By Mandy Boggs
Portraits by Kim MacMillan
Many riders have dabbled in other disciplines, but not many have experience in the variety of disciplines that Maggie Hill has, and all before the age of 15. Maggie started her riding career in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where her family lived, riding western in 4-H before moving on to eventing in Pony Club and competing in dressage.
As an up-and-coming junior hunter rider, Maggie trains with Jack Towell and Liza Boyd of Finally Farm, based out of South Carolina. For the past two years, Maggie has completely immersed herself in the hunter world. She’s been extremely successful in the junior hunters, equitation and derbies over the past year, with an excellent show season spent at the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) in Wellington, Florida.
“I started out riding western and always had high hopes for myself,” Maggie said. “I loved horses and wanted to learn how to ride so badly, but I was the only kid in 4-H that had to wear a helmet when everyone else wore cowboy hats. It was embarrassing. My mom suggested I try riding English because they wore helmets. I really didn’t want to at first, to be honest, but I did and I’m so glad I made the change. I gained a lot of horsemanship and general horse skills from riding in 4-H and later in Pony Club. Eventing and dressage really helped me to learn the true feel of a horse and have good, solid flatwork, which I apply to my riding today.”
Working Toward Goals
Maggie’s family has always been supportive of her dreams when it comes to riding. From the very beginning, they saw a true passion in her for horses. Maggie’s parents, Jane and Tom Hill, along with her sister, Ellie, 11, made the united decision to commit to Maggie’s goals and do what was best for the family in following her as she pursued them.
“It wasn’t at all an easy decision to move,” Jane shared. “Jackson, Wyoming, still feels like home, but it simply was not possible to pursue riding at this level while commuting across the country. We moved to Wellington to help create a better balance for our family. Our younger daughter, Ellie, is able to attend a great school and Maggie is able to train and compete at a national level. After WEF, we’re just a short flight away from the shows in the Southeast Circuit, where Finally Farm competes. My husband, Tom, still has to commute to Denver, Colorado, to run Summit Materials, but it’s is a better balance than we had in Wyoming.”
There has never been a day in her life that Maggie has not wanted to take care of or ride horses … ever,” Jane added. “She has worked tirelessly regardless of the circumstance to grow as a rider in a place where it was very difficult to do so. She was singularly focused in her passion and commitment.”
The sacrifices and commitment of Maggie’s family is commendable especially considering they don’t share in her horse interest. “Trust me, we tried to get her interested in other things!” Jane said. “I think what we enjoy most is seeing her thrive here in Wellington, in a horse town with horse people. She belongs here. Not only are we not a horse family, Tom and I are uncomfortable around horses. Our daughter Ellie loves trail riding, but Tom and I like them on the other side of the fence!”
There seem to be qualities about Maggie that play a role in her ability to achieve many of the goals she has set for herself, in such a short amount of time. Her parents and trainer both talk about her working as hard as anyone they’ve seen to become better at something they love.
“She is extremely hard working. She will get up as early as you want and is always willing to ride, any day, any time, any horse. She’ll ride all day long and often practices things I haven’t even told her to practice. She rides without stirrups so often, sometimes I have to tell her, ‘OK that’s enough, Maggie,’” Liza, her trainer, chuckled.
Liza sees the value of Maggie’s equestrian background in her training. “I think the diversity in her past has really helped her riding now. Dressage gave her such a great foundation and made it so easy to teach her rhythm. She has such a strong leg and strong sense of balance. I really respect 4-H and Pony Club-type programs; I think they’re just amazing. She was able to catch up so quickly in the hunters because of her foundation and already being such a great horseman.”
And when it comes to working with Maggie on a personal level, Liza’s praise doesn’t stop. “It’s not just about showing to her, not even close. She is so fun to teach! There are times she will show me some dressage moves and I find myself saying, ‘Wait show me that again!’ I never have to teach her something twice, and she spends so much time with the horses on the ground. She’s just a sponge, always ready to absorb anything she can learn. Her parents are so supportive, it wouldn’t be possible without them!”
A Good Setup
Maggie balances riding with school, where, as no surprise, she strives for perfection on her schoolwork as well. This year she made her debut in the equitation and derby rings, as well as her first time doing the junior hunter 15-and-under divisions, where she finished champion or reserve numerous times. She finished up as the WEF Reserve Champion in the junior hunter 15-and-under with O’Ryan. And with her own Cassanto earned the prestigious Martin F. Bucko Family Perpetual Trophy and was Large Junior Hunter Champion, 15 and under at the Devon Horse Show.
“I qualified and rode in the $10,000 WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular under the lights this year at WEF, my first time doing something like that,” Maggie said. “I rode Cassanto, who was just so amazing. He held my hand, and I think maybe I even held his. It was pretty scary, but I was really happy that I proved to myself that I could perform at the higher levels when the stakes are up there. In a way, it’s just a starting point for my next goals.”
The commentators from the Hunter Spectacular were very complimentary of Maggie holding her own under the lights with top professional riders. Just a short time later, she competed again at Deerridge in the National Hunter Derby on Charmeur and Shamrock, finishing sixth out of over 100 professional, amateur and junior riders. Being so young and surrounded by so many talented riders, it makes one wonder what she does to prepare herself for these big moments in her riding career.
“I’m extremely superstitious,” Maggie laughed, “I’ve worn the same pair of boot socks during shows since I first started riding. They have shamrocks on them and have so many holes in them I have to wear them over other socks. I’m wearing them right now, actually! I have a certain way I walk to the ring, even if I’m running late, and I always, always, always eat oatmeal before I show.”
Superstitions or no, Maggie knows where credit for her success truly lies. “My parents are so supportive and I’m grateful,” she said. “Finally Farm is an amazing place to train and everyone there is awesome. Liza is like family. She’s a great trainer and really knows the horses, teaching me so much and being there for all the ups and downs. I love watching Liza and learning: how she holds herself, her focus, mental game, the tack, how she cares for and treats the horses. I hope to carry that on for the rest of my riding career and into my professional life someday.”