At the age of just 15, Juliette Joseph has ridden more horses and jumped more jumps than most riders twice her age. As a full-time working student for Robyn Stiegler of Citrus Hill Farms in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., Joseph puts in long days doing all of the typical tasks that working students do—setting jumps, helping around the barn, grooming lots of horses, and riding, sometimes as many as seven horses a day.
But that is just the beginning; Joseph then has to spend several hours completing schoolwork assigned through her University of Nebraska online high school homeschooling program.
This weekend, at the ASCPA Maclay Region 8 Championships during the Blenheim Fall Tournament (Calif.), Joseph not only qualified for the ASPCA Maclay Final but also was awarded the Shelby Drazan Memorial Award, a scholarship granted to “an individual that has displayed sportsmanship, integrity and passion in the show jumping arena as well as in the community.” It was the culmination of an emotional evening, which also included a retirement ceremony for a former equitation mount, Vigo, owned by Stiegler. Joseph’s eyes teared up when they announced her as the winner, an unusually outward display of emotion from this seasoned competitor.
The scholarship will give Joseph, who lives in San Diego, funding for roundtrip air and ground transportation for one horse and equipment to compete at the fall indoor shows as well as $2,000 towards the Dover/USEF Medal entries at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show in Harrisburg. The award is given by the Drazan family together with H.E. “Tex” Sutton Forwarding Company in memory of Shelby, herself a former equitation rider.
The award comes after what has been a long nine months of transition for Joseph, who is still 14 in horse show years. A dedicated rider since the age of 6, when her grandmother gave her a birthday present of riding lessons, Joseph’s passion allowed her skills to progress at an almost meteoric rate. She soon began showing extensively in classes ranging from ponies to children’s medals to low level jumpers before starting in some 3’6″ eq competitions about four years ago. This year will be her second trip east to compete in the finals, but the first without the support of her mother, Rachel, who passed away unexpectedly in January of this year.
Stiegler and Joseph have been close since they first began working together over two years ago, and now the pair are virtually inseparable. “We are on the road more than we are at home,” said Stiegler. “I have taken her in. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Juliette’s father, Michael, has been as supportive as possible, often dropping her off at the barn at 6 a.m. while en route to work, as she is still too young to drive. To get to horse shows, sometimes she takes the train or finds someone else to drive her. Juliette admits that it is hard on her father and brother, Blake, to have her gone so much of the time. “When I am home, we try to maximize our time together,” said Juliette. “They are very supportive.”
Juliette is equally determined to maximize her time in the saddle, striving to grow as a horseman. “You will always find her with the horses,” said Stiegler. “She is always helping the grooms. She never turns down a ride. West coast or east coast, everyone knows who she is. She is one of the hardest working kids that I know.”
It has been three years since Juliette has owned her own horse, so many of her rides have belonged to clients of trainers like Nick Haness, Archie Cox, Liz Reilly, Emily Esau and Carleton Brooks, in addition to those with Stiegler. Juliette’s most recent partner in the equitation classes, Hudson Bay, is owned by Breanna Bunevacz. Juliette showed him in the Region 8 ASPCA Maclay regional and qualified for the Final.
Juliette qualified for the Dover/USEF Medal Final on him in early September during a two week window while Bunevacz was out of town; that was the only other time she has ever competed him. “I am so grateful that Breanna was willing to share him with me again for regionals,” said Juliette.
Stiegler says that her clients have helped to create a wonderfully supportive environment for Juliette, and in return, Juliette shows her gratitude. “They let her ride their horses, and they help pay for her classes,” said Stiegler. “She never falters. She was the same way even before her mom passed. Her sportsmanship with the other kids is just amazing.”
Applicants for the Shelby Drazan Award were asked to write an essay detailing how they started riding and why they are passionate about the sport—but also highlighting why sportsmanship and horsemanship are important. “I think that in the last few years, the sport has changed,” said Juliette. “A lot of kids don’t want to spend as much time with their horses. I think that is sad, because why would you want to ride if you don’t want to spend time with them? The ones that excel are the ones who care about the horses. Horses give you as much as you are willing to put in. Your horse will not try for you if you don’t have a relationship with them.”
Stiegler says that this was the last year of finals for Juliette in the 12-14 age category, and in one round of recent California medal championship, her horse refused a fence. In discussing the ride afterwards, Stiegler told Juliette that she thought the horse might be sore. Juliette chose to not continue to compete because it wouldn’t be right for the horse.
“I don’t like to see when riders are upset with their horses if they have a bad round or don’t win,” said Juliette. “The horse took them around, and they walked out okay. No matter how much you wanted to win, you walked out OK, and that horse took care of you. You aren’t hurt. You shouldn’t get upset.”
Juliette has been grateful for the support of her barn community and Stiegler in particular. “Robyn has done a lot for me,” she said. “I stay with her when we are showing, and she is always inviting me in with open arms. She always finds me a horse to show that weekend, or for the finals. She has taught me so much, so many lessons.”
Juliette’s humility, work ethic and dedication seem to make those around her want to continue to support her. Earning the Shelby Drazan Award helps to guarantee that Juliette will be able to compete on the east coast this fall. The next step will be to find a horse. “I am going to try out a horse this week,” said Juliette. “I may also try out some horses when we get east. Robyn is looking and will help me find one.”
For a young woman like Juliette, Stiegler is more than willing to take that on that task. “Juliette represents what a true horseman should be,” said Stiegler. “She is a little old school that way.”
Juliette is reticent to identify any specific goals for the future; instead, she wants to keep possibilities open. “I love all three rings—hunters, jumpers and equitation—and I just want to get as far as I can,” she said. “I just want to improve as a rider and horseman and see where that takes me.”