By Britney Grover
Portraits by Kristie Nichols
There are a few unusual things about Allison Kroff and her path to being a professional equestrian: She entered her first grand prix when she was just 15 years old, even though she didn’t ride, travel or show with a trainer — but that didn’t stop her from learning, progressing and winning on her own. By 23, still without a trainer, she made it to the World Cup Finals in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“We pulled up to the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas and I was totally overwhelmed,” Allison said. “It didn’t help that Rodrigo Pessoa was stabled across from me! Not formally working with a trainer and being 23 years old, it was a lot to take in. I would sit on my tack trunk and watch Rodrigo’s grooms get his horses ready and treat them after each ride. It was very educational.”
Allison’s ability to learn by watching has paid off. Now 34, she’s accumulated over 50 grand prix wins and trains from her own Kroff Stables in Scottsdale, Arizona.
When Allison first began riding, she wasn’t just attracted to horses — from the start, she was drawn to jumping. “When I was 7 years old, my best friend, Kristen, and I wanted to jump horses so we looked locally to see what trainers were in our area, and there was a hunter-jumper barn within two miles of our house,” she remembered.
Allison started riding hunters near her home in Mesa, but soon found her stride primarily in the jumper ring, where the non-subjective clock appealed to her supportive father. Her father’s support became key as she began riding her own imported horses, entering grand prix and traveling to shows around the country.
“It was a blast!” Allison said. “We traveled throughout the whole year, week after week and in many different states, showing with a lot of the same people. We all followed the same circuit, and were a bunch of friends traveling together and wishing everyone the best of luck knowing it could be anyone’s week. Since I didn’t ride with a trainer or barn, having all those people around was like my barn family.”
By 16, Allison competed at the North American Young Rider Championships for Zone 8 — the first of six Championships in both the U.S. and Canada, including team silver in 2005 — learning all along the way. “The years went by and it became normal to train myself,” she said. “I would sit at the shows and watch round after round. I watched to see what successful people did and what unsuccessful people did. I’m a visual learner, so it was helpful to watch other riders. Traveling the circuit with the same people, I would ask them for advice on different things, too.”
After graduating from high school, Allison spent three months riding and showing in Germany. She put what she learned there to good use upon returning to the States, winning six grand prix — including the $60,000 Grand Prix of Denver — and beginning to develop a reputation as not just a successful rider but a happy one because while in the ring she almost always had a big smile on her face.
A Special Horse
Though she’s had many successful horses, one in particular holds a special place in Allison’s heart. Nomograaf was imported for her from the Netherlands while she was still an amateur. “He was a huge part of my career,” Allison said. “It was by chance that I got him; Alan Waldman told us that he was a great horse that needed one kid, so we got him.”
Though it didn’t take long for the pair to bond and start winning grand prix, it wasn’t exactly love at first ride — at least, not for one of them. “He was funny; when we first got him, he was kind of mean. When trying to get him out of the stall, he would put his head in the corner and try to kick you. I figured I’d have to win him over. Eventually I did. He was so big and powerful, most of the time when I was hacking him, I would get so tired. But in the ring he was always fighting for me.”
That fight earned them the alternate spot on the U.S. Team for the World Cup Finals held in Las Vegas, Nevada, in 2007. “Nomo’s mom was competing on the U.S. team and we got to meet her. Molly Ashe’s mare Kroongravin was 3 years old when she had Nomo. It was interesting to see her go in the ring; they both had the same high head carriage,” Allison said.
Later that same year, Allison and Nomo returned to Las Vegas and won the $50,000 Las Vegas National Grand Prix. “He was such a tryer, every week at every show. I have had some other really good horses but Nomo still has the most pictures in my barn.”
Back to the Top
Though Nomo passed away in 2013, those photos inspire both Allison and her students at Kroff Stables, which she runs with her husband, James Girolamo. “We met at the Colorado Horse Park where he was working,” she shared. “He does all the management side of our business, such as staff, billing, schedules and managing when the horses go at shows, allowing me to focus only on riding and teaching. It’s definitely less stress for me knowing he’s doing everything else.”
Allison’s program currently has her “ideal number” of 25 horses, and they travel two weeks out of every month to shows throughout the Southwest from their base in Scottsdale. “I’m from Arizona so I love the area and weather,” she said. “We hardly have any inclement weather so we’re able to ride outside year round; when it gets hot, we start earlier then lay by the pool before going back to give afternoon lessons.”
While cherishing local shows, Allison doesn’t mind giving up her time poolside to travel to shows in Southern California and Colorado, calling them both beautiful places. She and James live just a short bike ride away from the barn with two dogs, two cats and a bunny. “Our dogs and bunny travel with us to the shows, while our cats stay home and hold down the fort.”
Just as horses are a constant in her relationship, they’re a constant in nearly every moment of her life. “This question is hard,” she replied when asked about other interests or pastimes. “If I’m not riding or teaching then I’m talking about horses; if I’m not talking about horses, I’m thinking about them. But on the off chance I’m not doing that, I’m likely to be at the movies or watching football, baseball or golf.”
It’s that dedication that’s making her successful as she pursues her goals. “For my business, I want to continue to have a small boutique barn that has quality horses and riders that can be competitive at any caliber horse show,” she said. “For me, my current goal is to get my current string of horses comfortable in the national standard grand prix. My longer-term goal is to get back to the upper level FEI grand prix.”
Now with 10 more years of watching and learning behind her, the next time Allison goes to a World Cup, it won’t be alone and starstruck — it will be supported, confident and there to win, but still smiling. “It was an amazing experience and I can’t wait to get back to that level.”
For more information, visit www.kroffstables.com
Photos by Kristie Nichols, moonfyrephotography.com