As the daughter of show jumping royalty, Julia Tops knows what it’s like having big shoes to fill. But it’s clear that she’s not only inherited the passion and talent for the sport shared by her parents—Canadian Team veteran Tani Zeidler and Olympic gold medalist Jan Tops (NED)—she’s doing things her own way, too.

As a full-time student at the University of Toronto Trinity College, Julia, 18, balances academic and riding life while serving as one of the first junior riders in North America to be sponsored by the Kingsland apparel company. It’s a juggling act she’s honed throughout a successful junior career in the equitation and jumper divisions, both at major circuits in North America—including the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) and Spruce Meadows in her hometown of Calgary—and in Europe on the Global Champions Tour.

Julia is currently stationed in Wellington, Florida, where she’s training with Norman Dello Joio in preparation for the 2017 season. We caught up with her to learn more about her promising Zeidler Farm home breds, her soft spot for small chestnut horses, and why Grey’s Anatomy is totally binge-worthy.

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

Julia Tops: I don’t think you can really say that there was an exact moment. It all started with my parents holding me as a child in front of them while they flatted a horse. And then it developed from the first time I ever cantered alone, to my first jump on my pony, to watching our babies from the Zeidler Farm breeding program grow up, all the way to competing as a Junior for Canada. Every step of the way made me fall in love a little bit more.

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

Black for sure. It is a classic.

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

Probably eventing. I am a huge fan of natural jumps and I love the in-the-moment intensity. Either way, the most important aspect of riding for me is spending time with horses.

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

I am fortunate enough to say I really haven’t had any yet! (Knock on wood.)

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

The most inspiring moment was getting on our first two Zeidler Farm home breds, India Blue ZF and Lavender ZF. I watched them grow up and now I have the pleasure of riding India Blue as my top horse. Seeing their transformation from small foals showed me what really built our sport and I feel lucky to have been able to see the process.

What is your favorite #TwoHearts Moment of your season?

The first time back in the ring with my horse, India Blue ZF, after her summer off. I feel like I was smiling so hard my face went numb.

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

There are so many aspects to learn in riding and each seems hard in the moment. I think the hardest lesson is not to be so hard on myself. I tend to be a perfectionist but in riding, it honestly comes best when you relax into the moment.

Who is your mentor and why?

My mentor is Nancy Southern. I admire and respect her greatly. A person who was once very active as a rider and is now making a huge impact in the horse community. She is a norm entrepreneur for women in the workplace and has achieved unimaginable goals for ATCO during her time as CEO. Her dedication to the work/family/life balance is something I hope to adapt and put to use for my own goals and passions.

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

I would love to ride Top Gun. I have heard so many amazing stories and watched so many inspiring videos of him with my father, and I without a doubt would be honored to have the chance to ride him.

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

There are so many great horses but I have always loved watching Fit for Fun with Luciana Diniz. I have a soft spot for small, chestnut horses and she seems so sweet with a huge heart.

How do horses keep you grounded in the industry?

For me, this question doesn’t really apply. I fly back and forth on weekends during my time at university, and balance riding with an internship in the summer. However, horses are the reason I have fallen so in love with the sport and why I make it work while doing school. Both complement each other and ground me in their own ways. I love both and I don’t feel like I have to choose one; I become grounded from doing what I love with unfettered optimism.

What is your favorite guilty pleasure?

I think my favorite guilty pleasure is watching either Grey’s Anatomy or Gilmore Girls during the school semesters, especially finals season.

When were you most happy on a horse?

When am I not? I am always happy on a horse.

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

Tom Foolery, my best equitation horse that unfortunately passed away this year, was like Alex Turner, the lead singer of the Arctic Monkeys. Just like Alex, Tom was super suave and a totally cool guy.

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

My “Team Kingsland” down jacket. Whether I am walking to class or walking the course during indoors, it keeps me warm and fits all my horse treats in the pockets (the secret’s out of the bag for my horses by now, hehe).

What is your helmet of choice and why?

Charles Owen. It is a great mix of classic yet updated helmet wear.

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

I wish that Lululemon or Prada came out with an equestrian line. Lululemon’s clothes are so comfortable, yet trendy, and always have great colors! Plus, they are Canadian. And Prada is very edgy and classic. Their equestrian clothes would be stunning for showing, without a doubt.

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

Horse cookies. I love to buy the Ms. Patty’s peppermint patties and bring apples and carrots to the barn for my horses.

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

“Relax.” – every trainer I’ve ever had. I am always juggling academics, riding, and whatever seems to be happening in life. I’m not the nervous type but it’s a challenge transitioning between two very different and intense fields.

What is your life motto?

Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. In life, and especially with riding, you have to be able to push the envelope of what you consider your “comfort zone”.

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