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.”