There’s an exciting addition to the upper echelons of New Zealand’s showjumping ranks with American Uma O’Neill making the switch.

The 24-year-old from Santa Cruz, California, has held dual citizenship thanks to her father’s side of the family and as a youngster spent a lot of time in New Zealand visiting relatives. However, California has been her base for just over a decade as she has worked her way up the jumping ranks, representing the US Zone 10 team twice at the North American Young Rider Championships and more recently to victory in the Longines FEI World Cup (North American league) qualifier in Langley, Canada, aboard her much-loved 12-year-old grey stallion Clockwise of Greenhill Z.

“I am very excited,” says Uma. “It has been at the back of my mind for quite a few years now. I knew it was an opportunity. I rode for the US up until now because I wanted to do the young rider championships and under-25 classes in the States while I could. I feel now is the right time in my career to make the change. I have a really good horse and feel we could be a good asset to the New Zealand team.”

She’s talking about the Belgium-bred Clockwise of Greenhill Z (by Clearway, out of Gala who is by Caretino). Uma bought him as a seven-year-old and while it has taken them time to gel, they are now solid.

“He wasn’t so easy for me. He had been sent over for me to ride and develop as a young rider horse. I hadn’t even ridden him before he showed up in the US. We had no expectations of him ever jumping the big classes. He was green and we just didn’t click in the beginning.”

This September they will have been together five years and in that time they’ve developed a great relationship. “He has more than exceeded our expectations of where he could get to or we could go together.”

The combination were the only clear in the opening round of the $145,000 CSI4* -W in Vancouver over the Alan Wade-designed 1.60m course heading home 28 others to take the win. “The course seemed it was quite a scope test and he had no struggle with it at all. I am really happy and excited . . . I feel we finally know each other but he can still sometimes be a little tricky so I am always learning and figuring things out with him.”

Uma also has a new 13-year-old German-bred mare Caville (by Cartogram, out of Nicky de Bonneville who is by Mr Blue). They’ve done just a handful of shows together but are already jumping at 1.45m level comfortably and Caville has proved with her previous riders that she has the scope and ability to be at top level.

“She is extremely sweet for a mare and super loving,” says Uma. “She is also very brave and bold. I have only had her since the beginning of March so we are still figuring each other out.”

Uma and her mum Shawne are based an hour-and-a-half south of San Francisco at their O’Neill Showjumping base. It’s a 10-acre facility that Uma likes to call a “work in progress”. “Mum doesn’t ride but is extremely supportive and loves horses.”
Her trainer is Mariano Maggi, an Argentinian who rides for Sweden. “We train six or seven days a week. We do a lot of flat work with all the horses and when they are not showing they will jump just a day a week.”

Her closest show – barring a couple of small local shows – is an eight-hour-drive and they’re on the road at least two weeks each month. She has been working with Mariano for a year now. “He is extremely dedicated to the processes and helping me and the horses to reach our best. He will always put every bit of time needed to achieve what we want to go out and do.”

Uma considers herself lucky to have had a lot of great riding influences while growing up in California and being able to travel the US and Europe but a real stand out for her is Beezie Madden. “She is such a strong female rider and a real inspiration to so many.”

Uma was born in Maui and grew up riding horses and having loads of fun. Her grandfather Jack invented the wetsuit and created the O’Neill brand which continues to be a huge name in surf wear and still owned by the family. However, don’t expect to see Uma shredding any waves, she’s far happier on dry land aboard one of her horses.

It was once she moved to California at 13 that she really started to pursue the more serious side of horse shows and competing. “There is so much to love about jumping,” she says. “The connection with the horses is just amazing when you figure them out and can go and jump these big tracks together . . . it is just the coolest feeling.”

This year she has her sights set on jumping 5* grand prix at Spruce Meadows. She has competed at 1.50m level at the prestigious show over the past few years but now it’s time to move to the big tour. She is also looking forward to hopefully being part of Nations Cup competitions. “The big thing for us is to get some New Zealand team experience.”

Her move to the New Zealand federation brings with it an extra bonus. “It also means I will be able to have a bit more connection with my dad’s side of the family,” she said. “They have wanted me to make the change for a long time!”


By Diana Dobson – HP Media Liaison
Photos by Credit – Kathy Russell Photography