When it comes to horses, it’s all about family bloodlines. Champions breed champions.
The same can often be said when it comes to the people involved with horses.
Dick Stillings is known throughout the world of harness racing as a Hall of Famer, thanks to decades of success as a driver and trainer.
Recently, however, a new Stillings has been making a name for herself in another branch of the equine community.
Sophia Stillings, 12, is the granddaughter of Dick Stillings, and has become quite a powerhouse at the Morgan Grand National and World Championships.
This past weekend (October 17-18), the Spring Valley, Ohio native won her fourth consecutive World Championship in the Pleasure division, and her second straight world title in Equitation in competition held at the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds in Oklahoma City.
Sophia, the daughter of Ricky and Kirsten Stillings, started riding at age five. “She has always been around horses,” said Kirsten, a former mutuel teller at Scioto, of her daughter. “We took her to a horse camp one summer and she fell in love with it. She wanted to take lessons and committed herself to it.”
After leasing a horse for two years, the Stillings family knew it was time to make a purchase and bought Sophia her own horse, Artful Image.
Better known as Rose, the mare has been with Sophia ever since. The pair has worked together at Cape Cod Equestrian Center in Spring Valley with trainers Reese and Erin Richey.
This year, despite her success in the past, Sophia wasn’t sure her streak would continue. “There were some others that came into the ring for the pleasure championship that were very nice horses,” she said. “One was a four-time world champion in another division.”
She faced a similar challenge in equitation.
“Equitation isn’t my best suit, so it’s something I had to work hard at and that was probably my biggest goal for the year.”
In the end, Sophia and Rose had won two more World Championships.
Sophia, her parents, and her 7-year-old sister Ella did not make the trip alone this year, as they had backing from the most well-known member of the family, grandfather Dick. “It was pretty exciting,” said Sophia. “I didn’t expect him to come and it was a lot of fun to have him there.”
The harness racing Hall of Famer took a break from his racing schedule at The Meadows to make the trek to Oklahoma to support his granddaughter. “She’s amazing,” said Dick. “I went to a lot of her shows in Ohio, but this is the first time I went to Oklahoma to see her. It was great. I had tears in my eyes. When you do something like that achievement wise, for herself and the horse, you feel great for them.”
Dick Stillings was also grateful to get the opportunity to spend time with his son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter. “Her mom, Kirsten, is a big influence on her and so is Ricky, her dad. They have two daughters and whatever either wants to do, they try to help them do it. You couldn’t find better parents. For me, I hadn’t been anywhere in a while, and it was great to get to be there and be part of it.”
Dick Stillings has been part of many success stories in the world of harness racing, including two Breeders Crown wins (with Esquire Spur and Kentucky Spur) and a pair of Little Brown Jug victories (with Barberry Spur and Jaguar Spur). But this achievement by his granddaughter ranks right near the top of his list of equine memories. “All I can say is that it’s one of those situations where you are happy for them and you’re happy for yourself that you could be there to see it.”