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The Next Generation – Kelli Cruciotti Vanderveen: “I think many people search their whole lives for what makes them truly happy”

Friday, 17 July 2020
The Next Generation

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping
"For me, being a professional rider was an easy decision. Now, running a business with my family – my mom and my godmother Kelli Clevenger – is really a dream come true," Kelli tells. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

For Kelli Cruciotti Vanderveen, riding truly runs in the blood. The 23-year-old grew up around horses and pursuing a career as a professional rider was something that was clear to Kelli from an early age. As one of Team US’ young rising stars, World of Showjumping spoke with Kelli about her recent move to Wellington, how she experienced her first World Cup Final last year and what she believes America’s strong young rider front can be credited to.

“It is all in the family! My mom Cindy Cruciotti has been a trainer for 30 years – and still is, so it was kind of a natural progression,” Kelli begins. “I was always at the barn and started riding when I was four. For me, being a professional rider was an easy decision. Now, running a business with my family – my mom and my godmother Kelli Clevenger – is really a dream come true.”

Speaking about family, even Kelli’s in-laws are successful showjumpers. “Kristen Vanderveen is my sister-in-law, I got married to her brother in January. I think I have the longest name at the shows now,” Kelli laughs. “I have not yet been in the same team with my sister-in-law, but the idea has come up and it would be kind of fun!”

Kelli and her family recently relocated from Colorado to Wellington, Florida. “It made sense to move,” Kelli tells. “Colorado was not the best location when it comes to getting to the shows. We were not really there that much, and were just going back and forth.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping
“Horses are such incredible animals, and to be able to have this as my job as well as my passion is something really special," Kelli says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“We mostly focus on training and sales, and obviously getting horses to show at the top level of the sport,” Kelli explains about their family business. “We do a lot of equitation and some hunters, but mostly jumpers. In Colorado, we had about 50 horses and we brought 20 of them with us when we relocated. We are building a new place here in Wellington.”

“I try to work out in the morning from six to seven, then we go to the barn around 8.30,” Kelli explains about her day-to-day routine at home. “For the past two months we have had reasonable hours, which has been a nice change. Usually, I ride 4-8 horses per day – mixing with some training. That is the routine without showing.”

“It has been a difficult time for so many people,” Kelli says about the Covid-19 pandemic that has halted the entire world. “For us as an industry it has been really hard because we rely on horse shows; for points, for prize money, for bettering ourselves and our horses. But I also think it has been a nice time to a) getting to know some of the horses that you don’t normally have so much time with and b) going back to the fundamentals and working on the things you otherwise would not necessarily work on. Hopefully, when we are ready to get back to shows, we will be that much better since we spent this time hard at work.”

“Just being around horses,” Kelli answers when asked about what she loves most about her job. “Horses are such incredible animals, and to be able to have this as my job as well as my passion is something really special. I think many people search their whole lives for what makes them truly happy; I am very fortunate I get to have this as my job. I feel blessed to be able to work with horses every day, and to share it with my family.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping
"I have always been raised with the mind-set that ’nobody can outwork you if you put your mind to it’," Kelli tells. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Always trying to get better is the key to Kelli’s motivation. “I think it is just what motivates everybody; the pursue of what you can call ’perfection’,” Kelli continues. “I don’t think anybody in this sport ever knows everything, so just learning more and pushing yourself to be better is essential. I have always been raised with the mind-set that ’nobody can outwork you if you put your mind to it’. Just working as hard as you can, working with what you have, making the most of your opportunities, is what I try to do. When you have done the work, you have to trust that the rest will go as it is supposed to. Horses are always changing, and striving to do what makes them happy and perform at their best keeps me motivated. I believe that when the horses are at their best, we as riders are, too.”

Kelli’s best horse at the moment is the 13-year-old Hadja van Orshof (Cabrio Z x Darco) – her partner at the 2019 Longines FEI World Cup Final. “I have had her for four years,” Kelli tells. “When I bought her, she was very green and had jumped up to 1.40m level. In the ring she is very aggressive, but she is also very careful. We took our time with her and worked on her rideability as there wasn’t a whole lot of that. Over the years she has gotten so consistent; last year, she won a four-star Grand Prix in XX, she was second in Langley and double clear in the World Cup in Lexington. Everything I asked from her, she just did and I felt like each time we went into the ring, we improved. She is getting into her stride now, even though I think it took her a little longer than for most horses. Now, she knows the job, is a real fighter and it is a pleasure to ride her.”

When qualifying for her first World Cup Final last year, Kelli reached one of her big goals. “Gothenburg was amazing,” Kelli tells. “All these riders that you sort of aspire to are there in the flesh, in the warm-up and walking the course and it is sort of surreal to be there with them. As a young rider, it pushes you to be better. You see what you can improve on, as the courses are much harder than the ones you have jumped before. Even the first day, the speed class; it looked enormous and that was just day one! Those were for sure the biggest courses I have ever jumped, it was very eye-opening. I came away from it wanting to be better, and excited for the next years to see how I have improved. Championships and these kinds of finals are a good way to see how well you have done your homework.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping
"Those were for sure the biggest courses I have ever jumped, it was very eye-opening. I came away from it wanting to be better," Kelli tells about her first World Cup Finals in Gothenburg. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

About her future goals, Kelli says: “For the long run, representing the US in Nations Cups is a goal, and my dream for sure is to one day ride at the Olympics or at the World Equestrian Games. Within the next few years, I would like to see myself established here in Florida with our new place up and running.”

As to the huge amount of talent Team US has in store with their depth of younger riders coming through, Kelli says: “We are strong in numbers and do a great job using the equitation as a steppingstone into the higher jumpers. I think that is why you see so many strong young riders; they come up through the equitation. Beezie, McLain, Kent and Laura – they all did it. I think it gives you an amazing foundation to do anything you want in this sport. It gives you that solid base; if you want to jump Grand Prix classes, it is just another step to take.”

“I have been lucky to have so many people and mentors who have put in time helping me and have given me opportunities,” Kelli explains when asked about the people who have meant the most for her equestrian career. “But I would have to say my mom. She has always been there for me, pushing for me. When I am feeling down, she fills the role of being mom, but then there are other times when we are trainer and student. I think we have a unique relationship in that way. She is the one I can always count on to be in my corner. This sport can be very lonely and I am very fortunate to always have someone there in both the good and bad times. There are a lot of ups and downs!”

Finding the consistency is what Kelli finds the most challenging about the sport. “I believe that every rider would like to have the secret recipe of consistency; if you do A and B, you get C. But with horses, that is impossible. For me, staying levelled with my emotions – not getting too high when it goes great and not too low when things don’t go quite as you expected – is something I try to focus on. I try to keep a more of a ‘big picture’ in my mind; simply put in the hard work and believe that the rest is already decided.”

 

No reproduction without written permission, copyright © World of Showjumping

 



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