Featured Pro: Caitlyn Shiels – Canterbury Farm


Featured Pro: Caitlyn Shiels – Canterbury Farm

Nov. 03,2015
Lauren Fisher

The professional rider and co-trainer at Canterbury Farm in Hampshire, IL, Caitlyn Shiels is leading a new generation of horses and riders to success in the hunter, jumper and equitation disciplines. Shiels joined the team at Canterbury Farm three years ago, teaming up with head trainer Greg Franklin, to help take his family’s 30-year business to the next level. Shiels herself began riding at the age of eight and went on to a successful junior career competing under the tutelage of renowned trainer, Andre Dignelli.

Caitlyn Shiels by Andrew Ryback Photography

Shiels’ love of riding came from her mother, who was never able to have a horse of her own growing up. The two spent time together at small barns near their hometown of Sheffield, Massachusetts. Shiels participated in summer camps and began riding with local trainer Mary Mead as her interest steadily grew. When she decided to pursue the major equitation finals at the age of 16, Shiels joined Dignelli’s Heritage Farm as a working student in Katonah, NY.

“When I got into riding, I had all of my barn friends, and we kind of all just followed the path and then just fell in love with it,” Shiels said of her start. “I rode with Mary when I was very young. She took me to the point of where I wanted to do the equitation finals and she knew that she was not going to give me the best chance, so I went to Andre’s doorstep and he took me in as a working student.”

Shiels earned a ribbon at every indoor equitation championship during her last year as a junior. She continued riding and training with Dignelli for two more years, during which she earned the greatest achievement of her career, winning double gold medals in the team and individual competitions at the 2004 North American Young Rider Championships with her horse Memphis.

Caitlin Shiels NAYRC 2004

“That was my first and my last year to go to Young Riders, so that was pretty special,” Shiels noted. “I was 21, and it was the first time I had ever been there. I had no expectations. The jumps were massive; I had never jumped that big in my life. I was kind of going for survival and I came home with two gold medals, so that was probably the biggest thing in my life.”

“I bought Memphis as a six-year-old and I brought him along from doing absolutely nothing to jumping and winning at Young Riders,” she added. “Then he jumped in some World Cup qualifiers and showed under the lights in Wellington. That horse was the horse of a lifetime for me. I had him for about eight years and then I sold him. It was kind of time for the next chapter in my life, but he was the all-time horse of my life.”

Caitlyn Shiels and Memphis NAYRC 2004

That special moment also marked the end of Shiels’ time working at Heritage Farm, and although she has had many great experiences since then, the rider still counts Dignelli as the most influential person in her career.

“Andre is a huge part of my life. Heritage is family to me - Andre and Patricia (Griffith). I spent a lot of time with them,” Shiels acknowledged. “I basically hopped on board and moved in with the Heritage family for about six years. Andre has definitely been a very influential person in my life. Anytime we can catch up, we see each other at shows or make a quick phone call. He is definitely an inspiration to me.”

When the time came to take the next step in her career, Shiels took her success as a young rider to positions with several top professionals, all of which helped shape her further as a rider and future trainer.

Shiels worked with Jonathan and Christine McCrea in East Windsor, CT, for about four years. Then she worked for Ken and Emily Smith in Wellington, FL, for two years. When an opportunity to work with two-time Olympic gold medalist McLain Ward was offered, Shiels jumped at the chance. She spent six months soaking up everything she could learn from Ward while helping with the horses of his young student, Katie Dinan.

Soon, Shiels felt it was time to pursue different opportunities and focus more on her own riding, and she decided to move into the next chapter of her career. In 2013, Shiels took a job at Canterbury Farm, taking a big leap to move from her east coast home and venture to the Midwest. She moved to Geneva, IL, just outside of Chicago, and began riding and training alongside well-known horseman, Greg Franklin. Almost immediately after becoming a part of the team, she and Franklin enjoyed great success with multiple championships at major shows around the country. Shiels brought a fresh perspective and broad background of knowledge that complimented Franklin’s already reputable program. Their partnership formed an excellent balance of training both on the horse and from the ground.

“Everybody has a little bit of a different technique in training and managing, and I definitely have a lot of tools that I have learned from all of the different people I have worked with,” Shiels stated. “The jumper side with McLain was very unique because it was just focused on the bigger jumpers, and I learned a lot about how they prepare for major competitions. Working for someone like Heritage, you practice a lot at home and prepare differently for the equitation and the hunters. I think each experience has definitely given me a lot of insight on the different views in each discipline.”

Although Shiels admits that it was daunting to pick up and move halfway across the country for a new job, she felt immediately at home with everyone at Canterbury Farm.

“I took a huge jump. That was a big thing for me. It was definitely a risk, but I was kind of ready for the next chapter of my life,” Shiels said of the move. “It was very nerve-wracking, but everybody was so welcoming. Within two weeks I felt like I had been here for a year. Now I feel like I have been here forever. I love it. My life is very different from the east coast, but I would not change it for a second.”

Caitlyn Shiels and Greg Franklin

“Canterbury is such a family,” Shiels added. “When I first got here they just took me right underneath their wing. It felt like home, which was really nice. Greg and I work great together. He is great on the ground. I obviously want to ride and show, which he doesn’t want to do much anymore, so it works out. It is just a good balance. We both have similar views, and our ideas work together. It really makes a difference when you want to do something together as a whole.”

While Franklin is the head trainer at home and at shows, Shiels rides and shows all of the horses and helps with the teaching duties. They both agree that the most important elements of training horses and riders are the basics of flatwork.

“I think it all just comes down to flatwork. I learned that very early working with Andre,” Shiels said. “With the young horses, it is a lot of patience and time. We do a lot of gymnastics. We don’t do much course work when we are home. For the riders, we work on everybody’s positions and them being in contact with their horses.”

Shiels has a group of young hunters that she rides for Canterbury clients and had great success with in the Pre-Green Incentive classes this year. She qualified three horses for the championships in Kentucky. She also competed in her first World Championship Hunter Rider Developing Pro Challenge at the Capital Challenge Horse Show this fall and finished eighth among many of the nation’s top emerging professionals.

Caitlyn and Serafina by Diana Hadsall

While Canterbury Farm hopes to bring in some new clientele this year and qualify horses and riders for the indoor finals in 2016, Shiels has her own goals for her riding. She has her own young jumper, Cavalier II, who stepped up to the grand prix level for the first time this year as an eight-year-old. She hopes to continue at the higher levels with him and qualify for some bigger competitions.

Caitlyn and Cavalier II by Andrew Ryback Photography

Although riding is the biggest part of her life, Shiels likes to pursue other interests when she has time. She likes to shop and also recently picked up golfing. She lives about 25 minutes from the beautiful home of Canterbury Farm and loves traveling to shows with their fantastic team of horses and riders.

Canterbury Farm is proud to offer a variety of services and programs to suit every equestrian's love of the sport. For more information on Shiels and the program at Canterbury Farm, please visit www.canterburyfarmchicago.com.