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  • Writer's pictureCatie Staszak

By the Numbers: How Erynn Ballard Became the World’s Leading Lady Show Jumper

For the third straight month, Canada’s Erynn Ballard is the highest ranked female show jumper in the world. Ranked 28 on the most recent publication of the monthly Longines Jumping Rankings, Ballard is not only the leading lady of the sport, but she is also the highest ranked Canadian on the prestigious list. She made her Championship debut just three years ago, a year after setting a goal to crack the world’s top 100. “There’s a prestige that comes with being among the top 30 in the world,” Ballard said. “When you start to do better for yourself in those rankings, more opportunity presents itself. You can start getting into those bigger shows, which offer bigger results, and there’s a chain reaction from that. In my situation, that was not my priority, but it happened as we went, I would say.

“Laura [Kraut] has probably been the top female rider 1000 times, and Beezie [Madden],” she added. “I don’t really remember it having such an influential impact [before], but because it’s someone that’s different and new, and we ourselves made it a big deal, maybe now it can become a bigger goal for female riders.”

Ballard has made a habit out of shattering [glass] ceilings, and her career has taken off since partnering with Ilan Feder’s Ilan Ferder Show Stables. Ballard is the operation’s primary rider, and while she gets ample ring time, most of her results come aboard sale horses she’s ridden for a very short amount of time. She won her first CSI5* class in 2018 on a horse she’d shown just three times. She finished second in the 2022 Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Sacramento aboard Huberth B, a horse she’d sat on less than five times (It was their first international show as a partnership). She won a ranking class at CSI4*-W Las Vegas in November with Nanini van d’Abeldreef in their second international start.

“Now, [catch riding] is my program. It’s not unusual anymore, not uncomfortable. It’s just what I do,” Ballard said. “Ilan’s theory is, and we only had one serious talk about it, but he basically said in that moment, ‘This is what we do, and we don’t question it. I would never put you on a horse that I don’t think can do the job. If I enter you in a class, you have to go in believing you’re on the right horse for the job.’ If you put that in your brain, that’s your reality, that’s your mindset. This is the right horse for this class in this moment with the right preparation, and it’s my job to not let that horse down.”

Major League Show Jumping brought more five-star events than ever to North America in 2021, but ask Ballard how she so meteorically climbed the world rankings, and she’ll point out her results from two circuits: Tryon Spring (USA) and Spruce Meadows’ (CAN) September tournaments.

The numbers support that, and a deeper look at Ballard’s record at these events is eye-opening. For three weeks between May and June 2021, Ballard won four ranking classes at the CSI2* and CSI3* level in Tryon, aboard three different horses. She collectively averaged just 2 faults, with an average placing of 9. In 20 FEI starts, she finished outside the top 12 just four times.

At Spruce Meadows, her averages were almost identical, as Ballard averaged 3 faults at the venue’s “National” and Masters” tournaments. Her average placing was once again 9. An extra 140 ranking points can be earned in a CSIO5* Nations Cup, and Ballard was double-clear for Canada aboard Jack van’t Kattenheye.

The way rankings are calculated, a riders’ top 30 results from the past year count for their overall ranking, so only major placings will have an impact on Ballard’s current points tally. FEI events are classified by rankings from “D” to “AA” based on fence height, prize money and prestige, with AA classes offering the most points. Five-star Nations Cups (HH) and team competitions at Championships (O) are even more lucrative.

“The more horses you ride, the better chances you have,” Ballard said.

“[World No. 7] Conor Swail (IRL) basically did the same tour. Those five-star shows, those four-star World Cup shows, week after week, presented opportunity with those AA, A and B ranking classes.

“It’s complicated and it’s not,” she added. “If you average fourth or ninth in B ranking classes and finish top three in any big [1.60m five-star] classes or Nations Cups, it plays a huge role.”

The start to Ballard’s winter has been quieter, though Nanini van d’Abeldreef continues to be a bright star in her string, having won a “D” ranking CSI5* 1.45m contest at the Winter Equestrian Festival in February.

Ballard’s not talking about the numbers. She’s letting the numbers talk for her.

“You can get so wrapped up in the points,” she said. “You have to remember, you’re not riding for points; you’re riding to ride, for that class, for that horse, for that result.”

Photo: Erynn Ballard and Nanini van d’Abelendreef (SportFot)


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