From McLain Ward and George Morris to Missy Clark, many of the biggest names in the business believe strongly in the American equitation system and the type of horseman it’s meant to develop. Geoffrey Hesslink is one rider who exemplifies the program, and today, the young professional is putting the lessons of his youth—both in the equitation ring and as a former working student and catch rider—to good use.

In 2014, Hesslink won the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals – East in his final year as a junior. He calls the win one of the most inspiring events in his career, and credits his longtime coach and mentor, Andre Dignelli, for giving him the skills and confidence required to take home one of the country’s most prestigious and challenging equitation finals. Since that time, Hesslink has also established himself as one to watch in the professional hunter and derby rings, where this summer, he won reserve champion in Section A and champion in Section B of the USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals on his own 6-year-old, Cadoretto (“Cadbury”).

We caught up with Geoffrey to learn more about his hard-earned wins, the best advice he’s ever received (from George, of course!), and one Pony Finals meltdown for the ages.

1. At what exact moment did you fall in love with horses?

I have been fascinated with horses for as long as I can remember. When I finally convinced my parents to let me ride, I was instantly hooked.

2. For riding, do you prefer black boots or brown boots?

Black. Always.

3. If you could do any other equestrian discipline, what would it be and why?

If I were to do another discipline it would be dressage. I find top level dressage beautiful and I relate to it knowing how important flat work is for my own discipline.

4.  What is the most embarrassing thing to have ever happened to you while riding? 

My first and only USEF Pony Finals appearance I competed in the Pony Medal and I was called back on top. In the second round, my pony stopped at the two-stride combination, where I ended up in front of the saddle. After realizing what happened, I began to cry hysterically and then, feeling mortified, I tried to exit the ring without finishing the course. My trainer, Bibby Farmer Hill, made me stay in the ring and finish. I picked up where I left off and finished the course. However, I did not stop crying.

5. What is the most inspiring thing to have ever happened to you while riding?

My goal for as long as I can remember was to win a major equitation final. When I began riding at Heritage Farm, trainer Andre Dignelli looked me in the eye and told me that I could do it. After months of training, I found myself in the top four at the 2014 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals. On each of the four horses, he gave me the same look and boost of  confidence, telling me, “You can do this.” Every time I look back on winning the USET finals, I feel inspired to follow my dreams.

6. What is your favorite #TwoHearts Moment of recent seasons?

My favorite #TwoHearts moment of this year was being reserve champion in Section A as well as champion in Section B at the 2017 USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals with my new partner, Cadoretto. At just six years old, he blew me away with his maturity and poise in an event of that caliber. I couldn’t show him enough love.

7. What was the hardest lesson you have had to learn in your riding?

In my riding career, I have learned that no person or horse is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. It is how you handle and recover from those mistakes that makes you who you are as a person and horseman.

8. Who is your mentor and why?

Andre Dignelli has played a huge role in my career both with my own personal riding but also with learning the industry. He has helped me not only capture multiple national championships but has also shown me the industry and how to run a successful business.

9. If you could ride a horse from the past, who would it be?

It would have to be Sapphire. I have vivid memories from my childhood of watching her and McLain Ward in absolute awe; jumping the biggest jumps in perfect style. I hope to have a horse like that of my own one day.

10. If you could ride a horse right now that is not your own, who would it be?

If I were to get on any horse right now it would have to be Daniel Deusser’s Cornet D’Amour. Every time I watch this horse I am amazed at how easily he navigates the biggest tracks around the world.

11. How do horses keep you grounded in the industry that you live/work in?

I believe that in this industry, hard work and dedication will lead you to success. No one is looking to give you something you don’t deserve, and it shows who is putting in the time and effort. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned with horses is that one day you can be the champion, and the next you’re on the ground.

12. What is your favorite guilty pleasure?

Hands down—chocolate cake.

13. When were you most happy on a horse?

I enjoy all time spent with horses. I often work with young or inexperienced horses. I find it very rewarding when they comprehend what I am teaching them.

14. If your horse were a famous person, who would they be?

My six-year-old chestnut, Cadoretto, would be Shawn Mendes. They are both young, hip, and chic!

15. What is one piece of riding clothing or equipment you could never do without?

For riding day to day, Lululemon is a go-to. I love the lightweight, breathable material that allows you to stay protected from the sun while looking fashionable.

16. What is your helmet of choice and why?

The Premium black Samshield. The design and materials allow your head to breathe, and the many options [for customization] allow each individual to make it their own.

17. Which famous clothing brand do you wish would come out with an equestrian line?

I wish Saint Laurent would come out with an equestrian line. I find their designs simple yet elegant, and they would bring high-quality fashion to the equestrian community.

18. What is your biggest splurge to date when it comes to your riding and/or horse(s)?

My biggest splurge, aside from my horse, would have to be my MaeLort & Co. ring bag (www.maelort.com). Its modern design is both functional and fashionable and allows me to be prepared for showing in every ring. As far as clothing, I try to keep everything classic when it comes to shopping for riding apparel.

19. What is the best piece of riding advice you have ever received?

I was privileged enough to participate in the George Morris clinic in 2015. George told us that to be successful in this sport, we needed to be real, all-around horse people. We needed to be able to do everything with a horse, not just compete. He also stressed that it’s a horse sport and the horse always comes first. I try hard to be involved in all aspects of the horses and learn as much as I can.

20. What is your life motto?

My life motto leads back to hard work. I think that to make it in any business or industry, hard work is the key to success. Growing up, my parents always said that hard work is one of the best qualities to have as a person. Many people have talent, but it takes a true work ethic to outshine your peers.

-Photo credits: Barre Dukes/Phelps Sport s(2); USHJA; Elaine Wessel/Phelps Sports. All photos courtesy of Geoffrey Hesslink.