Written by: Jessica Lefroy

This talented young rider and daughter of noted professionals talks to Horse Sport about growing up, branching out, and giving back

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Quinn Saunders/Totem Photographics

Julia Tops made history in 2011 at the age of 13 as the youngest rider to ever win the CET regional finals. Now 16, she continues to make her mark from the equitation ring to the grand prix arena.

Born in Lausanne, Switzerland, Julia is the daughter of Canadian show jumper Tani Zeidler and Dutch Olympic gold medalist Jan Tops. An honours student, she contributes to charities both local and worldwide: she is a Riding Ambassador for JustWorld International, volunteers at her local food bank and is involved in the Humanitarian Outreach and Model United Nations programs through her school.

Julia, who began riding at the age of two, resides in DeWinton, AB, and alternately trains with Bobbie Reber in Langley, BC, and Dick Carvin and Susie Schroer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the first junior rider in North America to be sponsored by the equestrian lifestyle apparel brand, Kingsland, and has amassed an impressive list of results at Spruce Meadows, the Winter Equestrian Festival, and stops on the Global Champions Tour across Europe. With aspirations of being named to the Canadian Young Rider team for the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships in Kentucky, her 2014 season will be spent competing in the high juniors on her mounts VDL Groep Camara and Loving Dancer, while continuing in the equitation classes aboard Tom Foolery.

What are some of your earliest memories of your time in the saddle?

Because both my mother and father are professional show jumpers, I have been immersed in the show jumping world since I was born. When I was just a year old, both my parents would hold me in front of the saddle as they hacked their horses. My first pony was named Jordash; I was about three years old when I got her. Once I began competing in the pony division, my mom bought me a fancy medium pony named Merry Go Round. When she stepped off the truck, I was beyond excited to ride her. I got on and when I went to jump a small cross-rail, she promptly pitched me onto the ground. We took her to my first show not knowing what would happen – and we went on to win every class. We came to accept that she simply refused to jump at home, but we were unbeatable at the shows!

What are some of the benefits and challenges of being the child of professionals?

There are many benefits to having parents so influential in the sport. Their hard work and dedication in this industry has given me a framework to develop my riding, and I credit my mother as being my greatest inspiration. In addition, their influence has given me opportunities to further my riding career and they have been very supportive, understanding, and encouraging. I do feel a bit of pressure when I think about living up to the successes of my parents; their contributions to the equestrian community are substantial. One of most important lessons that I have learned from my mother is that all horses are different, and that you have to adapt to your horse. Riders are like chameleons, having to change “colours” to suit the characteristics of each horse. This is advice that I have used on various mounts and will always carry with me in the future.

Who is the one pony or horse who has meant the most to you/taught you the most?

I will have to credit two horses equally with having had the greatest impact on my life. Tom Foolery, my equitation horse, has taught me to be disciplined in my technique. With Tom I learned about perfecting position and finding the ideal distance on high-level courses. He comes by his name honestly, however, as one of the ‘foolish’ things Tom loves to do is throw a buck after a good jump! In the hunter phase of the WIHS Equitation, he bucked right before the last line. Zebu, also known as “Ginger”, is the horse that taught me the most in the jumper ring. Although his mouth could be difficult at times, he taught me about big jumps and I rode on my first Nations’ Cup with him. At times he could be a little bit of a chicken, making me hold his hand the whole way around the course, especially at walls.

What is your favourite venue?

My favourite venue in the world would have to be Spruce Meadows, as it always feels like home. Spruce has so much to offer developing riders and has been instrumental to my success. During the Skyliner week at the Summer Series, I was able to participate on a mock Nations’ Cup team with Ian Miller as the chef d’équipe. Additionally, their idea of the Final Four class, in which I placed third in 2011, models the World Equestrian Games and really gives us young riders the chance to feel the pressure of competing at such a big event.

Can you pinpoint some competitive highlights that have been especially meaningful to you?

One of the greatest victories in my riding career so far is winning CET regionals in 2011 aboard Tom Foolery, one of my longest partners in show jumping. It was the first major win of my career. I was nervous all week, especially for the gymnastic phase, wanting to qualify for the final six that switched horses on Sunday. I snuck into the finals that day, ranking sixth overall and becoming the underdog of the competition. Going into the ring all my nerves disappeared and I was determined to put my best foot forward and ride the other horses to the best of my abilities. I was no stranger to catch riding, and remembered pieces of advice from each trainer over the years that had gotten me to that point. Missy Clark and John Brennan truly taught me how to ride the equitation; Bobbie Reber has allowed me to excel in the fine details; and my mother has just had an immeasurable impact – a true “family affair.”

You are very involved in charities and as a volunteer in the community. Why is this so important to you?

I recognize and appreciate my good fortune in life and it has made me realize how much I can contribute to improving the lives of others. Just World International is an organization to which I have been an ambassador for years, and it is an excellent way for equestrians to give back to the community. JustWorld allows for a unique opportunity to combine philanthropy with my passion of show jumping. In addition, I think it is important to recognize need on a local level; volunteering for these efforts is a feeling that is incomparable, as you are able to see your efforts have an effect first-hand.

What are your goals for the future?

My goal is to represent Canada in the Olympics and climb the Longines FEI rider rankings, with the immediate goal of going to Young Riders this summer in Kentucky. However, having a career in the sport for the long-term is not my end goal, as having an affinity for humanities and international relations, I plan to enter the field of law in the future. My goal is to be balanced; horses and show jumping will always be a formidable aspect of my life.