In the Ring with Geoffrey Hesslink
Meet Geoffrey Hesslink, your 2014 USEF Talent Search Finals Champion, 2017 USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals Champion Sec B, Reserve Champion Sec A, 2018 USHJA International Hunter Derby High point Money Won Horse/Rider, 2020 WCHR Professional Finals Reserve Champion, and 2020 & 2021 WCHR High Point Hunter Rider WEF Week 6. Let’s take a peek at Geoffrey’s life as both a professional trainer and rider from Hesslink Williams.
What did your career look like before you went pro and when did you decide you wanted to go pro?
Horses have always been my passion- since a young age I knew I needed them in my life. When I was a young teenager coming up through the ranks of the equitation, I decided this was what I was going to do with my life and mapped out that day how I would get there and what that would look like. When I aged out, I became a professional almost immediately after. I had committed to going to college, however I couldn’t wrap my head around taking myself out of the industry I so desperately wanted to be in. I saw those four years as four years I could take to create connections and learn as much as I could in the industry.
What does a typical day look like for you?
When not at a show, my days are pretty relaxed, I enjoy waking up around 7:00 AM. I usually start the day with a juice or coffee, then head to the barn. My days are usually filled with organizing and planning for the upcoming shows. I like to print out all the schedules and label the days each horse shows in what classes so I can have a feel of what the days will be like. Once I’m organized, I start riding- usually anywhere from 8 to 15 horses a day. That includes a combination of things that depend on the specific horse. I try to include flatting, jump schools, field work, and trail rides for all my horses in their weekly routine to keep them fit and interested. In the afternoons I will make sure all the horses get to either turn out again or handwalk before eating dinner. I think it’s important for them to get out of their stalls as many times as possible during the day to stretch out. After that I head to either the gym or dinner with family and friends.
You’ve ridden a lot of young horses, and horses in general, how have you mentally and physically trained them?
When I train my horses there are two things that I focus on. One being that the horse is fit, horses are athletes and with that they need to be in top physical condition. I think that hunters need to have a lot of muscle and fitness in order to be successful. The second being I want my horses relaxed. I find that my horses perform and can do their best when they are relaxed. I think that when horses are not relaxed it is easy for them to lose focus and not always understand what you are asking or on the other hand they tend to overreact.
Favorite exercise to do with your horses?
I enjoy training all my horses through gymnastics and small grids. I think it helps them to learn to push off evenly and stay straight. I also like to ride them out in the fields and on the roads around the farm. I think it’s good for them mentally to do the majority of their work outside of the ring so that they stay interested day-to-day.
Is there a specific horse that has impacted you the most?
There have been countless special horses I have had the privilege of riding, however Cadoretto, my six-year-old Derby horse was quite special to me. I felt like we grew together and accomplished a lot when no one else saw his potential.
Do you get show nerves? If so how do you handle them?
When I was younger I really struggled with nerves. I put a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself and it cost me a lot of championships. With the help of a few sports psychologists I learned to channel those nerves to give me a competitive edge. I couldn’t imagine showing without getting some butterflies in my stomach, I think the high pressure situations make me strive to always be better.
Do you still feel pressure when walking into the show ring?
I do feel pressure, however mostly from myself at this point. I have an amazing group of clients, owners, and a strong team around me that are beyond supportive. I hold myself to a high standard and expect excellence, like I said I think it is what gives me an edge to win most of the time.
What is your biggest tip for any equestrian wanting to show in the hunters?
I think the biggest thing for showing hunters is that it is quite literally a show. I can’t tell you how important it is to not ever stop “showing” while in the ring. Sometimes the judge might miss something, or you might have doubt in your round, but I always try to ride like I’m winning. Hunters are a subjective sport, every judge is looking for something different, keep riding like you’re getting a 90, you never know!
What are a few products you truly believe in?
We really believe in all the products that we partner with. Equine Elixers, Ecogold, Devoucoux, Equifit and Samshield provide, in my opinion, the best in each category for our horses and riders.
Who is the most influential person in your life and why?
Andre Dignelli played a huge role in molding and making me the person I am today. He saw something in me no one else seemed to when I was a kid. With his training and support I felt like I was able to reach my full potential as a junior rider. He is still a close friend and mentor of mine and someone I look to as a role model and hope to be like someday.
3 things you couldn’t live without at the barn? Boot polish, gloves and carrots!
Biggest pet peeve in riding? When the rider blames the horse.
If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be? Sushi
Favorite horse show you’ve been to? I love the Washington International Horse Show in Washington DC. It is so special to be in the city, and they do a great job at making it feel important.