Story & Portraits by Ruby Tevis
For Sterling Malnik, growing up in Palm Beach County, Florida, was the perfect place for a horse-loving girl to spend her childhood. With five siblings and four half-siblings, Sterling’s childhood was never short of company—or horses. From Pony Finals to hunter derbies, equitation cups to the Junior jumpers, 15-year-old Sterling is making waves in all three rings. As she looks ahead to finishing out her Junior career, she has ambitious plans—and exceptional horses to make it all possible.
Sterling was introduced to riding through her aunt, hunter-jumper rider Alex Gresham. “She took me and my half-sister Andee Holland to her barn in Wellington when I was 4 years old,” Sterling said. “I started following her around the barn on a regular basis, and after I became involved with pony camps, it really took off from there. Florida is the best possible place that I could imagine for horses, so I got very lucky in that department.”
After several years of riding lessons and small shows for fun, Sterling dove into the competition scene. “We were shopping for a pony, and I tried one at Bill Schaub’s Over The Hill Farm,” Sterling said. Though she didn’t buy the pony, she chose to begin training with Bill Schaub and Steven Gregorio, kickstarting her success in the pony division and forming a relationship that would guide Sterling through to her victories today.
Ponies and Friendships
Sterling made her Pony Finals debut in 2017, competing in both the Small Pony and Medium Pony divisions. Though she didn’t finish in the ribbons her first year, she returned the following year to capture a sixth place in the Small Green Pony overall. For Sterling, the competition was only one aspect of Pony Finals; between learning and riding, she also enjoyed catching up with her friends.
“Kat Fuqua is a very close friend,” Sterling said. “We go to a lot of the same shows, so it’s very fun that I get to see her often.” With Sterling following Bill and Stephen to Kentucky each summer and Kat returning home to Georgia, reuniting with her good friend at summer horse shows was something Sterling looked forward to.
One month after the 2019 Pony Finals, where Sterling finished fifth in the Large Ponies and Kat Fuqua secured the Large Pony Hunter Championship, Kat and her family offered to sell their beloved champion pony to Sterling. “We were looking for a Large, and Kat’s pony, Prestige, became available,” Sterling said. “It was meant to be. Knowing that my friend could trust me with this amazing pony that just won Pony Finals meant a lot to me. She was very supportive while I had him and always congratulated me after our rides.”
Sterling and Prestige found the winner’s circle almost immediately. “There were instant results; he was incredible,” Sterling said. The pair made a clean sweep, taking home class wins at the Washington International Horse Show, Harrisburg and Capital Challenge—a perfect way to finish out her pony career. Sterling was ready to step up to horses.
‘Rock’ing the Junior Hunters
After dabbling in the Children’s Hunters early in the season, Sterling was paired with Rockette, a mare with flair—and no lack of experience. “We tried her at Harrisburg in 2019. We were looking at horses to try, and Rockette stood out to me. She was showing with Grace Debney, and at that time I thought I’d at least sit on her,” Sterling explained. “When we got up to the schooling ring, I saw her, and someone else was trying her and I freaked out! I just knew I wanted her. We jumped maybe six jumps in the schooling ring, vetted her the same day and then brought her home!”
As Sterling’s self-proclaimed “heart horse,” Rockette checks every box, from dazzling the judges to developing Sterling’s riding skills. “Rockette is such a lady to ride,” she said. “You can’t tell her to do something; you ask her. When you treat her with respect and get her to trust you, she will try her hardest for you.”
Taking advantage of the Florida winter season to move up to the 3’3” Junior Hunters, Sterling and Rockette gained some show experience before COVID-19 forced the pair to take a break from the show ring. “We jumped back in over the summer to prepare for the Junior Hunter National Championship,” she said. With the eastern Championship based out of Traverse City for the first time, Sterling spent several weeks at the facility to get acquainted in preparation.
At the Junior Hunter National Championship, her first place in the handy round and second in the classic set Sterling and Rockette up to take home the tri-color ribbon in the 3’3” Junior Hunter 15 & Under. “Winning the Junior Hunter Nationals was one of my biggest achievements,” Sterling said. “The experience was amazing, and winning it with my girl made it so much more special!”
Equitation, Jumping and Adulting
Sterling had always wanted to expand her riding to become a versatile rider, and achieving this goal called for a versatile horse. “We bought Charlie to become my equitation horse,” Sterling said. “He’s the most dependable, kindhearted horse.”
Charlie proved to be the perfect mount for Sterling’s introduction to equitation, but he had a few more tricks up his sleeve. “He’s played Junior hunter before,” Sterling said, “but that’s not all. I also did my first hunter derby with him! We finished first in the Brandywine Equitation Cup this summer, and a few weeks later he took me to my first International Derby Championships, finishing 14th overall in Section B/Tier II! He’s everything I could ask for and more.”
In the future, Sterling plans to step up into the international division and eventually branch out further into the jumper ring, where she has been competing in the Low Children’s division. “I want to be heavily involved with horses for the rest of my life,” Sterling said. Though she has plenty of time to think about her future career, she is working hard now to build a successful foundation in the show ring and in the classroom.
With such a busy show schedule, Sterling transitioned to online school for her freshman year of high school. “I can bring my laptop to horse shows, so it’s very convenient,” Sterling said. “My dad was a bit skeptical because he’s very strict about education, but he’s seen that I can keep good grades, so he allowed me to do it again for my sophomore year.”
Traveling to Kentucky for each summer served as a perfect way for Sterling to spend quality time with her mother, Nancy Malnik. “She would come up with me and we would stay together while I was in Lexington to train and do horse shows,” Sterling said. “This year, though, my parents let me go by myself and I was staying at the apartment at the barn. I loved being independent and having that freedom!”
Learning life lessons outside of the arena has added even more to Sterling’s first independent experience. “Bill has always been there for me, and I learn so much from him every day. I got to see him a lot more while I was living at the barn, so I’d always ask him for his insight on things. He’s a judge and he’s done it all,” Sterling said. “Steven teaches me something new in every lesson. He really breaks everything down in a way I can understand. He’s such an incredible rider, and I learn so much from him every day. I stayed with two girls who work for them, Haley Zimmerman and Cassie Speagel, and I’m so thankful for them taking me under their wing, teaching me new things and for taking such good care of me.”
Family and Fun
Just as Sterling has a big family at home, she also has a barn full of seven horses. “I have a very individual connection with each of my horses,” Sterling said. “I try to take my time with them and take them out for a graze so we can form that connection. It’s hard to keep up with them all sometimes, but the Over The Hill Farm team is amazing for backing me.”
Though horses remain at the forefront of her life, Sterling still tries to make time for other activities. “I live on the beach, but I’m afraid of sharks!” Sterling laughed. “In my free time, I love to bake. I love to whip something up in the kitchen and bring it to the barn for all of our guys and everyone to enjoy.”
Because her father, Alvin Malnik, doesn’t travel with her to horse shows, Sterling tries to spend as much time with him as she can while she’s at home. “My dad is a very big art collector,” Sterling said. “I always ask if I can go look at his new pieces to give him my opinion—even though I’m no art critic! He’s always been interested in my hobbies, and I’m also interested in his.”
Looking back on her achievements and looking ahead to what lies in store, Sterling’s gratitude is immeasurable. “My parents have both been very supportive of my life with horses,” she said, “and everyone at Over The Hill Farm—Bill, Steven, Cassie and Haley have done so much for me. I’m so grateful for all of them, and thankful to all of my horses!”