By Britney Anderson
To anyone outside the horse world, happily shoveling horse dung, filling a stall with shavings and hauling hay are not things they might expect of 19-year-old Jennifer Gates. But Jennifer, oldest daughter of Bill and Melinda Gates, is quite adept at doing all of those things, including under the scrutiny of the master himself while participating in the 2015 George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session.
Jennifer’s talent and hard work have propelled her to being one of the top young riders in the nation. In 2014 alone, she won team gold and individual fourth at the North American Young Rider Championships, won a 1.30-meter Open Classic at the Thunderbird Show Park, and placed second in both the Las Vegas National $30,000 Speed Class and The Hollywood Reporter Trophy Class at the Longines Los Angeles Masters.
Chosen to fill one of six wild card openings for the 2015 Horsemastership clinic by George himself, Jennifer’s endearing wit, humility and gratitude shine in her memoir of the 5-day session alongside her passion and dedication. Between horses and homework, Jennifer was able to find time for an interview with Sidelines, giving a brief glimpse into the busy life of this talented and devoted young horsewoman.
How did you begin your horse career?
I started riding at the age of 6, when my childhood best friend and I decided we wanted to take pony lessons. A couple years after that, I switched to a barn that introduced me to hunters and jumpers and set me on a more serious path — including introducing me to my current trainer.
Does anyone else in your family ride, or have a history with horses?
No one else in my family competes, but they love being around my horses and riding occasionally for pleasure when we’re on vacation. They’re all so supportive of my riding career. I feel so lucky to have a family that supports me and just wants me to be happy.
What has been your favorite competition experience so far?
My favorite so far was riding at the North American Junior Young Rider Championships in 2014. I’d just started riding with a new horse, Lord Levisto (Levi), so it was exhilarating to place so well (team gold and fourth individually). Levi is probably the best horse I’ve had the pleasure of riding, and I trust him so much when we’re in the ring together.
Where are you currently with your riding?
I have four horses in training under Hardin Towell, with whom I’ve been working for the past three years. Before that, I trained with his father, Jack Towell, so it really is a family affair and I feel lucky to know such wonderful people in the sport who’ve taught me so much. I’m currently competing in the Amateur Owner Jumpers (1.20-1.40), the Under 25 classes (1.45), and the occasional Grand Prix (1.40-1.60). This year I’m hoping to build my confidence in the Under 25 division and some Grand Prix competitions while learning how to be competitive in the Amateur Owner Jumpers. I have a wonderful group of horses right now, so I’m really focused on building my confidence and gaining valuable experience.
In what ways do you consider yourself a “typical” teenager? In what ways do you feel you’re different?
Any teenager who jumps horses over 5-foot-tall obstacles is probably at least a little out of the ordinary! I’m in my second year of college and trying to balance many of the same priorities and challenges that student-athletes everywhere have to manage. But being typical isn’t as important to me as being grateful for the opportunities that I have and continuing to do my best in the ring and the classroom.
What are your goals, such as riding, education and career?
I hope to first complete my bachelor’s degree at Stanford University, where I’m a sophomore. After that, I plan to pursue either a master’s degree in public health or social work or attend medical school. Although it’s hard to say what the future holds, I love school and am excited about being a full-time student for several more years.
In terms of my riding goals, I hope to continue pursuing good rounds in the Grand Prix and become more competitive in the amateur owner classes. Since I’m balancing school and riding, I remind myself to focus on enjoying the sport, which I think will be important for my whole life. Whether I decide someday to pursue my riding at a higher level, such as World Cups, or it becomes just a pleasure sport for me, I know horses will always be an important part of my life.