Ellesse Jordan cuts a striking figure both on and off a horse. Raised in Asia, she competes for her home country in dressage, although she’s currently based in Sweden and in Florida. In addition to riding internationally at the grand prix level, she also juggles a career in modeling.

To learn more about the multi-talented, fresh face, we asked her our 20 questions:

NF Style: At what exact moment did you fall in love with horses?

Ellessee Jordan: I think it was when my father adopted a huge 17.2hh racehorse. I was 3 years old and I still remember the moment I saw him. He was tall and lanky and had the biggest, sweetest, kindest eyes. I remember how gentle he was with little me and most of all, how unafraid I was of him. Since then, horses have occupied a big part of my heart.

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

I like both! I’m a little neurotic with matching leathers so I have brown jumping boots to match the brown saddles, horse boots, etc., and black shiny dressage boots to match my tail coat, bridle, etc. I just got a new dressage saddle, though, and it’s brown. I’m trying to look away so I don’t go off and get new tall boots!

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

I have always done both jumping and dressage. At one point I did eventing, too. The past couple years I have been doing more dressage since I have been fortunate enough to reach the top level internationally. However, the two years before that I was just jumping. So in my ideal world, I would be doing both, which I see happening soon.

I’ve given a lot of disciplines a go, too, like polo, reining, horsemanship, hunter, and endurance. I guess whatever I haven’t tried, I’d love to try! I think it’s important and fun to try all disciplines and become comfortable doing them.

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

Oh gosh, I think it was when I was competing in the FEI Asian Showjumping Challenge back in Malaysia. I was in the jump off and about to cut inside and make a winning turn when there was a monkey sitting right in my path! My horse saw him before me and ducked away from him—and off I went and I hit the grass hard!

I was in so much pain—maybe it was more my pride that hurt—but I quickly sat up when the stretcher was brought out to me. I said I didn’t need it so instead, the emergency crew took the big monkey on the stretcher as it turned out to have a broken arm. I guess he was trying to get some help? Anyway, I walked away devastated I didn’t win but worst of all, [I had to take] a monkey joke that would stick with me the rest of the season.

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

I’m grateful to say that I have had a few inspiring things happen to me. The most inspiring was when a lady came up to me at the Global Dressage Festival in March—after one of my not so great Grand Prix rides—and she said she had read the article on me that was in The Chronicle of the Horse that talked about my car accident, injury, and my journey back in the saddle. She expressed how grateful she was to read my story and that watching my ride was so inspiring that it has motivated her to get back in the saddle even just for fun to rediscover her love for the sport.

I may have inspired her but she inspired me more. She inspired and reminded me that even on my worst days, I am living a dream many will never get to experience and that I should embrace my opportunities, share my experiences, and help others feel even a little of the same joy I feel when I am riding my horses.

What is your favorite #TwoHearts Moment of your season?

My favorite #TwoHearts moment of my season has to be when I was in Wellington for the 2016 season. I groomed mostly for myself and was sitting, resting in front of my horse’s stall. I was playing my Freestyle to Music track over and over so that my horse and I could get familiar with it.

Pavarotti then came to stand by me and rested his muzzle in my lap—it was like he knew he should listen too, or maybe he sensed my nerves so he decided to come over and comfort me. Whatever his reason was, in that moment, I felt connect to him and at ease.

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

I grew up without a lot of money and in a country where equestrian was, and still is, very young and developing. My horses were all off-the-track racehorses that my sister and I had retrained. I was able to take them up to Intermediare level in dressage and 1.40m jumping, but they were different creatures compared to the top priced, impressive imports coming in [to the country].

Even today, I am grateful that people have so much faith in me, but I still have to scrape and work hard to be able to afford what I do. So I think the hardest lesson is to accept my situation, make the best of it, and not envy or desire to have a different life or upbringing. I’m the rider I am today because of my past and I have to learn to be grateful for my horse and my own abilities.

Who is your mentor and why?

My mentor in riding is my dressage trainer of the past couple years, Rasmus Bondergaard. He has the experience that many people would dream of and achievements many respect him for [gaining]. I left California—where I graduated from University and was jumping—with the dream of revisiting my passion for dressage. Many people thought I was crazy, but fortunately he accepted the challenge of training me and must have saw a little something in my riding. I aspire to ride like him and bring up and make horses like he has done. I have so much to learn!

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

A dressage horse from the past would be Blue Hors Matine. Sure, I would also love to ride some of the more famous horses like Bonfire, but this mare was something else. She was expressive, elegant, spicy, and exciting to watch. For a jumping horses from the past, that would be maybe Milton. His scope and jump seem like they would be a dream to feel.

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

A dressage horse I would ride if I could is Cosmo—Sonke Rothenberger’s Olympic mount. It is such a young horse with so much talent, and he looks so happy and energetic when he is in the ring. Of course, Sonke is an amazing rider so he definitely makes it look easy.

A jumper I would ride if I could is Mclain Ward’s HH Azur. I’ve hard the biggest horse crush on that horse forever. [Laughs.] Ive been told it’s not the easiest ride, but to feel those wings!

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

Besides horses, I have been modeling the majority of my life. Horses have kept me extremely grounded and I’d even say “safe” in this industry. The fashion world is intense, tough, demanding, and extreme. I have always prioritized my riding which has helped me keep away from the nightlife scene of modelling and also made me stay fit and active instead of spiraling into a life of constant eating disorders—which unfortunately is very common in the industry.

What is your favorite guilty pleasure?

As boring as it sounds, it’s making a pizza with way too many toppings and eating on the couch watching a movie. When the horses are always on your mind, eating healthy and getting to the gym is a must, and you have your alarm set for 6:30 am, so it’s a guilty pleasure to be able to stay up late, eat too much, and lounge for a night.

When were you most happy on a horse?

I’m most happy every time I have a good ride on my horses. Just today I had a great ride on my new horse; for the first time I felt like everything clicked, we were #TwoHearts in sync, and everything felt right. To me, I get that feeling of “most happy” every time this happens.

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

My two top grand prix horses have such characters. I think my older horse is like a Richard Gere or George Clooney… He’s older but he has no doubt he is the best looking, suave, attractive gelding out there. My other one is a little bit maybe like Ronaldo? Or maybe Lewis Hamilton? He just knows he is a stud, amazing at what he does and wants to get his way so everything has to seem like his idea.

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

One piece of riding clothing I could never do without varies with the season. But going into WEF in wellington, I can’t do without good gloves that don’t slip in the humidity (I love the SSG Technical Gloves), quality (and obviously, cute) riding pants (I love Schockemöhle Sports new full seat riding pants), and for the horses, I can’t live without Acavallo’s non-slip gel therapeutic pad (you put it directly on the horses’ back and it prevents everything from slipping and moving when they sweat as well as being shock absorbing).

What is your helmet of choice and why?

I’m a little embarrassed to say I own three! A GPA First Lady I usually jump in, a custom pink Swarovski Samshield I usually do dressage in, and a KEP Italia. I tend to show more in the Samshield custom, but I love when helmets are personalized. I’m looking into getting a helmet personalized with my national flag.

Which famous clothing brand do you wish would come out with a equestrian line?

There are so many brands—especially Italian and French brands—coming out with collections that are so stunning and high fashion that I think if another brand came out with these types of fabulous clothes I’d go broke! So I guess that leaves a sporting brand. I would love a brand like Nike or Under Armour to come out with athletic-focused riding clothes.

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

Besides splurging on a horse? I think it’s probably my custom Samshield with Swarovski crystal, or maybe my Equiline tailcoat with Swarovski… I guess then anything with added Swarovski.

What is the best piece of riding advice you have ever received and from whom?

I think the best piece of riding advice I have ever received is to go into the competition focusing on riding your best. It seems simple and like a no-brainer but there are so many times I catch myself going into the ring thinking about not messing up a movement or not forgetting to prepare extra for a line or thinking about what the person before me just got, etc. When you go into a ring, its just you, your horses, and your task, and you should focus on doing it the best to your ability—not anyone else’s.

What is your life motto?

My life motto is to do what makes you happy. Even if people say you’re crazy, you’re dreaming, or ask, who do you think you are?, do it if it feels right and makes you happy. Life is either too short or too long so spend your time doing things that make you smile and feel good at the end of the day.

All photos courtesy of Ellesse Jordan