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Ariana Rockefeller - Photo Credit: Arnaldo Anaya-Lucca
Ariana Rockefeller - Photo Credit: Arnaldo Anaya-Lucca

by Laura Schreffler

When Ariana Rockefeller was asked to design a handbag for the inaugural Longines Masters of New York show jumping competition this past April, she (literally) jumped at the chance. The equestrian-handbag designer simply couldn’t pass up an opportunity to combine her two greatest passions and created a saddle-inspired leather bag beloved by the socialite set. Though she has only been riding professionally for the past five years, show jumping is a hugely important part of her life—it just happened to temporarily take a back seat to her design career. Nowadays, the 35-year-old heiress is focused on her equestrian career, dividing her time between England, Manhattan and Wellington, the opulent Palm Beach area of West Florida beloved by the world’s top equestrians during the winter months. We sat down with Rockefeller shortly before three major events in her life—The Masters, The Met Gala and the Christie’s auction of grandparents David and Peggy Rockefeller’s 2,000-piece, $500 million art collection, which has been called the most significant charitable art auction in history—to chat about her equestrian career, her love of art and the greatest lessons she learned from her philanthropic family role models.

HL: Have you always been into show jumping?

AR: I grew up riding on my family’s farm, and I’ve always had a passion for horses and equestrian sports. For the past five years, I’ve been pretty much full-time training and competing. I rode through high school, took a break in college and then got back into the training and show jumping. I love the behind-the-scenes of the sport, being an advocate for show jumping and really bringing it to more of a mainstream audience—especially in the United States, where the sport isn’t as understood as it might be in European countries.

HL: What rekindled your interest in the sport?

AR: I never lost interest—I was always passionate about it—but after high school, I started my line and got married; I was focused on other things for a while. But then my grandfather got me a horse, and from there I was able to get back into it. He really encouraged and enabled me to pursue my equestrian interest. It was great to have my family’s support.

Ariana Rockefeller at the Longines Masters of New York - Photo Credit: Sportfot
Ariana Rockefeller at the Longines Masters of New York - Photo Credit: Sportfot

HL: What do you love about show jumping and what would you like other people to realize?

AR: I love the aspect of the teamwork. When people see a horse and rider in the ring, they don’t see how many people it takes to make those 60 seconds happen. I’d really like the public to realize how incredibly hard people work—how passionate everyone is—from the grooms to the trainers to the riders themselves.

HL: What does your day-to-day look like?

AR: I’m pretty much training all day. I wake up very early, sometime around 5:30 or 6 a.m., and I’m on my first horse around 7:30 or 8. My day is a combination of riding, training and caring for the horses. My horses have specific treatments: They’re on treadmills and getting acupuncture to make sure they’re healthy, because they’re athletes as well. I’m also in the gym at least an hour and a half a day. It’s the whole package—taking care of yourself and taking care of the horse for that moment of competition.

HL: Do you ride different horses for different events?

AR: I do. My trainers and I have spent a lot of time strategizing which [horse] to ride, and it really all depends on how the horse is feeling; their welfare comes first for me. [Riosco], the one I had at the Masters, is kind of like my star quarterback at the moment. I also bought a mare—but she’s new, so we don’t have a partnership yet; we’re still learning each other. It’s like any teammate: You’ve got to go through that learning period.

Photo Credit: Longines Masters of New York
Photo Credit: Longines Masters of New York

HL: Would you say that riding and competing is your focus right now instead of design?

AR: I’m very lucky—I’m able to do both at once. I keep it very simple. My aesthetic is very clean and streamlined. I’m not doing a huge collection. I had one silhouette for the Longines Masters handbag, in two different colors. My [traditional] handbags are the same. I keep it manageable. When I need to be in training mode or competition mode, I can focus on that because I have a great team behind me who I trust to take the reins.

HL: Your grandparents were significant art collectors. Would you say that you got a love of art and design from them?

AR: Absolutely. My grandparents had this amazing collection [that went up for auction on May 8], which I grew up around. They had such a passion for art and beautiful objects. I got that from them, especially from my grandfather. We’d travel together and go to museums. He would really talk about the pieces and point out specific things. It was a very educational experience having the family that I did. I grew up really appreciating beauty.

Ariana Rockefeller - Photo Credit: Chris Gabello
Ariana Rockefeller - Photo Credit: Chris Gabello

HL: Was it bittersweet to see the artwork up for sale?

AR: I wouldn’t say so. It was always so much a part of the dialogue in the family about what would happen to the collection; the intention was so clear all along. It was an incredible, charitable plan that my grandfather put in place, and such a tribute to his legacy.

HL: Is there a piece in the collection that most reminds you of your grandfather?

AR: [“Water Lilies in Bloom” by Claude Monet] reminds me the most of my grandfather. It was in a very cozy spot, at the head of the staircase on the way up to the second floor; we passed it after dinner, and coming downstairs in the morning. [That piece gives me] a very familial feeling; it’s homey but breathtaking.

HL: What is the greatest lesson you learned from your grandparents?

AR: Always to be kind even when you’re being assertive, and really trusting your instincts. Those were the best lessons I got from my grandfather. He really trusted his instincts, whether it was in travel or buying a new piece of art. He really believed it himself.

Ariana Rockefeller at the Longines Masters of New York - Credit WorldRedEye for EEM
Ariana Rockefeller at the Longines Masters of New York - Credit WorldRedEye for EEM

This article originally appeared in and is published here with permission. Find out more about Ariana Rockefeller on our Apparel section right here on EIE.

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