In January 2018, Caitlyn Shiels launched her own True North Stables with the goal of growing a barn of riders dedicated to learning proper horsemanship and to pursuing success in the show ring at any level.
Now, only eight months later, Shiels is seeing that goal come to fruition – as was evident at the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival (GLEF).
While based in Zion, IL, True North Stables spent the month of July at the Traverse City, MI, horse show, claiming numerous accolades throughout the four weeks, including top-three finishes in the junior, adult, children’s, amateur-owner, and professional hunter divisions, in the adult, junior, and open jumper divisions, and in the equitation, as well as the win in the $5,000 United States Hunter Jumper Association National Hunter Derby held during GLEF III.
“I’m really happy with how everyone rode and how the horses went in Michigan,” said Shiels, who worked with top hunter/jumper professionals for more than a decade before launching True North. “It was great getting to spend a full four weeks there because both our horses and riders are able to learn a lot and see even greater improvements during that time frame.”
The True North Stables riders competing at the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival included Michelle Durpetti and Marisa Malevitis, long-time students of Shiels, along with Katie Hawkins, Hannah Hoch, and Emily Britton, who all started riding with Shiels following the launch of True North.
“It’s been exciting to see how our True North team has grown these last few months,” said Shiels. “Right now, we have a great group of riders of all different ages. They all want to work hard and go after their goals in the show ring, but they’re all also so much fun, and everyone has a great time together.”
Michelle Durpetti, who has ridden with Shiels for several years and was instrumental in Shiels beginning True North Stables, voiced similar thoughts.
“Caitlyn has been so influential in my riding career,” said Durpetti, the founder and CEO of her own Michelle Durpetti Events, as well as a managing partner of her family’s Gene & Georgetti Chicago steakhouses. “I can’t help but feel proud to now see her doing the same thing for other riders that she’s done for me – improving both their confidence in the saddle and their riding abilities. She’s brought together such a great group of riders, and it really makes it even more fun.”
Durpetti competed to great success in both the Amateur-Owner 36 and Over Hunters and the Adult Jumpers, including finishing in the top six of the $2,500 Adult Classic riding Serafina during GLEF I, winning the 3’3” Amateur-Owner 35 and Over Hunter Stake with Cassius during World Championship Hunter Rider (WCHR) week at GLEF II, and claiming top five finishes in the 3’6” Amateur-Owner Hunters with Lucca.
Representing True North in the Adult Hunter divisions during GLEF I-III, was Katie Hawkins of Batavia, IL. Hawkins, who is also a licensed and certified equine massage therapist through her own Unbridled Equine, claimed top-three finishes in the division with Gray Street, including a second-place finish during GLEF III. That same week, she and Gray Street turned in their own personal best score to finish sixth in the $800 Adult Amateur Classic. During GLEF IV, Hawkins made the switch to the jumper ring for her debut in the Low Adult Jumpers, ultimately finishing fourth in the Low Adult Jumper Classic riding Alexander, owned by Molly Alvarez.
In the junior hunter and equitation divisions, True North was well represented by Hannah Hoch of Whitefish Bay, WI. The 14-year-old was a consistent visitor to the winner’s circle throughout the GLEF I-III. In the Large Junior Hunters, 15 & Under, Hoch and her own Clear Sailing claimed the division reserve championship during GLEF I and the championship during GLEF II. Hoch also claimed numerous equitation wins, including the Equitation 12-14 division championship during GLEF I riding E.V. Comander. Hoch also competed Cakewalk, a 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare proudly offered for sale, to wins in the Children’s Hunters.
In the junior jumpers, it was Emily Britton of Barrington, IL, who brought home the ribbon honors for True North during GLEF IV. Britton, 17, began riding with Shiels at True North in the spring and is excited with the progress that she and her own eight-year-old Lago di Garda have seen since then.
“Caitlyn is so knowledgeable,” said Britton. “I’ve had a lot of challenges with Lago. He’s very, very quirky and can be tricky for me. I’ve been with Caitlyn for about two months now, and anything that Lago throws at us, she has a plan or a new idea to really just work through anything. She has improved his level training so much. He’s a completely different horse. She’s also completely changed my riding.”
During GLEF IV, Britton and “Lago” jumped clear and into the top 10 from more than 30 entries in the Low Junior/Amateur Owner Jumper Speed, before also finishing second in their jump-off class.
“I would have never dreamed that I would have jumped two clean rounds in a row at Traverse City,” said Britton. “Caitlyn has just been so, so beneficial for Lago’s performance and mine as well.”
Shiels has also been instrumental in the Marisa Malevitis’s riding career – and in her recent purchase of KT Forest.
“I graduated from school in May, and Caitlyn told me about this sales horse that was going to be at the barn,” said Malevitis, who received her degree from Texas Christian University. “I’m used to riding sales horses, and I really enjoy it because I get to ride so many different and new horses. KT Forest was just so special and so different from any other sales horse that I’d ridden. Right when I got on him, I just knew he was so comfortable. We just bonded right away.”
After competing KT Forest successfully throughout the early summer, Malevitis and her family purchased the gelding officially during GLEF. In the horse’s first week under Malevitis’s ownership during GLEF IV, the pair won one Adult Jumper class, finished third in the $2,500 Adult Classic and claimed the Adult Jumper championship.
“That was awesome; to wrap up the circuit with the championship was incredible, especially getting the championship right after he became my horse!” said Malevitis, who has been riding with Shiels for nearly six years. “None of it would have been possible without my mom, Michael Kirby – who we got Forest from – and Caitlyn.
“I like at Caitlyn like a mentor, trainer, teacher, and basically like a big sister,” continued Malevitis. “She looks at me like a little sister, and I think we’ve kind of made that relationship. We respect one another, and I look up to her. She teaches in a really great way, because she can actually get on the horse and show you what you’re doing wrong. And I just learn so much just from watching her show in the grand prix. It’s different when you have a trainer that can actually ride and show you and explain to you, ‘now look what I’m doing,’ rather than someone who’s standing on the ground explaining it to you.”
For Shiels herself, the time in Traverse City included numerous successes in both the hunter and jumper rings, with more than 10 top-two finishes amassed in the professional hunter divisions, a third-place finish in the 1.30m Open Jumpers with Shiels’ own Cavalier II, and most, notably, the win in the $5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby held during GLEF III with Durpetti’s Cassius.
“He is very special to me because I basically started him when he was seven,” Shiels said of Cassius in an interview following her derby victory. “He didn't really have much experience and he's been a nice project for us. He just rises to the occasion when he knows he needs to. He's like our big honey ham. He's brave, he's got a huge heart, he's my pal and we really have an awesome partnership.”
Shiels and Cassius will set their sights next on the USHJA International Hunter Derby Championships, to be held August 16-18 in Lexington, KY, during the Bluegrass Festival Horse Show, where the full True North team will be competing.
For full results updates and additional photos from the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival, visit the True North blog here.
True North Stables is continuing to accept new horses and riders. To learn more about Caitlyn Shiels and True North Stables, visit www.truenorthstables.com.
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