At 11 years old, Scarlett Yana sits upright like a pine, with her Tucci boots gleaming against her pony Andre’s soft, manicured coat. They’re riding in the Children’s Pony Hunter Division at the Equestrian Sport Productions Florida State Fall show in Wellington. Scarlett sets her pace, preparing for the eight jumps ahead. She mentally measures each stride precisely. As they approach a 2-foot fence, Scarlett leans in, nudges gently and Andre lifts, fluidly bringing their bodies up and over. Scarlett’s in the zone. She and Andre move as one as they canter around the ring, earning top honors from the judges.
The young equestrian had already won about 150 ribbons (most placing within the top three) when she came home from the show with a Grand Champion award, the highest honor.
Her affinity for horses was sparked on a fateful trip to Santa Anita Park race track in Los Angeles when she was 4. She fell head-over-hooves for the sport five years ago when her parents, Lizzy and Jason, enrolled her in a Naples pony club soon after moving to town.
The family was living in St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, when Hurricane Irma hurled toward the Caribbean in 2017. The Yanas evacuated to Miami, then Orlando, then Nashville to dodge the storm. When Hurricane Maria battered St. Thomas 10 days later, the family decided to move near Jason’s family in Naples. “I ended up putting [Scarlett] in a little pony club to cheer her up,” Lizzy says. The move was hard on young Scarlett, who missed her island friends. But Lizzy saw a spark return to her daughter’s eyes when she got on the saddle: “We couldn’t take her away.”
Scarlett now shows primarily in the hunter category, which judges on agility, jumping style and effortlessness between the rider and horse. Scarlett started competing in 2019 in the novice short stirrup division, frequently placing first in competitions. As she advanced, the family connected with Benchmark Equestrian in Naples, where owners Steve and Tania DiCarlo often maintain an extensive waiting list.
For more than an hour every day, you’ll find the dimpled equestrian walking, trotting and cantering around on Andre—her newest horse, which they’re banking on taking her to the next level in competitions. “He’s beautiful—he looks like the Barbie pony,” Lizzy says of the daring-yet-tractable horse. Scarlett also takes private lessons with Benchmark three times a week. Steve and Tania work with her one-on-one to hone techniques and establish best handling practices for her three horses, including 18-year-old, white Welsh pony, Jacque, and Logan, a dapple gray Connemara — a breed known for its athleticism, versatility and friendliness. All three ponies have stage names for the ring: Jacque is Silverwing, Logan is Silverpoint and Andre is Woldberg’s Bochelli.
Scarlett encourages the animals, using pet names to strengthen their bond. “I’ll be like, ‘Okay, Jacquers, don’t be nervous for this,’” she says. The ponies follow her commands and listen to her body signals. With Jacque—her first horse—the two know each other so well that he’s practically an extension of her. Scarlett leans in, and Jacque follows. The pony launches, front legs up and over the post, then the back two and down to the ground.
While the homeschooled preteen enjoys time with friends, drawing, riding around in her golf cart and picking fruit from the trees on her family’s property, she’s laser-focused on her sport. She envisions a career in riding, with her sights set on the Olympics. She loves the peace the sport brings: “My favorite thing is, I’m just going, and my brain goes quiet.”