“Smiling all the way to the top–and to the bank.”
Aaron Vale rode his way to the top in 2005 for most prize money earned, winning over $500,000 in Jumper prize money. This South Carolina & Ocala-based rider jumped his way from 68th in the American Grand Prix Association 1999/2000 tour, to the 13th place standings currently in 2006, with AGA earnings this year at $36,750.
Aaron Vale looks like he‘s been in the saddle his whole life. Don‘t let his smile deceive you-Aaron goes to shows to win. And win he does! This Texas native did grow up riding, as his parents had a horse-business in the Dallas area.
“I rode the day before I was born, and rode the day after I was born,” says Aaron proudly. “True story!”It shows.
With a riding background in hunters and equitations, Aaron stayed around Texas mostly until he was about 17 years old and then, “went East for good.” He did the equitation classes, as most young riders did. His first year out east for the medals, he was 15 years old and took 5th in the Maclay class. He was 6th the next year in the Medal. He wound up ending his junior career taking 2nd in all three big medal classes: 2nd in the
Medal, the Maclay, and the USET.
His second year out of the juniors, he ended up in South Carolina and has been there ever since. He rode for Paul Valliere late in his junior career, and rode with Dennis Mitchell and worked for Roger and Judy Young initially, once in South Carolina.
He and his business partner, Andrea King are based in Aiken in the summer at Hollow Creek Farm; they base their ‘Team Millstream‘ out of Ocala from New Year‘s on through to the summer. “We‘re not there very often though,” he adds. Vale and King have been working together for 15 years or so.
“She is a great horseman, is a really good one to manage the horses and the business and helps the wheels keep turning the right way,” Vale says of King.
Busy in the saddle
Aaron is a busy rider, usually taking 20 horses to the shows with him. Although the main focus for Team Millstream is the jumper horses, “we wouldn‘t shy away from a nice hunter, if it were to show up at the barn,” he adds.
“This summer, we also have anywhere from 10 to 15 horses in training at home,” he explains. “Maybe young horses that aren‘t ready to show until the fall, or older horses in training.”
If you see Aaron at the shows, you‘ll notice that he rides a lot of horses. Some are Millstream‘s horses; some are syndicated; some are client‘s horses. Currently, Aaron has two customers that ride, who go to shows with him, two juniors. One of his juniors has started to give him a run for his money in the big jumper rings.
“Paige [Andros] got 2nd in a recent Grand Prix that I won,” says Aaron. “She‘s trying to figure out how to beat me in the big classes now!” He adds, obviously happy for his rider, as well as impressed.
Aaron‘s family is no longer in the horse business; however, his sister does work for the HITS horse show management company. “When she has a weekend off, sometimes she borrows a horse so she can get in the ring,” Aaron notes of his sister.
You may have heard Aaron referred to as ‘one of show jumping‘s newest stars,‘ but he‘s been winning in the jumper ring for quite some time now. He thinks people are referring to the fact that he‘s just in the last few years been able to get some horses that could compete at the International Jumper level. He has started showing (quite successfully-see highlights at end of article). Though he hasn‘t shown Internationally this year, he considers it an “honor” when ever he gets the chance to.
“I had too many young horses I‘m developing here at home this summer, to go on a European tour this year,” Aaron says. “I had to make the decision not to go, based on the whole group of horses, rather than just those two or three that might be good enough to take over.
“It‘s hard on the business at home, you can be gone from three to six weeks at a time showing in Europe,” he adds. “I don‘t want to leave the rest of my horses on the back burner, at home.”
Training Methods-What Makes a Horse Tick is Important
Typically, Aaron rides from eight to 12 horses a day, when not on the road showing. How much he jumps a horse depends on the individual horse he says.
“Some horses do better when they‘re a little fresh,” Aaron says of preparing horses for Grand Prix classes. “Some horses need to jump a little bit each day so they can stay relaxed...so jumping is not a big deal. It changes from day to day what makes the horses tick.
“You are just trying to read the horses, and plan ahead and make the right choices. It‘s not a science...the same formula doesn‘t necessarily win every time-so you try to make the right decisions.”
So how does Aaron find his mounts that lead him to so much success?
“I‘ve probably had the most wins on good old Thoroughbreds,” Aaron says. “But it doesn‘t matter what breed...it‘s tough to find good Thoroughbreds these days.“But where ever you can get a good horse; TRY to get a good horse,” he adds. “It doesn‘t matter if they‘re young or old, try to find some quality.”
One of the first things that Aaron looks for is a careful horse.
“If they don‘t have the desire to miss the rails, then you‘re kind of beating your head against the wall-you know, I‘d prefer a horse that‘s a little bit careful to a horse that was brave and doesn‘t worry so much about the rails.”
He goes on to say that less experienced riders might do better with a brave horse that has experience and won‘t worry them.
“But to be a winner today, you just have got to have a horse that is allergic to the wood these days-it just depends on their brains and their wheels.”
Furthermore, Aaron explains that you have to have as good a horse as you can get, and you have got to show the horse to win.
“You can‘t take a Volkswagon horse to go in an Indy car race, you know?
“If you‘ve got a VW, you‘d better race it against VWs-you have gotta be somewhat evenly matched to have a good chance.”
To keep his horses in the winner‘s circle, Aaron believes that you have to keep the horses happy, keep them sound, keep them fresh and confident. He thinks you need to show them WHERE they can get in the winner‘s circle.
“Learn the style of the horse,” he says. “Some horses like to jump on grass, some like to jump on dirt; some will go well in the indoors, some won‘t-you‘ve gotta try to figure them out and show them at the show grounds where they‘re the most competitive.”
How does this winning rider get horses ready for the Jumper ring?
“I believe you need to get to know your horse and have them mentally prepared,” he says. “You know, where they‘re relaxed enough and focused...try to be Tiger Woods on Sunday at the golf tournament.”
Once he‘s at the horse show, there isn‘t a lot of schooling going on for Team Millstream.
In reading the courses, Aaron says that if you know your horse, then you have a kind of feel for what their strengths and weaknesses are.
You look at your order of go, see where you‘re at, look at how the course looks and will ride. Then you compare it to your horse‘s strengths and weaknesses.
“You gotta jump what they build-you just hope it‘s a little bit advantageous for you and your horse-but you just have to do the best that you can, to the test that they build that day,” Aaron says.
“We come to show and win,” he explains. “Hopefully, most of the schooling has been done at home.
“The warm up is just like any warm up-you do the ‘jumping jacks and calisthenics...get loosened up and try not to get them rattled before you go in the gate.”
Always Improving His Game
You might think that Aaron has only done jumpers throughout his life, to get to the riding level he is today. But he believes that you need to be a student of horses, to improve your game constantly. Aaron says that he tries to watch Marcus Hemmings (the #1 rider in the world right now) to ‘copy his style.‘ Aaron may have the competitive desire of a warrior on horseback, but he does not like his own riding style as well as he might.
“My style just bugs me,” Aaron says. “It‘s not completely classic, you know? I‘m always trying to work on a better golf swing,” he says with a chuckle. “I‘m either getting better or I‘m getting worse-I‘m GETTING better!”
His competitive streak comes out when Aaron is in the ring. He enjoys winning, but his favorite wins are when he won the President‘s Cup on two occasions.
“That‘s a special class and Washington has been my favorite horse show since I was a little kid,” says Aaron. “Winning probably has something to do with my liking the show, but it‘s a pretty ring; it‘s kind of like a high definition TV look to it.”
His advice to aspiring riders who want to be like him is to take his competitiveness and combine it with classic riders-and to keep working on fine-tuning your skills.
In addition to watching others and practicing very hard, Aaron believes that a rider should try to get any information they can, to learn from. In today‘s technology age, Aaron notes that video-taped rounds can come in handy in watching for mistakes in a ride.
“You know, once you‘re at a certain riding level, though, you tend to already know what mistakes you‘ve made,” Aaron says. “You can go over every detail of your ride in your mind-but videos can certainly help, especially for those less experienced riders, or those who get nervous in the ring.”
Aaron has not only grown up riding hunters and jumpers, but has had experience with race horses and eventing. In addition to his experience, Aaron tries to hone his riding skills (even at the top level he is currently riding at) by attending riding clinics each year.
“I try to get into a clinic with George Morris each year, and I try to ride with Buck Brannaman whenever I can,” says Aaron. “I‘ve been exposed to several types of horse disciplines, and just like with Buck, he has a message-we can learn from anybody.”
Buck Brannaman may not sound like any hunter or jumper rider you‘ve heard of before. That‘s because he isn‘t. He stresses predominantly western disciplines, focusing on cow-trained horses and true horsemanship. His message stresses that things will come once you learn why a horse does what he does, according to his web site, www.brannaman.com
It is clear that Aaron Vale takes much of his equine philosophy from this type of message. He believes that anybody can learn from anyone, no matter what the discipline. When asked who inspires him, Aaron says that there are just too many people to mention, that he‘d be afraid he‘d leave someone out!
This rider has goals, as does everyone. But his are serious!
Ever since Aaron became the 2nd rider ever to take placings 1-5 in a single Grand Prix (Roanoke Grand Prix, 1997 with Mafito), he has wanted to ride on the Olympic team. But that isn‘t all he wants any more.
“I don‘t just want to ride; I want to win!”
Other goals Aaron has set for himself (if he has to be limited to 5 or 6) include riding for the U.S. Olympic Team, riding in the World Championships, riding in the World Cup Finals, doing the U.S. Invitational, and going to the Grand Prix of Aachen, Germany.
“I don‘t just want to ride,” he says. “I want the gold!”
Five years from now, Aaron still sees himself riding.
“Gosh, I‘d like to see one of those medals hanging around my neck,” he says emphatically. “If not two or three of them!”
His short term goals include doing indoors and doing most of the World Cup Qualifier classes. He‘d like to take a decent stab at trying to qualify for the World Cup out in Vegas in 2007.
“Hopefully, the horses will hold together, stay on their game, and we‘ll try to qualify.”
When asked if he has any final thoughts, Aaron said that he hopes there‘s good riding out there.
“I enjoy good horsemanship and hope it‘s a fun thing,” he said. “But I certainly love seeing serious riders, that really work at it, that are students of the sport and who try to improve themselves.
“Anything I could do to encourage more of that, I want to do so-pay attention where ever you are.”
Good advice, coming from this great, happy horseman.