By Britney Grover
Portraits by Shawna Simmons
When Dominic Gibbs won the inaugural $100,000 WEC Premier Cup Equitation Championship at World Equestrian Center in February, he won a car. The timing seemed perfect: With his busy show and training schedule, Dominic travels extensively and his current car was in serious need of repair.
Dominic won a 2021 Chevrolet Blazer after a fierce competition aboard Cent 15, with whom Dominic earned three national titles last year, including the ASPCA Maclay Finals. He then did something not many 17-year-olds would do, especially considering how rare an opportunity it is for a Junior to win a car. He sold it.
After setting some money aside, purchasing a motorbike to get around at shows and making repairs to his older car, Dominic worked with the Colorado Hunter Jumper Association to start a new grant. With the new grant, Dominic is paying homage to exactly how his own remarkable national career started — just three years ago.
“The new grant will sponsor riders who want a chance like I had — a week of lessons at WEF,” he said. “We’re hammering out the details, but it feels good that at my age, I can start to make a difference in the lives of younger riders, especially other Colorado kids.”
Mountain King Ranch
Long before Dominic’s first national show in 2018, horses were an integral part of his family’s life. “My mom was mucking stalls the night before I was born, and she took me to the barn as soon as she was home from the hospital,” he said. His mother, Erin, was born horse crazy and actively evented as Dominic and his two younger siblings grew up. Her eventer was the first horse Dominic sat on, and the Gibbs have photos of the kids as toddlers with Erin at events.
“Our family friend, Julie (Frey) Van Soelen, would both groom and nanny to help my mom with multiple horses and multiple little kids,” Dominic said. “We arrived like the traveling circus with our trailer half-full of horses and half-full of kid stuff — like a tent to keep us out of the sun, books and activities to keep us busy, and a lot of snacks. My mom tried to think of everything to make it fun.”
From day one, Dominic was hooked on horses and has fond memories of growing up in a barn — literally. He was raised on his family’s Mountain King Ranch: 150 acres of rural prairie outside of Pueblo, Colorado, with a large indoor arena, tennis court and home all under one roof. Dominic enjoyed family trail rides that turned into picnics and driving the four-wheeler manure spreader to “watch the poop fly.”
“My parents called it the Mountain King Ranch after the song ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ by Edvard Grieg. They would play that song and we would run around the tennis court or arena faster and faster,” Dominic recalled. “My mom said it was the tempo of our family life, and it became our ranch name. Nothing has changed — it’s still the tempo of our life.”
Dominic’s brother, Patrick, always preferred soccer, tennis and skiing — like their father, who has always supported the family’s equestrian lifestyle despite allergies to both horses and hay. Dominic and his sister, Jordan, inherited their mother’s horse bug. There were always ponies to ride at the ranch, thanks in part to Erin’s love of animals and willingness to take in any rescue that needed a home.
In addition to learning basics from his mom, Dominic trained with Ann Hanna — who was his mother’s coach as a child, too — and Philip Dressigacker, who helped them find some of their first ponies as well as Erin’s hunter Perseus YC, whom Dominic eventually took over. Dominic participated in schooling shows at Fountain Valley School, “foxhunted” coyotes with the Fort Carson Hounds aboard his pony Slam Dunk, and rode in the annual State Fair.
In 2013, when Dominic was 10, the family moved “closer to civilization” in Colorado Springs and began boarding their horses and ponies at Forest Edge Farm. Though it meant saying goodbye to Mountain King Ranch, it also opened the door to the next level of showing and training for Dominic.
The Next Level
At Forest Edge Farm, Dominic first experienced consistent lessons, barn friends and riding on an IEA team. His new trainer, Karen Catov-Goodell, helped Dominic and his family find quality ponies and Limitless, Dominic’s first equitation horse. Karen brought in many notable clinicians in Dominic’s years with her and was the one who arranged the pivotal week at WEF.
In 2018, Karen took Dominic and barnmate Hailey Hak to Wellington for a week of lessons with Chris Kappler, Katie Monahan-Prudent and Ken Smith. Initially, Katie and Henri Prudent watched from their golf cart hidden in the trees as their staff, Abigale McCardle and Paula Randall, taught the lesson. “I’m sure they were evaluating these crazy kids from Colorado and deciding whether or not they wanted to get involved with us!” Dominic joked. “They made a great decision and started training us.”
The week ended with Dominic’s WEF debut in the .80m jumpers on a horse named Bialda. “That was big time!” he said. “I ended up leasing Bialda and bringing her home to Colorado for the spring and summer. That week changed my life, watching the highest levels of our sport and learning from them — it made the unreal, real. I already had the desire to compete seriously, but that week gave me confidence that I could do it.”
Dominic clicked with Katie and began training with her that May, living in a camper on her Virginia farm. “It was so humid, unlike anything I had experienced,” Dominic said. “I remember sweating and scrubbing a lot of buckets! I rode in the Upperville and Loudon horse shows, and if anyone knows Katie, they’d know it was amazing she agreed to do equitation with me at all. The next stop was Lake Placid, and she decided that for me to pursue equitation, I needed the best equitation trainer out there, so she introduced us to Stacia Klein Madden.”
With Dominic in tow, Katie walked out into the middle of the schooling ring at Lake Placid while Stacia was warming kids up for the Kathy Scholl Equitation Classic. To Dominic, the moment seemed less than ideal. “It was mayhem in the ring, with everyone tense for the class,” he described. “Katie said, ‘Stacia! You need to train this kid! Can you help him this fall with the finals?’ I about died, sure she had no idea who I was. But she looked at Katie, looked at me, waved and said, ‘Of course!’ And that was that.”
As part of Beacon Hill Show Stables, Dominic was fourth in the THIS Finals that fall and won the Hamel Foundation National Horse Show 3’3″ Equitation Championship with Limitless. In 2020, just two years later, he won the ASPCA Maclay National Championship — with impressive results in between and a growing list of accolades since.
Though winning the Premier Cup at WEC came with a car and a $40,000 trainer bonus, “success” isn’t a label that comes with any one win. “There wasn’t any particular moment when I felt successful,” Dominic shared, “but I think when I stopped focusing on collecting ribbons, beating other people or proving myself and started focusing on the ride and improving the horse, that mind shift made me realize — I was already successful.”
Dominic’s Junior career stands out as unique even from those with similar accomplishments. In addition to being new to the national level and from an area with few nationally or internationally ranked riders, Dominic can count on his fingers how many horses he’s competed with in his lifetime — each of which has impacted him in a special way.
Ponies instilled in Dominic the love of the horse, especially his first green project, GF Elliot, who came from trainer Karen Banister. Dominic went to his first Pony Finals with Elliot and training under Rita Timpanaro; now, Elliot is leased out as a pony hunter and teaching little kids how to ride. From his mother’s hunter Perseus YC, Dominic learned poise and patience. Perseus has been in the family since he was a yearling, and this year he was WEF Circuit Champion in the 3’3” Junior Hunters with Rylynn Conway.
Dominic’s jumpers have taught him what it feels like to ride a horse with heart and go fast but think slow, and he says his former equitation horse, Limitless, now ridden by Jordan, made him a champion.
“Each horse has influenced me a lot and made me who I am today,” Dominic said. “The singular most important horse of my life is my current horse, Cent 15. He taught me the real feeling of partnership and consistency. He is my heart horse — with him, I’ve won three national championships and a car. He would take me into battle.”
Cent was originally a jumper, introduced to Dominic by Tom De Bel in Belgium. Dominic describes it as an immediate and breathtaking match — but his mom and Tom had him try 100 more horses in Germany, at crazy times of day and night and in all different weather. Although they knew Cent was “the one,” it was great experience for Dominic to ride so many horses in such different conditions and only confirmed the match they saw in Cent and Dominic. Arrangements were made for him to come to Florida, and Dominic planned to make him his new high junior jumper. But when they took him to Katie for their first lesson together, she said, “This is an equitation horse — take him to Stacia’s.”
“At that moment, I felt a little discouraged,” Dominic admitted. “I took him back over to Stacia’s. The first time I had ever shown him, he was wild; the only thing he’s ever known is to go fast and jump big. But even at that moment, Stacia said he was going to be a phenomenal equitation horse.”
When talking about his “heart horse,” the young man’s eloquent words hesitate, as though there aren’t words enough to describe Cent and their bond. “He is just delightful,” Dominic said, his smile reaching his voice, “and unlike any other horse I have ever ridden. When I get on him, it feels like I’ve morphed into a centaur — like we are one being. With him, I feel like I’ve created such a good partnership that he and I can almost communicate telepathically.”
Home in Colorado
Being from Colorado, and even more so from the lesser-known Colorado Springs and Pueblo area, is both a point of pride and a bit of an obstacle for Dominic and other riders. “The tough part of coming from Colorado is how hard it is to leave ‘the bubble’ of our circuit and shows,” he said. “It’s a huge distance to travel — either west to California or anywhere East. We recognized that in order for me to improve, we had to commit to change — and as a result, my whole life changed, along with the lives of my family and our horses.”
Training both with Katie and Stacia, Dominic splits his time between barns and horses in Virginia and New Jersey — when he’s not traveling to shows. Thanks to Score Academy, Dominic is able to do virtual classes anywhere and in-person learning when he’s in Wellington. Dominic might have enjoyed doing all that traveling in a brand-new car, but it’s more important to him to give back: His father, a doctor, instilled in him a desire to give back to the community, and Dominic is excited to help other riders from his home state — even if he only gets back for short breaks.
“I’m so proud to represent Colorado, because honestly, I want to create a mindset that you can do it!” He said. “Don’t restrict yourself by location, or circumstance. Representing Colorado means that there are others like me in the state who can also achieve great things if they seek opportunity and are given the chance.”
While he wants to help provide the opportunity and inspire others to take it, Dominic is well aware it takes more than just that to reach the level he has — and he’s quick to give credit to every trainer, clinician, groom and supporter along the way.
“You don’t just get lucky — it takes huge sacrifice, people have to believe in you and there is tremendous work to get there, with a trifecta of support from trainers, family and friends and a great horse — even better if there’s more than one or an owner to support the horse,” he said. “I think it’s a rare thing for those things to come together at exactly the same time, which is why the sport is so humbling — and also so addicting. My dad is always saying, ‘Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,’ so I keep that in mind constantly.”
Dominic was accepted as an honors fellow with scholarship into the entrepreneurship program at the Miami Herbert Business School at the University of Miami. He’ll take a gap year to focus on his final Junior year and gain experience as a young professional in the horse industry before beginning classes in the fall of 2022. The ability to keep riding and training while earning his degree was a key factor in Dominic’s school choice, and he intends to use his business degree to start his own equestrian business.
“Horses are my life and my future,” he summarized. “I recognize that being a successful equestrian professional requires a lot of moving parts in addition to passion and talent. I know it’s a long road, but it’s what I want to do — and what I can do.”
Dominic’s goals include becoming fluent in French and Spanish (he already knows German) to help with international travel, competition and business; becoming a licensed judge and course designer; and, of course, competing at the highest level of the sport.
As a Young Champions Ambassador through the U.S. Olympic Committee in his hometown, known as Olympic City, USA, Dominic has already caught the Olympic spirit as phrased by Pierre de Courbertin, founder of the modern Olympic Games: “The important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part. The essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.”
“I’ve had some salty losses, painful accidents and other challenges, but the most difficult challenge is probably money! It’s challenging to move up in this sport without the kind of financial backing required to find, purchase and keep a top horse — let alone have multiple horses in the divisions. I’ve been fortunate with projects to ride and develop to success and with horses that Stacia and Katie have given me to ride. I’ve had some extraordinary financial support from behind the scenes, and I wouldn’t be here without it. The generosity I’ve experienced — I want to share that, too, whenever possible,” Dominic said. “Every athlete has to struggle — including injuries and defeats — but we get up again each day to do it again and do it better.”
Photos by Shawna Simmons, www.sasequinephotography.com, @sasequinephotography, unless noted otherwise