By Lauren R. Giannini
Skyeler Voss loves her morning “commute” — a short walk from home to her office at Morningside Training Farm in The Plains, Virginia. “It’s an eventer’s dream come true,” she said. “Lots of space, rider-friendly, and beautiful. We’re so happy here.”
As head trainer, Skyeler works alongside an amazing support team: Morningside owners Najaf and Leslie Husain, Connor Husain, Erin Murphy, Cali Johnson, her husband Clayton Voss and their daughter. Life couldn’t get much better. Then, last October, the U.S. Equestrian Federation announced that Morningside had been recognized as an official USEF Elite Training Center.
“It has been very exciting. Morningside hosted the summer training sessions for the Land Rover U.S. Eventing Team before the 2015 Pan American Games and the 2016 World Equestrian Games,” said Skyeler. “We had the team every day at our facility, which was an incredible opportunity for our resident riders to see training at the pinnacle of our sport. It allowed Connor and me to experience the inner workings of the U.S. team and to be part of the sport at the highest levels.”
For four years, the pace has been all go. “I’ve been very busy building Morningside Eventing,” Skyeler said. “Connor and I own Morningside Eventing LLC, which controls all the boarding operations on the farm. I also run my own separate teaching and training business, which has grown exponentially since moving to Morningside. I teach up to 35 lessons a week to competitive young riders and adult amateurs from Area 2.”
Skyeler grew up surrounded by horses at her family’s Angelica Run Farm in Vienna, Virginia. Gifted with a 5th birthday pony from her Aunt Patty, two years later Skyeler joined the Difficult Run Pony Club and fell in love with eventing. A three-time winner of the U.S. Pony Club Cavalry Award, she rode on the Area 2 team at three North American Junior and Young Rider Championships: CCI* team bronze in 2000, CCI** team bronze a year later, and in 2003 CCI** team gold, finishing sixth individually. In 2004, Skyeler won the coveted Markham Trophy as the highest-placed Young Rider at the Foxhall CCI***.
In 2006, she turned professional to teach and train, launching her business at Angelica Run. Five years later, she needed more space. Connor, who helped scope out potential properties, recalled, “The minute I saw Morningside, I knew this was the place.”
The big move took place in March 2012. That July, Connor Husain, under Skyeler’s tutelage, won the 2012 CCI** individual gold medal and led Area 2 to team silver in his only year competing in the NAJYRC.
Teaching From Firsthand Experience
Skyeler’s eventing mentors include Jim Wofford, Stuart Black, Phillip Dutton, and Jan Byyny with whom she continues to ride. Her dressage guru is Grand Prix rider Sallie Spenard, who competed in eventing. Her parents, Nancy and the late and very missed Tim Icke, provided an amazing family environment as well as balance between real life and the horses. Skyeler had to work her way up through the levels, attend college, keep up her grades and be a good person.
“I have always wanted my students to learn the way I learned — to work hard, be humble about their successes and to be gracious, win or lose,” said Skyeler. “Young Riders was so influential to my career. It introduced me to my best friends and mentors who I still have today. My experiences as a competitive Young Rider fueled my love for teaching and mentoring this age group of event riders. They’re so impressionable and I love to teach them. Due to my involvement with the Area 2 Young Rider Advancement Program program, I have a young string of talent at the moment. Many have the potential to be not only stars in the sport but also well-rounded horsemen who will have long careers in the business.”
She counts herself lucky to train Connor throughout his childhood and his young rider years. Connor, Skyeler’s assistant trainer, and Erin Murphy help with teaching and training rides. “Because they have been with me since they were very young, the teaching strategy and team dynamic remain cohesive,” said Skyeler. “Lynn Symansky [longtime friend and 2011 Pan Am team gold medalist] and I coach the Area 2 Young Rider Advancement Program, which holds training sessions and fundraisers for the ambitious young rider contingent in the area.”
About six years ago, Skyeler took Sallie Spenard’s advice to contact Tigger Montague, founder of Biostar, to discuss her incredibly hot Advanced mare, Tika. Biostar would become one of Skyeler’s first sponsors.
“Tigger recommended Equilibrium for stress support, comprised of real and whole foods,” said Skyeler. “It was the first product that ever had any effect on this mare. I used Equilibrium religiously with Tika throughout her upper level and International career, especially during travel and intense competition. Due to my success with Tika on Equilibrium, I incorporated this product into my competition regime for numerous other horses.”
Skyeler has always worked with off-the-track Thoroughbreds and started them on second careers. Many carried baggage from their lives on the track. “I use Equilibrium on all of them as they transition to eventing,” she said. “Many of Biostar’s other products for maintenance and health issues have been beneficial to the Morningside team. I’m incredibly lucky to have Tigger’s help, support, and friendship, and I have enjoyed watching Biostar grow and offer a large selection of whole food products while representing them in the eventing world.”
Skyeler’s business grew rapidly after moving to Morningside. She thinks her hiatus from Advanced levels contributed. “I had some bad luck with injuries that sidelined my upper level talent,” she said. “I used this time to focus on my teaching and student base and also to build a string of quality young horses. I began riding for the breeding farm, Wit’s End Eventing. That has allowed me to take on some incredibly talented, American-bred youngsters. While it’s a slow and steady progress back to the Advanced level, I feel like I have the young horse power behind me to get back there.”
Granted, motherhood added a new, exciting dimension to the Voss dynamic. “Life changed dramatically for me with the birth of our daughter, Brinley Alise Voss,” said Skyeler. “I have spent my entire life immersed in the horse world, and starting a family created a balance that has been welcomed by my whole family. Having another life that depends on you puts a new sense of perspective on all the daily horse issues that seemed so monumental in the past.”
Stand anywhere in the great out-of-doors at Morningside, and you’ll see what greets Skyeler every day, with each lesson she teaches and every horse she rides. At Morningside, the sky’s the limit.
About the writer: Lauren R. Giannini is an award-winning journalist and avid photographer, specializing in stories about the equestrian world, wildlife and conservation. Lauren lives in the heart of Horse Country Virginia, watched over by her CEO (canine executive officer), a rescue who sums up perfectly the term “hybrid vigor.” Lauren’s pleasures and pastimes include horses, travel, especially to Kenya, and writing about wildlife, conservation and eco-tourism. Books are next on her to-do list.