Under 21: Gigi Phillips

Virginia Valentine Phillips (“Gigi”), a 17-year-old hunter and equitation rising star, recently added the South Carolina Governors Cup to her growing resume of wins.  A lifelong student at Cedarhill Farm in Marvin, North Carolina, Gigi started riding with her trainer, Andrea Guzinski, when she was just 5 years old, following in the footsteps of her mother, who also rode at Cedarhill as a junior.

“I started riding with the little summer camp for beginners at Cedarhill and then started taking lessons twice a week in kindergarten or first grade. We leased a pony in second grade, then moved to a division pony and eventually all the way up to the Junior Hunters,” she said.

Gigi’s horse Thunderbird (“He goes by Birdy”) was imported from Germany as a jumper but he was spotted by the Aiken-based trainer, Daniel Geitner, who suggested he would make a nice hunter. “We bought him in December 2021, and he was champion his first time out,” says Gigi. “He’s super sweet and really brave – he loves everyone and everything, and he just does whatever you want him to do.”

Gigi is currently a junior in high school, attending North Carolina’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg Virtual High School in order to focus on riding and her role as a working student at Cedarhill. She does therapy on the horses using Magna Wave and laser, and she cleans up and handles laundry for the barn. At the shows, she feeds and mucks, packs feet, and wraps and poultices legs. “I really like to know what’s going on with my horse, so I like to understand what the wrapping does and why I am doing it,” she says. She also enjoys watching and learning when the veterinarian comes.

Gigi plans on riding in college, hopefully on a team. After college she would love to do something with horses, maybe be an assistant at a barn. “I think I want to major in business; I want to be in the horse business and as a working student I’ve learned a lot of the horse part, so I need to figure out the business part.”

When asked about other plans, Gigi laughs. “I am very competitive and I really enjoy the various divisions and moving up the ranks. Also, I just love being around the animals. I kind of decided what I liked from a young age and I just have been ‘all-in’ with horses.”





Spring 2022

Our Spring 2022 edition features the 2022 Grand Prix Eventing Festival at the Aiken Horse Park, a New Age of Nursemares and more. Cover: Boyd Martin and Fedarman B winning the GPE festival.

Fall 2023

Our Fall 2023 edition features trail riding, polo in the Carolinas and much more!

Navigating the Working Student World

Karen’s favorite aspects of the working student life were being around the horses, as well as the life-long relationships she established at the barn.  She says that she and her group of fellow working students truly grew up together in every sense and are still in touch to this day.

Karen Kelley Embraces the Gift of Horses

 Written by: Sally F. Kay – The Carolinas Equestrian Published: 09 March 2019 “I have horses in my blood and gratefully I don’t remember a time in my life without them in it,” begins Karen Kelley of Silver Hill Farm in Waxhaw, NC. Karen was born into a horse family in Weston, Connecticut, with her father as well as her uncle working as hunter/jumper professionals. “Additionally, my father owned an insurance agency. He was one of the first to insure horses in the US as previously it could only be done through Lloyds of London.” Believe it or not, the first horse Karen rode was the famous ‘Snowman.’ For those who may be unfamiliar with this ‘rags to riches’ story that became a 2016 feature film, ‘Snowman’ was a former plow horse of mixed breed – possibly a cross of Quarter Horse, Morgan, and Draft. Harry de Leyer purchased the horse for $80.00 on his way to a slaughterhouse and became a champion in show jumping in the United States during the 1950s. “My family and the de Leyers were close friends. Harry had us all out to the farm and we all got to ride him. One time I even got to hold the reins.” Karen’s older siblings took riding lessons at close family friend Ronnie Mutch’s Nimrod Farm. Unfortunately for Karen, they would not allow children under age seven to take lessons. “It was like a form of torture for me as I was the only one in the family with ‘horse fever.’ Ronnie saw me crying one day in the lounge and brought me outside in the snow and pointed out a small Shetland pony named ‘Teddy.’ This wayward Shetland pony who had been his sons roamed the farm freely and sometimes interrupted lessons in the indoor ring. “Ronnie told me that if I could catch ‘Teddy,’ I could ride him. I was instantly on a mission with as many sugar cubes as I could fit in my pockets. After what seemed like years to me at age six, I managed to climb on him bareback for a few seconds.” Karen’s antics with ‘Teddy’ provided a great source of entertainment for her as well as everyone who watched. Her first official lesson on school pony ‘Woody’ did not occur until her seventh birthday. Nimrod Farm had a large lesson program in addition to a top ‘A’ show string of horses and riders. Riders of various abilities lessoned simultaneously in the enormous rings; therefore, Karen was exposed to some amazing talent while she was on either her school horse or pony. “Yes, back then seven year-olds rode horses, too, and survived. There were many horse shows held at Nimrod for all levels so my showing experience began there out of the lesson program.” Later, Karen was lucky enough to show at all the wonderful facilities in the Northeast including Old Salem, Ox Ridge, Farmington, Saratoga, Lake Placid, Hampton Classic, Attitash, Mt. Snow, and Killington. “My favorite horse show still and will always be Fairfield Hunt Club. The huge grass polo field with double panels and 20+ stride lines, just stunning. I was fortunate to ride at the Hunt Club for three years, and those were three of the best years.” With a mom and dad standing 5’8” and 6’3” respectively, Karen’s pony days were short lived with her moving on to horses by age ten. Nimrod Farm’s show program was growing and the lesson program was shrinking. Subsequently, only Karen and one of her brothers were riders in the Kelley family. Her sister was allergic to horses and her other brother pursued football. “Dad got us into Wayside Farm in New York with Barbara Lindsay and Gerry Barden where we worked and rode, learned everything about horses we could and met friends that have lasted a lifetime, many who today are top horseman around the country.” They all developed a tremendous work ethic, sense of responsibility and extensive knowledge of horsemanship. “We were all blessed to be part of the Wayside family and have such a wonderful start with talented, funny and kind trainers. Following Wayside Karen rode with Carol Maloney at Cedar Lodge Farm in Connecticut, attended Stoneleigh Burnham School where she rode with John Manning and Fairfield Hunt Club with Leslie Burr Howard. “All of these trainers taught me horsemanship, technique, patience, style, and diligence. Most of all, they each helped me believe in me.” While Karen had every intention and dream of pursuing a career after college and riding as an amateur, an alternative path became necessary. “My father was diagnosed with cancer, so I moved home to Aiken, SC, in the late 1980s where my parents had bought a farm retired a few years earlier.” Her Dad did some breeding and became involved with Aiken’s racing scene. Karen’s brother also relocated to Aiken and worked for one of the top race stables, Dogwood Stables. Karen and her father attended an area schooling show called Progressive Show Jumping (PSJ) at someone’s private farm and ran into Mary Ann Parmelee (Rick Cram’s mother) whom they had met when they first moved to Aiken. “Mary Ann asked what I was doing, and I told her I was back and looking for a job. She put me in touch with her daughter- in- law (Cathy Cram).” Cathy and Rick were recently married and started Cranberry Stables in Lexington, SC. They were looking for someone to help her teach riding lessons, and the rest is history. “Life had come full circle, and it was my turn to run the lesson program which had taught me so much as a child.” Many of the students Karen and Cathy taught over the years are still riding, showing, and become professionals themselves. “Cathy, Rick and I are still the best of friends and colleagues.” ‘Silver Hill’ aka ‘Marty’ was an Off The Track Thoroughbred (OTTB) whose trainer was the Kelley’s neighbor in Aiken. He was an attractive 17 hand grey gelding too slow

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