By Britney Grover
Portraits by Melissa Fuller
At first meeting, twin sisters Luca and Ella Endzweig might appear quiet and reserved. Get to know them, and their personalities are as different as any two 10-year-old girls.
“They’re super different—Luca is a little more reserved and composed, and Ella’s a bit more free-spirited,” said the twins’ mom, Caroline Berley. “Ella’s nickname is Doolittle—we feel like she can talk to the animals. And Luca has more of a serious mentality, in all the best ways.”
But ask either one about a pony, and suddenly the two seem more similar than they are different. They spring to life talking about their shared passion and their biggest difference becomes that Ella likes a rounder jump in a pony than Luca does. Both hope to do well at Pony Finals and Indoors this year. Both love helping around the barn so much they have to be “dragged out of the barn by their braids.” Someday, both want to ride for their father’s home country of Israel.
They put it best themselves. “We both really, really love ponies,” Luca summarized, sitting with a poise that belies her years. Although perhaps more interested in the family’s two Bernadoodles, Snoopy and Woody, running around at her feet, Ella responded in kind: “We both love riding.”
“I would support anything that they had a passion for, and also, they work really hard,” Caroline said. “It’s funny because the first winter we were in Florida training, they didn’t know much at the time. Watching them go, unlike most kids, when someone says, ‘Do you want to try it again?’ they would say, ‘Again, again, again!’ Never, ‘I’m tired.’ Never, ‘I’m hot.’ Never, ‘I don’t feel like it.’ Never. It’s never happened. And when you see that kind of passion for something—I would support it if it was basket weaving, to be honest.”
A Family First
Luca and Ella’s equestrian journey started with their grandmother, Caroline’s mother, and her horse, Simon, when they were 4 or 5 years old. “Our grandma actually used to ride and she brought us to one of her riding lessons,” Luca shared. “She let us get on her horse, and we really liked it. So we started riding.”
For the girls, it was simple: They loved horses and wanted to ride. For Caroline, that was enough. “My mom would have loved for me to have been a pony kid, but I was allergic—I am still,” Caroline admitted. “I try not to pet them too much. But it’s hard with the ponies because they’re so cute. Any time a pony licks me, I get hives. But they really, really love it, and that’s why we’re doing it.”
Living in New York, Luca and Ella began taking lessons and leasing ponies in the Hamptons, making their way into leadline classes. By the time they were 8, they got their first ponies—before they were even cantering—and have delved deeper into the sport ever since, now showing their ponies at top shows up and down the East Coast.
The sport hasn’t just affected the girls; it’s affected the whole family. “This riding schedule doesn’t permit for a lot of family vacations, which is OK—by the time you’re done traveling for the horses, you’re exhausted. You’re done. You’re happy to stay home,” said Caroline, who goes to every show and says she’s become an “expert hair braider.” “Having the girls ride and show has enabled us to spend a lot of time together as a family that maybe we wouldn’t be doing otherwise. We all go to a lot of shows together, the four of us, which is great.”
Luca and Ella both like the fact that because they have a twin, they’re never bored—there’s always a friend to play with. And even at the shows, having a twin sister can be helpful. Luca, first into the world by two minutes, also goes first in everything, from showing to interviews. “Luca gets to go first, so especially in the handys, if it’s a really good round, I get to see what turns she makes, and then I base what I’m going to do off of that,” Ella shared.
Their family has affected their riding lives, too. Both Luca and Ella have aspirations of competing in Grand Prix at the international level—for Israel. “Normally we go twice a year, but with COVID we haven’t been able to go,” Ella said.
“My dad was born there, and his whole family lives there,” Luca explained. “It’s fun to see my family, and also I really like it there. It’s really fun. When you go to the ocean, the water is completely clear.”
“I’m Jewish, which connects me to the country, and I had my bat mitzvah there, but I wasn’t as affiliated as I am now,” Caroline said. “We’ve developed a love for it there. We just have a great time every time we’re there. I always say Tel Aviv is like Miami but with soul—it’s like a city on the beach, but with so much behind it. It’s not just for Jewish people.”
Though traditionally Jewish rather than religious, the family wouldn’t show on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and are all looking forward to their planned trip back to Israel—right after the girls get to reconnect with their “pony sisters,” incredibly bonded friends they’ve made through horses, at Pony Finals.
Kyla & Ponies
Asked separately about riders they look up to, Luca and Ella have identical answers: Tessa Brown and Kyla Makhloghi. Tessa is a talented rider who trained with Kyla from the time she was 8 years old—exactly the age Luca and Ella were when they started riding with Kyla, too.
“Kyla’s really fun,” Luca said. “If we’re having a bad day or something, she’ll find a way to make it not as much of a bad day—like one time all my ponies were stopping, and I got to do a catch ride.”
“She’s very tough on us, sometimes, but I like it because it helps us be better riders,” Ella added. “And sometimes we just have fun at the barn—like before Devon the ponies were shipping to Connecticut, so that week we were switching ponies and going on trail rides, just relaxing with them.”
The family first met Kyla when they began traveling seasonally to Florida for the winter. “It was such an organic fit,” Caroline said. “She teaches my girls all the important things, and her moral compass is exactly what I want with the girls. There are no other adults that my kids spend as much time with than her. So to me, it was very important to find somebody where our thought process was aligned.”
The whole family clearly loves Kyla, and the feeling is mutual. “They’re hysterical children,” she said. “They’re really, really special. They’re so passionate and competitive, but also ridiculous and lighthearted—I don’t think I’ve ever spent a lesson with them where we haven’t just burst out laughing, and I’m a pretty serious person when it comes to riding. They just make it so fun. And then when you say, ‘OK girls, all right, let’s focus,’ they snap right back into it. They go from little hysterical kids to tiny adults just at the snap of my finger. It’s really unique—I’ve actually never had that, and I’ve worked with a lot of kids.”
It isn’t just in training that Luca and Ella set themselves apart from other young riders. At the ring, their first goal is to have fun. “The first thing they want to talk about when they come out of the ring is how the pony was, or how much fun it was, or how much better it was—before they get to the technical part,” Kyla said. “They’re similar in that way, that they synthesize the competitive aspect and the passion for it with the joy of riding. And I’m trying to teach them that they can take credit for it when it goes well—they have the hardest time, they defer any praise. They always want to make sure their ponies get the credit first.”
It’s easy to get either girl talking about her ponies. “My favorite pony’s name is Dream, and she has this pink nose, and she’s super cute, and she’s really, really sweet, and she’s really, really fun to do,” Luca gushed. “She was so sweet I really wanted her when we first tried her. And also, I was really attached to her tiny feet! She was perfect the first time I showed her; she really is a dream.”
“I love all my ponies, but I’m going to keep Private Message, barn named Ruby, forever,” Ella said. “She has these little ears, and they’re like elf ears—they curl in. And sometimes she’s so spicy. Pony Finals with Ruby last year was probably my favorite show so far, because she’s just a really pretty pony, and very special. And we won the model.”
More Than Just Riding
Luca and Ella lesson together unless a “focus lesson” is called for, and generally show in all the same classes. No matter how many or how few classes that may be, showing is so much more than getting on and doing a round to them.
“Whenever they can convince their parents that 12 hours at the show is not long enough, they’re helping do chores. They’re picking their ponies’ stalls with their own miniature pitchforks. They’re wrangling bags of shavings that weigh twice as much as they do,” Kyla said. “They’re in it as much as they can be, and not just the show riding.”
Kyla expects all of her students to care for their animals, clean their tack and all of the other tasks that come with riding and true horsemanship. But for Luca and Ella, they don’t “have to” do those things—they get to.
“On the weekends with Kyla, we normally muck out their stalls, we give them hay, we give lunch, stuff like that,” Ella said. “It’s so much fun.”
“We get to tack up our ponies, untack our ponies, groom our ponies, clean our tack—if you don’t, you just don’t have the full experience,” Luca said.
“We like all the responsibilities, not just the riding. Kyla makes them work hard, which, by the way, they do with pleasure—they love to be there,” Caroline said, “I have to practically drag them out by their braids. ‘Just one more, I just have to muck one more stall!’ they say. But we like all the jobs and responsibilities that come with the sport, and the work ethic is huge. I think they understand it’s a privilege; they should appreciate everything and they should work hard.”
“I think one of the best things about them is that they’re grateful—they’re appreciative, but they don’t expect anything. It’s really fun when they put it all together and we get some good results,” Kyla said—like ribboning at top shows and winning hunt team at Devon this year, “but I’ve never left a day at a show with them where there wasn’t something to laugh about.”
The Joy of It
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the girls did online school from Florida for their school in New York for the 2020-2021 school year—and the family made the move south permanent in 2021, where they’ve been attending school in person since. They take Mondays off of riding, and Luca likes to get all her school work done then so she doesn’t have to worry about homework on “riding days.”
As if orienting their lives around horse shows wasn’t enough, the horse show also comes home with Luca and Ella. They keep up with seemingly the entire equestrian world. “If you were buying a horse and you want research on it, they’re the ones to ask, for sure!” Kyla said.
When asked what they like to do when not riding, Ella responded, “Spend time acting like a horse!”
“We do a lot of on-foot jumps at home—the girls built their own,” Caroline clarified. “We have horses, we have judging—it’s serious.”
“We built a flower box!” Ella chimed in. “We do derbies—obviously we don’t put our shadbellies on and stuff … but we could!”
Luca and Ella’s simple joy in horses and riding is something Kyla thinks many equestrians can learn from. “It’s easy to get caught up in the points and the qualifying and the ribbons—especially once you’ve gotten that, it can be hard to be satisfied with anything else,” she said. “Starting with Luca and Ella at that young age and just watching the pure joy at getting the correct diagonal, or taking our first canter steps, and seeing where we are with the green ponies … it’s been a real reminder of why we all do this, and where it all starts.”
Photos by Melissa Fuller, msfullerphotography.com