By Haylie Kerstetter
Portraits by Melissa Fuller
Hailey competed for Zone 4 at the 2021 NAYC alongside teammates Zayna Rizvi, Ansgar Holtgers and Reid Arani, where they earned the team gold.
Hailey Royce has always set big goals for herself, so when she decided to set her sights on the jumper ring, she made it her goal to compete in a Grand Prix at a young age. Now, 17-year-old Hailey rides with Alan Korotkin and Susan Tuccinardi of Castlewood Farm in Wellington, Florida. She competes with her horse Sonic Boom in the upper levels of the jumper ring—and it’s been four years since her first Grand Prix.
Hailey first began riding due to her mom’s love for the sport. Her mother grew up with horses, often riding for pleasure, and always had a love for them. “I found the same love for the horses that she has,” Hailey said. “When I started taking lessons, I loved it immediately.” She took her first riding lesson at age 4 at a local dressage barn in the Chicago suburbs, and rode there for five years, taking lessons and attending local schooling shows on horses owned by the barn.
When she was 9, Hailey wanted to begin jumping to add an excitement factor to her riding. “Adrenaline seeking runs in my family,” Hailey said. “I rode with a few different barns in the Chicago area between 2014 and 2018 and would come down to Wellington for the winter season.”
Hailey remembers her first trips to sunny Florida. “We had no idea that Wellington and WEF were such a big deal,” she said. “We just thought we were going to another horse show—it made an impression for sure.”
For a few years, Hailey’s family traveled back and forth for the show, eventually moving to Wellington. “We came down in 2019 for season and just ended up never going back to Chicago,” she said.
At Castlewood, Hailey’s career began to take off. She purchased a horse named Rapidash to compete in the Children’s Jumpers. “He was definitely too much horse for me at the time, but we knew he was a great horse. He was just coming off of his Washington Children’s Jumper win,” Hailey said.
Although Rapidash was difficult at first, Hailey made it her goal to learn from him and make the move from the Low Children’s Jumpers to the Children’s Jumpers. “At the time, I was 9 and I was very small,” Hailey said. “He wasn’t a big horse, but he was a lot of horse with a lot of power and speed. It was something I had to adapt to.” After three years with Rapidash, she had accomplished this goal, and set her sights on the next.
That’s when Quint entered the picture. “We purchased Quint as my move-up horse to the Low Juniors at the end of 2016,” she said. She quickly progressed with Quint, moving through the divisions, and by the time she was 13, Hailey and Quint competed in their first Grand Prix. It was also her first night class, and being under the lights with the crowd was electric. “It was a little more rapid than the traditional way of moving up, but I had big goals,” she said. “Even when I was little, I had big goals. This horse was very good, and he ended up having the heart and scope to allow me to enter into these classes that I had never experienced before.”
Hailey’s current horse, Sonic Boom, came into her life in 2021, and she immediately began working toward her goal of competing at the North American Youth Championships (NAYC) in the Junior division. “We got Sonic Boom three weeks before the end of the qualifying period,” she said. “We had to jump right into getting qualified, so there was a lot of trust going into it. We had a lot of success, which was awesome.”
That success—coming just a month after she started riding Sonic Boom—included Hailey’s first Grand Prix win, in the $24,999 Regional Standard Grand Prix at Fox Lea Farm, before they gained experience in the team format at the USHJA Platinum Jumper Championships, riding for Zones 3 and 4. Hailey competed for Zone 4 at the 2021 NAYC alongside teammates Zayna Rizvi, Ansgar Holtgers and Reid Arani, where they earned the team gold. “It’s a very electric environment. Everyone is there competing and it’s definitely different when you’re doing FEI—there are so many more specifics and everything is even more detailed,” Hailey said.
Hailey Royce, in Wellington, Florida, with Sonic Boom owned by her family’s Double Clear LLC.
A New Chapter
In the fall of 2022, Hailey will begin her freshman year at the University of Georgia and ride on their equestrian team. “College was always a must for me. I always knew I wanted to do something with horses, but you never know what can happen and it’s always good to have a solid foundation,” Hailey said. Although she was originally unsure about showing in the equitation for four years, Hailey is looking forward to the team environment and the opportunity to consistently ride throughout college. After attending online school for the past five years, Hailey is excited about this change.
As soon as Hailey stepped onto the campus at University of Georgia, she knew she was home. “We stopped on our way home from NAYC and I just loved the campus,” Hailey said. “I really like older, historic-feeling buildings and it just had that charm.”
Hailey rides with Castlewood Farm in Wellington, Florida, and in the fall will head to the University of Georgia where she will ride on their Equestrian Team.
Throughout her three years with Castlewood, Hailey has taken every opportunity to learn, whether about the sport or business, and has made connections with top trainers and riders in the industry. Thanks to Alan and Susan, she has had the opportunity to ride and show a variety of horses, from young horses or new imports to experienced show horses. She attributes her success in gaining a spot on the University of Georgia’s equestrian team to her ability to ride a wide variety of mounts.
During the recruiting process, Hailey sent videos of her riding different horses to the coaches and cultivated a strong social media presence. “When I was 9 or 10, my dad and I started making GoPro videos of me riding, both at home and in the show ring,” Hailey said. “From there I was able to grow a following on social media and started to share my story.” She quickly realized that it was a way for her to connect with others, and began sharing all of her riding on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. It turned out to be an effective tool to help her get recruited, as coaches from around the country could follow her riding.
After college, Hailey plans to declare her professional status and continue her riding career with the goal of competing successfully in the upper level jumper ring. In the long term, her biggest goal is to represent the USA on an international stage. For her final Junior year, Hailey is focusing on the jumper ring with Sonic Boom. “We’re planning to compete in the U25 division during WEF this season, Hailey said. “I would love to step into some two-star and three-star classes this spring and summer, and ride for Zone 4 at NAYC again this year.”
For her final Junior year, Hailey is focusing on the jumper ring with Sonic Boom.
For more information, visit haileyroyce.com
Photos by Melissa Fuller, msfullerphotography.com