From Foal to 1.45m: A Show Jumping Partnership Built Over 14 Years

Following is the story of the partnership between Julia Tops and “Apple,” which really did begin when Apple was a foal.  Thank you to Emily Randolph of Jump Media for this story — and of course, thanks to Julia Tops for sharing the tale.

Hours after India Blue ZF was born in the middle of the night, a then eight-year-old Julia Tops was there to greet her alongside her mom, Tani Zeidler.

The filly, who was soon given the nickname “Apple,” was the first foal born as part of Zeidler Farm’s newly-launched breeding program, and Tops wanted to meet her before heading off to elementary school that morning in Calgary, Canada.

Today, Tops is still spending as much time as possible with Apple before and after school.  The only difference is that Apple is now 14, Tops is 22, and their time together includes successfully contesting top show jumping competitions throughout North America and Europe.

The pair has quite literally grown up together, and the longevity of their connection, which spans well beyond that of most amateurs and their top show jumping mounts, has played a valuable role in their show ring success.

Riding the very first foal from her mother’s Zeidler Farm breeding program, Julia Tops has formed a winning partnership with India Blue ZF. Photo by Sportfot.

The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far from the Tree

From the beginning, Zeidler had high hopes for India Blue ZF (Mr. Blue x Calvados IV), but she never predicted that the mare would exceed her expectations with her own daughter in the irons.

“When I look at Apple still with Julia all these years later, it’s incredible,” said Zeidler, a veteran member of the Canadian Show Jumping Team who turned to breeding as her time in the show ring was winding down. “I had some great mares and that was the number one most important part to start with, so I thought, ‘Well, why don’t I try breeding?’ It’s so crazy that the very first horse born was Apple. She is amazing!”

A young Julia Tops aboard Illusion, the dam of Julia’s current mount, India Blue ZF.  Photo courtesy Julia Tops.

Apple began her show career in the young horse divisions under a number of top professionals, including Nick Dello Joio, Darragh Kenny, Nicki Simpson, and Francie Steinwedell. Tops rode the mare at home and on the flat, but never in the show ring.

When Tops found herself in need of another horse to join her show string, it didn’t take long to make the connection to Apple, now nine.

“My mom and grandma were the ones that said, ‘Why doesn’t she try Apple?’” explained Tops, who was based in Wellington, Florida, at the time. “We did a training round at Littlewood when that still existed next to the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF), and then we went to Miami.

“The 2015 Longines Global Champions Tour of Miami was my first real show with her,” continued Tops. “We didn’t even do a proper class before going to jump on the beach, and Apple acted like, ‘Okay, that’s fine. Should I get my bathing suit on?’ She was very relaxed about the whole situation.”

Having spent so much time with the mare growing up, Tops immediately felt comfortable in the show ring with Apple. The pair left LGCT Miami with a third-place finish in their first CSI2* class together, and soon their partnership was cemented, thanks to Tops’ grandmother.

“She was a huge promoter of the sport,” said Zeidler of her mother and Tops’ grandmother, Margaret “Midge” Zeidler. “It was actually her idea to keep Apple for Julia. Somebody wanted to buy her, and she said, ‘No, I’m giving her to Julia.’ I was like, ‘Are you kidding?’ We were being offered a fair amount of money for the horse. My mother looks at me and says, ‘Selling her is not going to change your life, but keeping her is going to change Julia’s life.’”

In many ways, that is precisely what happened.

A Partnership Bearing Fruit

Since over five years ago when they teamed up, Tops and Apple’s partnership has continued to grow and flourish, with the duo consistently claiming top-10 finishes in CSI1* and CSI2* competitions on the Longines Global Champions Tour and other shows throughout North America and Europe.

Julia Tops and India Blue ZF competing at the Longines Global Champions Tour of London. Photo by Jump Media.

“She’s always given her all for me and has been so reliable,” said Tops, who currently trains with her father, Dutch Olympic team gold medalist and LGCT founder, Jan Tops. “She’s the same at home. She’s not a horse that you need to drill anything into. You obviously need to practice and you need to train, but it’s a way different mentality than any other horse that I’ve ever had. It’s always fun working with her.

“It’s never like, ‘shoot, I have to do this with her today, and that’s going to be tough,’” continued Julia. “With a lot of horses, you have those moments when you think, ‘Oh, this is going to be a hard training day, or this is going to be a difficult exercise.’ With Apple, you don’t have those moments. I feel very lucky for that comfort.”

Julia credits much of that ease to the mare’s solid initial training, facilitated by her mom, and to the longevity and depth of her relationship with Apple.

Julia Tops and India Blue ZF. Photo by DigiShots.

“Horses are like people,” said Julia. “They are all unique characters, and often the people who are so successful are the ones who know the tools that work the best for a certain character. I think that has been very beneficial for us, that we do know exactly who Apple is.

“She was so stubborn when she was little,” continued Julia. “Our babies were all broke by a cowboy, and the cowboy that started her had to spend hours with her because she was the most hard-headed. She was just so not into it. She’s very strong-willed, and still to this day, she’s very opinionated. Now, looking back, it’s just been such an easy, natural progression.

“People often say she is a bit fat, but her bone structure is literally just like a barrel,” laughed Julia. “They call her fat, and I get so offended for her! My grandmother used to say that she’s built like an Italian brick house; she’s just built so big for a girl and has actually been like that since she was little. She’s not a mystery to us, and we have been able to create the conditions that are best suited for her.” 

Canadian Grown, Internationally Successful

Throughout her career with Apple, Julia has elected to compete mostly at the CSI1* and CSI2* levels while attending university. In 2019, she graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in International Relations and Contemporary Asian Studies before starting an intensive one-year master’s program at the London School of Economics in England.

As Julia prepares to complete her final dissertation for her program and looks to the future, she hopes to further advance her riding career with Apple as her partner.

“Apple is getting older and I want to try to preserve her for as long as possible,” said Julia of the now 14-year-old Canadian Sport Horse mare. “For awhile, I didn’t have a second 1.45m horse, and she filled that role so well. She stepped up and jumped all of the High Classics and did some of the Under 25 and CSI2* classes at WEF with me one year, so she was consistently doing the 1.40-1.45m.

“She really goes in and does whatever is asked which is so lovely,” continued Julia, who is now bringing her second mount, Delacroix AS or “Bubu” along to that same level. “I have Bubu, and I need to get to know him better at that level. So Apple will now start to serve a bit of a different role for me. I started to jump more of the grand prix classes with Bubu, and I’ll do Apple in the speed classes. She’s competitive there, and she’s so good at going where she’s needed; I really appreciate that. She’s a jack of all trades and really makes me comfortable at any level.”

Julia Tops and “Apple” on the beach at the Mediterranean Equestrian Tour in Spain. Photo courtesy Julia Tops.

Looking back on their 14 years together, Julia is thankful for the opportunities that Apple has provided her with and is proud of the mare that’s been a part of their family for so long.

“My mom had this vision, and she’s done such an impeccable job,” said Julia of Zeidler Farm’s successful breeding program. “It’s not part of the horse culture in Canada to produce young horses like it is in Europe where there are young horse competitions every weekend. Here, it’s very different, and that makes me even prouder of Apple and the fact that she is Canadian-bred.

“Riding Apple has honestly been a joy, and I’m so thankful,” concluded Julia.

To learn more about Zeidler Farm, click here, and be sure to follow Julia on Facebook and Instagram

Story and words by Emily Randolph, Jump Media.