn.), and placed fifth in the Pessoa/USEF Hunter Seat Medal Finals (Harrisburg, Pa.) as well as 13th in the APSCA Maclay Finals (Syracuse, N.Y.).

This year, Hoffman once again has her sights set high.“My goals for showing on the West Coast are really
whatever comes up for me to ride. I’m not in a position to be picking and choosing. I’ll ride whatever is offered to me!” said Hoffman, who’s had the privilege of riding horses for Olivia Esse and Randy Durand. “But as for the East Coast, I would like to do well in Medal finals again and also start doing jumpers a
little more.”

Bullock added, “She always has a goal in mind each year aside from bigger, more long-term goals and that helps motivate her and keep her on track.”

Eager to step out of the limelight and thank the R.W. Mutch Foundation for her success, Hoffman still exemplifies the ideals of the late horseman in her charisma, charm and dedication.

“The scholarship has gotten my name out there, and since then people have offered me a lot more horses to ride on both coasts. It’s been amazing, all of it,” Hoffman said.

Elizabeth Shoudy

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