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“Not a government man, but rather a riding man of the world.”
“G” has traveled the world during his young life, fortunate to ride in places like Australia and Ireland; but he chose the Eastern coast of Florida to settle down. Having ridden since he was 13, “G” now trains for Korola Giebmann, owner of Black Forest Stables in St. Augustine, happy to show her Jumping horses. Get to know this fine-spirited man who might have a different background and a hard to pronounce name–but he’s just a polite, disciplined rider who is still proud of each ribbon he earns! A rider who mounts his horses like everyone else–left foot in the stirrup first.
Now, tell me where you started out?
I was adopted: my father is Austrian, and my mother is Indian. My first name is named after a Budda of compassion.
I was born in Philadelphia in June, 1970–grew up traveling around the world, because father worked for world bank. I was a bank brat’ fortunate and lucky, to have been one.
I’ve read that the Devon horse was your first experience with horses; can you tell me a little bit about that?
It was probably my first A-rated horse show that I ever went to. I had already been riding. Started riding in the Washington, D.C. area, went to little shows, and then the bigger ones around the D.C. area, Maryland, Virginia, just the little stuff. Actually I was doing more of the hunters and the equitation classes, than anything else at that time.
And how old were you at this time? Were you young?
I was probably 13 when I got started. I was kind of a late bloomer.
What happened at Devon?
It’s funny, to make a very long story short, you know, being an African American, doing the hunters and equitation, you were judged, it was political. You know? So, I was kind of fed up with the political situation, and said, “Well, let me try a little jumper class.” It was the schooling jumpers.
I didn’t do any hunter classes at Devon, it was all jumpers. Because you know, in the jumper classes, it’s solely horses and rider. If you knock a rail, so be it, you’re not getting judged. And I gave it a go; I did really well, and I just got hooked on the jumpers. I was probably 14 ½ by then. After that, it was like, “I want to do jumpers.”
“This is great! If I make a mistake, it’s on my own basis...you just go in there and do your thing.”
Edgar Pagan was my trainer. He pushed me towards the jumpers. He was good friends with a gentleman by the name of Tony Font and also Buddy Brown. That was my first introduction to those guys, at the Devon Horse Show. I was just in awe, that was my first Grand Prix that I’d seen, and I was just flabbergasted! I thought, this is awesome! I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be great to be able to get into a ring sometime and you know, do that stuff! So that was my mission and goal, to work on my riding so that I’d be able to get in and do a Grand Prix.
Was anyone in your family riding at this point?
No, not at all. My sister rode for pleasure some. But I was the only competitor.
From 14 on, how did your riding experiences progress?
Very slowly (with a chuckle). Slowly! You know, because, as busy as my parents were, I wasn’t the spoiled riding kid. I worked for everything I did. I worked weekends at Edgar’s farm. I did my 10 or so stalls, my one or two lessons a week. As I progressed, Edgar took me to horse shows, whether I was grooming or watching. And I tried to get the mileage, going to shows and training with him.
Would you say at that point in your life, that there was any one person you would watch ride and say, “WOW?” Or I want to do that?
Oh yes, Rodney Jenkins, the red rider! There were two people. But Rodney, he just, there is just this aura about him...the red rider, the red hair, the red face...he just stood out. And being an African American in this sport, well, I could really identify with a rider who stood out. I had a bond with someone who stood out. His style of riding, go getter, no muss, no fuss. It appealed to me. He was just so brilliant, to watch him go ride. He was riding The Natural at that time. It was just, I was like, “Now, that’s just it right there!”
Yes, if we could all ride a horse like The Natural, that would be nice!
You know? Yes, definitely!
And you said there was one other person?
I love watching Tim Grubb The class, the style of rider, very proper, very smooth. He just looks like a gentleman, a nice individual.
Now, as an adult now, is there anyone that stands out to you? (Now as a professional)?
I love to watch John Whitaker. You know, I spend so much time in Europe now. I take a lot of my riding, that I model after him.
Did you stay in the U.S. pretty much from ages 14–18 years?
I traveled a lot, but I stayed in the U.S. for high school. I went to school in Massachusetts. Then, after high school, I went to Northeastern University in Boston, got a B.A. in Criminal Justice.
When did your European riding adventures start?
I actually grew up and planned on going to Ireland, when I was 23. I was to go for the summer, but I actually stayed there a year and 1/2...then overall, I spent almost 8 years in Ireland riding.
I was with Denis Flanely, of The Kill International Equestrian Center, of Kill County, in Kildare, Ireland. That’s only about 25 minutes NW of Dublin. It’s actually well-known in Ireland for riding.
I’ve read that you have plenty of other skills. Tell me about them, and do they make you a better rider?
I love sailing, power boating (speed), I’m an avid skier. I did alpine rescue in Utah for a season, and was on the bobsled team while I was there.
Do these skills give you a better appreciation for what you do on a jumper?
I like challenges. All of these different sports that I’ve done, create challenges to make one better and sharpen their skills. A lot of these skills do help in the show jumping world, and vise versa. You know? When you’re skiing down mountains, there’s a lot of judgment call about where to make turns, you know. And I tend to have a hard time finding distances when I’m riding. So, I like to do a lot of things that challenge me and make me make decisions that challenge me visually. I’m always trying to do that.
I also do a lot of marksmanship, that’s very visual (gun marksmanship).
Did you do anything with Criminal Justice degree?
I did some law enforcement work. I’ll leave it at that.
What is your philosophy of riding that you approach your rides with?
Well, when I was taught, my trainer in Ireland was very stringent on having a lot of flat work, a balanced flat work, you know, forwardness, bend and rhythm. I spend a lot of time doing pole work. I actually do courses of poles on the ground, with my horses and students. You know, with me, I have problems finding distances, so I have to set up certain exercises that will work on that. At the same time, you’re producing a well-balanced horse, a level horse, and that helps with the horse’s shortening and lengthening of stride.
So, all around, it’s a very fundamental thing that I like. Keeping your horse straight, balanced, forward rhythm. Imagine you set up a regular course to jump, but it’s only jumps that are flat poles in place. I’ll set the course on the ground, with no height. If I have a 5 stride, I may ride it normally, then the next time, I may do a 4 stride, or even add a stride to make it a 6 stride. You may be able to do that throughout the course, the horse is lengthening and shortening; the horse is listening to you.
So, when you go in the ring to show, there’s basically nothing that can stop you. The horse is ready for anything that might come up. Your horse knows how to shorten and lengthen. It really helps one’s eye and the horse’s attention to what the rider is asking. I have my students do this too.
Does that change at all when you’re riding a young horse?
That’s the great thing about that exercise. You know, obviously, when you’re on young horses, it’s actually easier to start that with young horses, and then progress to jumps. I also use a lot of grid systems, or as they call it in the States, gymnastics. I actually put all horses through that pole course routine, in conjunction with grid system. You can actually incorporate fences where you had poles.
On the day of the show, how do you prepare for the Jumper class?
I show only jumpers. I have a scotch (He says with a chuckle). No, seriously, yea, Dunkin’ Donuts. Ha ha I love classical music, or a little Tina Turner. Tina gets me going. I’m very quiet and focused. Getting ready to do my job.
The day of, I don’t do a lot. A little of flat work. Warm up as normal and in you go.
What would you say you see in the jumper schooling area that bothers you today?
You know, it’s pretty normal. But it is congested in America, in the warm up area. In Europe, they actually allot only a certain number of horses to be in the warm up area, to allow ample space. And here it can be a catastrophe.
One of my young horses does not like horses coming towards him. That sometimes causes a problem when I’m going into the ring, he’s still thinking about what’s going on outside. His mind might not be on the jumps. I try to warm up actually, someplace else. Flat him in a quiet spot, come in hopefully when no one is around and have a jump and just go in the ring.
What is the typical work day for you?
Oh my God! On a typical day, I’m here at 7:30 a.m. and leave around 7:00 at night usually. For me, I’m a firm believer that a good trainer is a dirty trainer! That’s my motto. I do stalls, I do all the work with my helpers. It could be from me on the tractor cutting grass, exercising or schooling horses, teaching lessons, fixing fences, you name it, I could be doing it.
Do you have mostly Junior riders, or adults?
I have a mixed bag. I am pretty much now concentrating solely on my riding and competing for myself now. So, I show the farm’s jumpers and I have two junior riders and two adult riders. So that makes it nice. I’m not planning on making it a big thing. I love people to come to me. But I’m not going out there to advertise and have a million people train with me.
The owner of the farm used to ride western and she still rides English some. But she’s busy. The Grand Prix horses are owned by the farm.
To show, what circuit do you hit?
I do try and hit some of the indoors. I’m very picky, I like to pick and choose. I don’t feel that you have to go to every single horse show to be seen, or to compete. I’m a firm believer in saving the jump in your horses, you know? You only have so much in you.
I did the two weeks in Atlanta, then went to Biltmore. Now, I’ll be heading out pretty much every month. I might go to Tennessee and do the finals in Atlanta, then do Jacksonville in January and Gulfport.
I thought, I don’t like the crowds at the really big circuits, just being another number. They are great places if you want to go sell some horses. If you want to go do the big classes, but you don’t just have to be there to do the whole circuit, just to say you were there, I don’t think.
I’ve read that you are going for the Olympic team?
At some stage, it would be nice. I’m working on getting another Grand Prix horse to ride. For another International horse.
It would be nice, at some point for me to be one of the first African Americans to at least go to the Olympic Trials.
I would love to get to the World Cup point some day, too. My 10-year-old is a fantastic horse. Commodoro, a Holsteiner, is a great horse. His half brother, Cartuch, an 8-year-old, could be another prospect. He did his first Grand Prix at the Biltmore. I’d like to get another International level horse to compete with, to do the big classes. To be able to work with them and see what happens.
What brought you to St. Augustine?
A job! Ha ha I heard about it through a friend of mine. I actually gave them a call. I flew out and fell in love with the place. Have been here ever since. It’s fantastic here!
Do you have a favorite horse show that you like to go do the Grand Prix classes?
I actually love the arena in Atlanta. I just showed there this summer and that was just unbelievable. I’m going back in November, but it was just a fantastic ring to ride in. Such a big, open space, going up to the bank. It is a big stadium.
I’d like to go to Spruce Meadows some day, would love to go there.
Is there a particular breed you prefer to ride?
I like Holsteiners, my first horse was that breed. I just love them. One of the factors is that they’re nice, big, sturdy horses. I’m 6 ft. 2 in., I like big horses. I get along wonderfully with that breed. I love their temperaments, the power. My horses here are Holsteiners, that was coincidental, the owners here are German, so that’s the breed that they like.
In your down time, what do you do?
Eat. I love to eat and drink wine. Believe it or not, I sit back and play on my Play-station.
No, I’m not married; I am single as a dollar bill. If you had a lot of downtime, what would you like to do as a break?
I would go downhill skiing, and then I would go to the Virgin Islands and go power boating. I love fast boats. I don’t water ski. I tried it once and almost killed myself!
When you’re not on a horse, are you the same person as you are on a horse?
I’m a very even-keeled individual. I am focused when I’m on a horse, but I won’t be rude to anyone if they come up to me to talk. I might just ask them to hang on a second. I’ll always speak to people. I’m pretty much the same person on and off. I like to keep everyone happy. When I’m not on a horse, I am a bundle of fun. I love to joke around, make them laugh. I like to live life.
What would you say to up and coming riders? Would you give them any advice? You’ve set pretty high goals for yourself; what would you say to a young rider?
Yes, you know? I would tell them to follow their dreams and never give up. Just keep going. If you keep trying, it will come to you.
What about if an adult came to you and said that their talent wasn’t getting any better, that they wanted to quit riding?
I would say, “ABSOLUTELY NOT!” I’d say, “let’s get together and make this thing happen.” I’d work with them! I would help them, you know? I’ve never had that happen, but hopefully it won’t. I like to think it’s fun.
You know, riding horses should be done because we love animals. At least I love animals. And it’s a joy for me. I don’t look at it as a job. It’s a hobby that I love, and I’m blessed to make a living out of it.
Is it different for different genders or different races to get into this sport? If so, how?
It could be. You know, when I started riding, you know, it was a little awkward. People would look at me and, “hey, what are you doing here, you know?” It’s hard now. I think the expenses are a factor. You have to be determined. You have to go in there with goals and say, I’m not going to let anything bother me. Stay focused, do what you want to do, regardless of what anybody says.
I don’t think it’s a man’s sport, from what I’ve seen. In Europe, there are just as many women out there competing as men.
What impact would you like to have on this sport, or what legacy would you like to leave?
I would love to see a lot more African Americans in this sport, and to be able to have helped a lot of African Americans get into this sport and to enjoy this sport. And to do it without spending a lot of money, you know?
Any plans to get more racially-diverse riders going?
At some stage, yes, I would love to. But I need to get myself to a place to where I can actually do that. To have been competing at a certain level and to have been doing well enough, that I could actually help people like that. Financially, and make a name for myself. Go out there and help a lot of riders.
What else have you done, that defines “G”?
Well, my home training ground is still The Kill International Equestrian Center. That’s where I still do go for training. At least two to three times a year; if not, my trainer comes here.
I was a fire fighter, in Maryland. I was a police officer. I was the coach for the Equestrian Team for the Umass Dartmouth team, in 2004, I think. I did the season with them. I enjoyed working with the girls, but it was interesting. Going to the shows with them was fantastic, just teaching them and having them learn it. To see them put everything to work was phenomenal. Exciting. I don’t think it was something that I could keep going with, but it was exciting. It’s fun to get back in the saddle, just get out there. When you’ve got 20-30 girls that you have to cater to, it’s very task-taking, not a lot of time for yourself.
What win you’re most proud of?
My very first Grand Prix placing in the United States, 4th in the Jacksonville Final Series, Grand Prix, January of 2005. That was my first U.S. Grand Prix. That means the most to me. That was fantastic! I still have that ribbon hanging up in my bedroom!