It was a momentous occasion on July 20 at Tryon International Equestrian Center (NC) when Alison Robitaille and Ace, owned by Bertram and Diana Firestone, led the victory gallop in the $134,000 Horseware Grand Prix Concours de Saut International 3*.
“The Horseware Grand Prix in Tryon is the biggest win since my comeback,” Alison said. “It means so much to me. I do this sport because it’s my passion and I am grateful there is building interest and sponsorship of the sport! Winning is the icing on the cake.”
For Alison, it was the best possible affirmation of the success of her return to international showjumping competition after taking off five years for motherhood. When she felt that her two daughters were ready, she began planning her comeback campaign with Michelle Grubb. Alison was committed to raising her children and competing for her horses, but it wasn’t easy.
As a rider she had to get back her eye, timing, stamina, core strength, reflexes, moxie, and a gazillion other elements to compete over the grand Prix jumps that measure big and wide. Two different roles, neither one at all easy, but Alison was determined to succeed at both because she felt that her two passions complemented each other and made her a better rider and a better mom.
“My children have taught me so much,” Alison said. “The list would be endless, but one of my favorite things is being as present as possible as much as possible with my girls. This has undoubtedly helped me with my relationship not only with Ace but with all of my horses.”
Success in the form of achieving international status came rather quickly once the campaign got underway. In May 2017 Alison and Ace contributed to the U.S. Show Jumping Team’s silver medal in the Nations Cup™ in Coapexpan, Mexico. In 2018, they finished 14th overall in the Longines FEI World Cup Final, with Paris as the backdrop. It was her fifth World Cup Final, her first one since she represented the U.S. in Kuala Lumpur in 2006. In 1998, Alison finished 14th individually in the FEI World Equestrian Games in Rome.
“At the beginning of getting back in the sport, it felt harder,” Alison said. “When I had my earlier successes, I was very young and in a lot of ways I didn’t know what I couldn’t do. This time around, I’ve worked hard on tackling things head-on and even though there’s way more to balance with kids, horses, fitness, horse owners, etcetera, it’s forced me to be more disciplined. I’m very grateful for that. I guess it took me a while to figure out exactly what I needed to be doing, then how, and things have started to come together in the last few months.”
To shine a bit more light on Alison and Ace’s triumph in the Horseware Grand Prix: of the 30 horse-and-rider combinations, only six went clear in the first round to qualify for the jump-off. Alison and Ace secured their win with the fastest clear round, stopping the clock on 40.376 seconds. This is a sport that can be won or lost by tiny fractions of a second even when the fences all stay up. Second place went to Scott Keach (AUS) and Falcon de Hus Z in 40.805 seconds, followed very closely by Hector Florentino (DOM) and Carnaval on 40.847 seconds. In addition to Allison and Ace’s glory, Sabina Zander won the Absorbine Groom’s Award for her care and dedication to the winning horse.
Alison credits Ace with being the horse that helped to make her comeback campaign so successful. He’s a gray Dutch Warmblood gelding, born in 2005, and Alison described him as having “a good bit of “blood” for a big horse” who was always nice to ride, but it took time for horse and rider to get to know each other. They’ve been together a little more than three years.
“Now when I think it, Ace does it. We have a real partnership,” Alison said. “Ace is so intelligent and I think he truly loves his job. He loves being in an atmosphere under the lights with a big crowd. He always rises to the occasion.”
Alison, who doesn’t take success for granted, added: “I’d also like to express how grateful I am to my parents for supporting me and the relationship we have, all sharing a love for horses. It’s great to talk to them after they’ve watched the rounds and get their feedback. Last but not least, I want to recognize my team at the barn: Will Simons, Sabina Zander, Sarah Rudberg, and Alberto Villegras.”
Totally focused on doing her utmost best for her children and her horses, Alison continues to set goals while nurturing her own and her daughters’ hopes and dreams. She has had numerous experiences that fueled her passion, especially when her father took her to watch the 1993 World Cup Finals in Holland.
“Since then, I have always wanted to win the World Cup Finals,” Alison said. “Another goal is to win the Grand Prix of Aachen, arguably the single most prestigious Grand Prix in the world. I hope that, as my daughters grow up, they will learn how important it is to find and then follow their passions, no matter if it’s horseback riding or bowling, and experience the true joy which, in my opinion, is success defined.”