Wellington, Florida, USA – February 06, 2021 – Very few equestrians can say that they have crossed continents and oceans in pursuit of personal and professional growth, challenges and opportunities. Coming all the way from Oceania, Riley Mackillop (AUS) has done that and much more! His career began at a very, very young age in Australia. Growing up in Sydney, he started in the pony club system and competed successfully in many state championships for multiple disciplines before specializing in Show Jumping.
Time to Learn
A major milestone came at the age of 12, when Riley joined 6-time Olympian Vicki Roycroft. He did not take it for granted, learning from one of the all-time greats of equestrian sports in the land down under. For the next 6 years, he absorbed and put into practice as much as he could from Vicki, going on to win many junior titles in his native country. “Riley is a super kid, I loved having him around the place. He is smart, talented and a good worker, I’m just sad that he is now so far away from us back here is Australia. I am glad to be a part of his story and to watch him grow from a kid into a passionate and driven rider.”
Perhaps the most important achievement of his young but successful career was travelling to Colombia in 2012 to represent Australia at the FEI Children’s international competition. The sacrifice and many years of dedication paid off with an amazing victory.
A Thoroughbred as a Horse of a Lifetime
Riley’s horse of a lifetime is an incredible story itself. TM Admiral Venture was a problematic thoroughbred gelding. “We bought him as a green 7-year-old off the track, who had done very little jumping and couldn’t canter on the right lead. He had a knocked-down wither from an accident on the racetrack,” states Mackillop.
He believed in the partnership and trained the horse alongside Roycroft. Together, they went from jumping .80 classes into Junior classes, highlighted by several State Championship titles. Their successful partnership continued with the dynamic duo moving on to the Young Rider ranks and Mini Prix’s, winning at these levels too.
Unfortunately, Riley had to make the difficult decision to sell the horse, after Admiral Venture was scouted by a trainer in Japan, but that was for a good reason. He was about to graduate and wanted to pursue new challenges and opportunities abroad. With the bright lights of International competition and the much larger Show Jumping scene of the United states calling, the young lad said goodbye to his faithful partner, selling him to a young lady in Japan where he is still living happily.
Crossing Oceans & Facing New Challenges
After graduating from high school and selling his top horse, he made the trip from the other side of the globe, all the way from Australia, to the land of opportunity, the United States of America. Besides being away from his family, friends and having to sell his horse of a lifetime, it meant having to work his way up again, prove himself and earn the trust of people he had never met before.
He started riding at a hunter/jumper barn in Ocala for the circuit, showing in the amateur classes, but soon grabbed the chance to work for top 100 rider Andy Kocher (USA), allowing him to turn into a professional rider himself. Kocher (USA) runs one of the largest sale barns in America and the young Australian took up a prominent riding position which developed into management.
In America, Riley had the ability to learn and grow his riding by riding a wide range of horses and acquiring skills from top riders and trainers along the way. This was ultimately a great experience for the Australian rider and certified his skills in both riding and management. “I learnt new techniques, training methods, and received tips and knowledge from some of the world’s best riders. I learnt about working with and helping clients, to sales and horsemanship. I was able to ride a lot of horses at home, and in the show ring, the highlight being winning the Ludwigs Corner Mini Prix.” Furthermore, Mackillop developed many young horses whilst working with Kocher, many of which are stepping into or competing at the Grand Prix level today. To this day, Mackillop is very thankful to Andy Kocher for believing in him.
In February 2018, he moved on from Andy’s operation to work for Jorge Verswyvel. Mackillop in conversation with Jumper News, “It’s actually a very cool story of how I ended up working with Jorge, when I went to the FEI Children’s competition in Colombia in 2012, I met Jorge and his daughter Tatianna Verswyvel and our families became friends. I won the competition and Tatianna was second. After keeping in touch with her for the next 5 years we met up again in Kentucky and then again in Wellington where I approached them about working for them.” Jorge is a Mexican trainer and rider who was a member of the Mexican team for many years and won Team Gold and Individual Silver medals at the Central American games, competing across the Americas and Europe.
Verswyvel who built his career and reputation at La Silla in Mexico, moved his operation to the United States in 2015 where he has grown a successful training and sales barn. After mentoring many top riders, including Angel and Alejandro Karolyi (VEN), Verswyvel seems to have another superb talent under his tutelage. “Since Riley joined the team here at Verswyvel stables we have grown our client base and have developed a very promising string of young horses together, as well as enjoying the opportunity of training him in some bigger classes.” Verswyvel states, “He has developed his riding a lot in the last few years and has accomplished some respectable achievements, thanks to his dedication and love for the sport and the horses we have.”
The Australian rider has tallied up many impressive results including three 3rd place finishes at The Ridge’s Turf Tour Grand Prix in Wellington, a 4th place in the World Equestrian Center’s $25,000 Grand Prix and an 8th in the $50,000 Grand Prix as well as 1.35m Champion at the World Equestrian Center venue in Wilmington, Ohio, USA. At the Kentucky Summer Horse Show he placed 2nd in the Under 25 Grand Prix and 6th in the 1.40m.
The Next Step
The young Australian is currently based in Wellington and seems poised to continue to climb the ranks of the Show Jumping world both in and out of the competition arena. Mackillop is hoping to push his career into FEI level competition by continuing to learn from best, advancing his riding and embracing the opportunities that this sport has to offer.
Sources: Riley Mackillop / Vicky Roycroft / Jorge Verswyvel
Text: Lo-Ami Souza & Riley Mackillop for Jumper News
Photos: © Riley Mackillop / Romeo Ghete / Winslow Photography / Australian Jumping