You watch the equestrian competition at the Olympics, and it looks easy. It kind of looks like the horse does all the work, and the rider’s job is to stay up there and steer.

Nothing could be further from the truth. If there’s a battle of strength and wills between a horse and rider, the horse will win every time. The secret is to educate the horse and then ask it to do what’s required. It takes time to build that mutual trust and cooperation, and Ellie Alvarez-Apollo has been working on that for about five years.

In other words, for most of her life, since she’s 8. And yet this young rider and her friend Lilly, a Welsh pony mare, dazzled the competition in October at a horse show in Pipersville, Pennsylvania. The show was a United States Equestrian Federation rated show. Ellie and Lilly won six first-place ribbons and two grand championships while competing in Short Stirrup Equitation and Short Stirrup Hunter.

Ellie, a third-grader at St. John Newman, and the daughter of Robert and Delia Alvarez-Apollo of Palmerton, explained the classes.

“In the Equitation, the judges are looking at the rider, looking at the rider’s hands and legs,” she said. “In Hunter, the judges are watching the horse and rider and looking at their style as a team.”

“There are four classes in each division, and courses with jumps that are 2 feet high,” she said. “I love the jumping — it feels cool; it feels like I’m flying.”

There are three pony sizes — small, medium and large — and Lilly is a medium. Ellie is also helping train Izzy and Sunshine, ponies, and Dragon Fly, a horse. She started riding when she was about 3 years old on a palomino pony named Elmo. (Elmo lives at the farm, where he enjoys a life that’s a blend of retirement, “lead line pony” (helping train young riders), and “baby sitter” (acting as a buddy to new ponies or horses).

The family lived in New Jersey until finding a piece of land on Summer Mountain Road they immediately loved and transformed into Apollo Farms. Their attention to design is evident from the stately entrance to the well-manicured grounds, spacious riding areas with colorful jumps and stunningly gorgeous barn. They are members of the Pennsylvania Horseman’s Association. (For more information, go to

In addition to her riding skills, Ellie has added a splash of youth to the staid colors of equine competition, where dark jackets and white shirts are the norm. She’s designed her own line of shirts, bows and headbands in what she calls “fun colors” that young riders like (

Lenaick Delienka, 19, Palmerton, is an Apollo Farms student who has benefited from the Apollos’ relocation to Pennsylvania — and she’s just one of many. In addition to training, selling and leasing ponies and horses, and providing riding lessons, the family runs a summer camp for students and is involved in a Ride for Youth scholarship program.

“It’s been such a blessing to be able to share my passion for riding, with my daughter and with other people,” said Delia Alvarez-Apollo. “It’s been a privilege.”

“For me and now for Ellie, it’s not just about teaching somebody to ride,” she added. “Working with horses teaches people about gaining trust with animals, and that takes hard work and dedication.”

Ellie heads to school at about 6 a.m. and heads to the barn as soon as she’s home.

“I get dressed in my work and riding clothes and tack up whoever I’m supposed to ride,” she said. “My goal is to ride different ponies and horses, because while I am teaching them they are also teaching me.”

“I like the style and precision of riding. You have to be able to judge the stride and pace, while keeping the style, while keeping yourself steady and balanced,” she explained. “And I’ve learned that if you practice a lot, and work hard, you’ll do well, because it’s a team effort.”