Gina on McKinlaigh all smiles. Photo by Tass Jones

Gina Miles: Olympic Dreams Nurtured in SLO County

Many young riders aspire to someday represent their country in the Olympic Games. For equestrians, this dream is perhaps even more significant and widely shared. One SLO County rider has managed to both dream and achieve…and is dreaming about it again!

Gina Miles and her Silver Medal partner, McKinlaigh. Photo by Tass Jones
Gina Miles and her Silver Medal partner, McKinlaigh. Photo by Tass Jones

Gina Miles, and her equine partner McKinlaigh, experienced the thrill of not only representing the United States of America in the 2008 Olympic Games as a member of the Three Day Eventing squad, but also brought home the individual Silver medal.

“It’s a long journey getting there. Things have to line-up: preparation, training, conditioning, results, and two fit and healthy athletes. There are plenty of near misses, because an injury or a technical error can put a horse/rider team out of the running. To have it all come together is a miracle!”

exclaims Gina, regarding her journey to the XXIX Olympiad, commonly known as Beijing 2008.

Three Day Eventing: The Ultimate Test in Horsemanship, Training and Athleticism

Three Day Eventing quite possibly is the ultimate test in horsemanship, training and athleticism for the horse and rider. Each horse and rider pair first rides a Dressage Test (equivalent to third level) and posts a score – the lower the score the better.

Gina and Ron compete in the Dressage phase at Rolex. Photo by Sherry Stewart
Gina and Ron compete in the Dressage phase at Rolex. Photo by Sherry Stewart

Next is the speed and endurance test of Cross Country Jumping. This phase is made up of all manor of jumping tests over varied terrain, including combinations and drops, water and ditches, etc. Prior to 2004, the endurance day also included Roads and Tracks and Steeplechase on top of the Cross Country Jumping. Some lower level events still include these two phases to give riders experience with conditioning and proper cooling out. Even though these two tests were eliminated from Olympic competition, Gina explains,

“The horses still need to be just as fit. We have monitored the horse’s heart rate when making a jumping effort. We find that the heart rate goes up to 200-250 bpm over each jumping effort. The difference this rule change makes is in recovery. The horse bounces back quicker and is ready to train and compete again earlier.”

Gina and Ron going a through brush jump on Rolex Cross Country.
Gina and S.V.R. Ron going through a brush jump on Rolex Cross Country.

The final phase is Show Jumping where the horse demonstrates his or her ability to maneuver and jump a course of fences in an arena after a very taxing Cross Country day. The Dressage score carries into the other days where jump faults and time penalty marks are added to it. The winner of the whole event is the horse/rider pair with the lowest score.

Gina and Her New Mount: S.V.R. Ron

Gina is on the Olympic Dream track once again with a new mount, S.V.R. Ron, or very simply, “Ron”. “Ron competed in the 2011 Pan American games, which were held in Guadalajara, Mexico, ridden by Federico Daners from Uruguay.” Gina, through the S.V.R. Ron Syndicate, LLC, acquired Ron has her new mount in 2012. Ron is a 15 year-old with classic Thoroughbred bloodlines, and was bred as part of the Uruguay military remount program. Gina appreciates the mileage he came with, having competed in 3-star International competitions.

Gina Miles and Ron jump through the water obstacle at Rolex. Photo by Sherry Stewart
Gina Miles and Ron jump through the water obstacle at Rolex. Photo by Sherry Stewart

Gina and Ron Compete at Rolex

Fresh from their first 4-star competition at the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event held the last weekend of April, the SLO County resident is even more excited about the possibility of her Olympic dream. Gina went on to describe her experience, “Rolex conditions were not favorable and we were really late in the order on Cross Country day. It grew muddier and muddier after each rider. I didn’t know if he could do it. He seemed impressed with how big the jumps were. Every jump on a 4-star course is maximum, which requires a lot of continued intensity and effort. Ron was great on the Cross Country Course; he hit his stride and settled into the difficult combination jumps. He tried really hard. We made it to the fourth jump from home when I made a technical error and crossed our tracks in a funny line between element B and C.” This resulted in the pair being eliminated from the competition. Gina wasn’t discouraged, though, she explained,

“I was so proud of him. He proved he could do it!”

The Benefits of Living and Training in SLO County

Gina is happy to be living in SLO County. “Living on the Central Coast of California is really the perfect place to be. The weather, the environment, the access to hills and the beach are all an important part of our success.” Gina continued, “Galloping at the beach is a great conditioning tool with ideal footing and immediate access to cold, salt water to soak the legs after a session.” SLO County also provides easy access to West coast events, North, South and Central. Many East Coast competitors migrate from one location to the other in the summer and winter months, but Gina can be grounded with her home base in our community. Gina also finds great success in her business here on the Central Coast, with Cal Poly in such close proximity to her Gold Medal Equestrian facility in San Luis Obispo; it only figures that most of her client base are Cal Poly students…after all, who wouldn’t want to train with an Olympian?!

Gina on Motherhood and Riding

The benefit of being grounded on the Central Coast also applies to Gina’s family life. With two kids in school, it is almost imperative to be in the same place year-round. Her husband and kids often travel with her for competitions, though her son’s frequency of traveling has decreased as he focuses on the demands of being a high school student. The entire family – husband, son and daughter – were with Gina in Beijing, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, both to help out and cheer her on. “Everybody has to pitch in. Lot’s of support and teamwork is needed to compete at the Olympic level. My kids are great volunteers. We all ride, and one of our favorite things to do as a family is to ride at the beach.” Gina’s motto for motherhood is “Be flexible!”

Eyes on Rio

Olympic Rings in Rio. Associated Press Photo
Olympic Rings in Rio. Associated Press Photo

We wish Gina the best as she continues her quest for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She is especially looking forward to Rio, as she and McKinlaigh represented the USA in 2007 in the Pan American Games there. They came home with the individual Bronze medal and the team Gold. Her prior experience in this locale will give her a competitive advantage.

Gina is looking to have everything come together again as she focuses on making the 2016 Olympic Three Day Eventing Squad. Olympic Dreams really can come true…and right here in SLO County!

Story written by Sharon Jantzen
Main Image: Gina all smiles on McKinlaigh. Photo by Tass Jones


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