The Musical and Equestrian Pursuits of Ki-Juan Minors
By Katie Navarra
Bermuda native Ki-Juan Minors never passes up an opportunity to grab a microphone or ride a horse. “Horses are my heart and music is my soul,” he said.
A passion for both horses and music started when he was a young child. “I’ve been riding since age 2 and my mom used to sing in a group that’s very popular and famous on the island,” he explained.
He began formal riding lessons at 4 and by 12 was a competitive rider in pony jumper events. At age 16, he also began competing in hunter events. “Back home, riding was a hobby, not a professional thing,” he said.
During a show that featured judges from the United States and Canada, one judge recognized his potential. “The judge said to me, ‘You have a lot of talent. If you want to do this as a career, you need to move abroad,’” he reminisced.
Always up for a challenge, he acted on the judge’s advice and moved to Europe for three months. Once there, he decided Europe was too far from home and instead relocated to Wellington, Florida, where he could ride with the best of the best year-round. “I’m an island boy so the warm weather works for me,” he laughed.
As the judge from his youth predicted, his riding career flourished after leaving his home country. He credits his current horse, Matana, for putting him on the map. “In a short amount of time, she has taken me to a place I didn’t think was possible,” he said. The 10-year-old Oldenburg mare has carried him into the ring to compete against the world’s best riders. “It’s incredible; I’m being recognized by top international riders who I’ve always looked up to!” he said.
Ki-Juan had a successful show season in 2014, resulting in several top finishes. A second-place finish in round one of the South Florida Hunter Jumper Association Show in the $10,000 National Derby was the highlight of the season. “I was riding another horse named Beso — it was a really, really big deal for me,” he said. He was also thrilled to finish second behind Peter Wylde in a meter-40 speed classic. “He beat me by tenths of a second. It was close; I almost had him,” he said.
The current season has gotten off to an equally good start with a seventh place finish in Nona Garson’s Grand Prix in late January.
Even with a determined focus on a riding career, he never let his love of music fade. Riders and spectators often hear the rider singing in the barns or as he walks around the show grounds. It was a chance meeting with Molly Ashe Cawley that landed him his first official performance in the United States. “I was belting out the National Anthem and when it came to the last line, I sang ‘land of the free and home of the braves,’” he recounted.
Molly informed him the last word is brave, not braves, and promptly arranged for him to sing the National Anthem at the horse show they were attending. “It’s become a long-standing joke between us, whenever she sees me she reminds me of my mistake,” he chuckled.
Since then he has performed the National Anthem at the Trump International, the Hampton Classic, the Dover International Speed Way NASCAR race and numerous charity events.
Despite his natural talent and comfort on the stage, he hasn’t had formal voice training.
“My mom was in a well-known group, and she always had my sister and me singing,” he said. The family would practice harmonizing along with songs playing on the radio.
He and his sister formed a group and together they entered competitions, sang at weddings and even opened for Patti LaBelle when she came to Bermuda in 2001.
“Whitney Houston was my mom’s favorite singer. When she sang the National Anthem at the Super Bowl, it stuck in my head and it’s something I’ve always wanted to have the opportunity to do,” he said.
Though he hasn’t been invited to sing at the Super Bowl just yet, his singing has impressed many.
In 2008 he was crowned the EQUUS Equestrian Idol. The event, hosted in support of The Equus Foundation, was a fundraiser to help the foundation raise public awareness of the valuable role horses play in modern society. Following the event, Robert Dover, the U.S. Dressage Team chef d’equipe, encouraged Ki-Juan to pursue a career in singing. “He said to me, ‘I don’t know why you ride horses. You should be a mega-star and then come back and buy horses,” Ki-Juan said.
Since then he devotes as much time to practicing his vocals as he does to riding. In January 2015, Robert Dover called to personally invite Ki-Juan to participate in the third annual Equestrians Got Talent, an East Coast fundraiser to benefit USEF High Performance Dressage programs through the USET Foundation.
“Robert was one of my first supporters; when he called and asked if I’d participate and explained it was a charity event, it was an easy decision for me,” he said. His participation in the event was last minute, leaving little time to prepare. Ki showed up, did a sound check and wowed the crowd with his incredible performances of Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly” and Bruno Mars’ “When I Was Your Man.”
Celebrity judges, including Mason Phelps Jr., founder and president of Phelps Media Group; Tim Dutta, CEO of The Dutta Corporation; and Lisa Wilcox, Grand Prix dressage competitor and Olympic medalist, were awestruck by his rendition of the song.
At the end of his performance, Lisa commented, “Ki-Juan, you are killing me softly!” Once again the judges and many spectators even suggested that the professional rider — also an ambassador for Tuff Rider — take advantage of his amazing musical gifts and make a career shift.
As the audition winner, he earned a $500 prize sponsored by PSdressage.com and a spot in the lineup for the March 15 finale at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival show grounds, where he’ll square off against the other weekly winners for a shot at the $5,000 grand prize sponsored by Robert Ross, P.A., Luxury Equestrian Realtor for Keller Williams.
Earning recognition for both his musical and riding talents is bringing him closer to his goals. “My dream has always been to represent my country,” he explained. His sights are set on competing in at least one of the international competitions, be it the Central American and Caribbean Games, the Pan American Games, the World Equestrian Games or the Olympics.
“It was my grandmother’s last request, so for her, I’ll do whatever I can to take my country to the next level,” he said.
He’ll continue to campaign Matana until the mare, who is currently for sale, is sold. “I plan to compete her until we have to part ways. Hopefully, I’ll pick up other rides too,” he said.
His goals for his singing career are equally impressive. If given the opportunity, he plans on taking it to the next level. “If I get a record label, I’m signing on the dotted line,” he emphasized.