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Grace Gorham

Achievements

About Grace Gorham

My name is Grace Gorham, and I am a 17 year old eventer. I currently compete my OTTB, Murphy at the beginner novice level. I am also an active member of Pony Club with my C-1 rating. I have been riding since I was 6 years old, mostly doing hunters until I found eventing. I love the challenge of having to perfect all three phases. In school, I like English and I also take journalism classes. Since finding out about sites like Eventing Nation and the Chronicle of the Horse magazine, I am interested in pursuing a career in equine media, which is mainly why I started this blog. I hope to share my insights about eventing, but mostly just horses in general, and also be able to see how others can relate to my experiences in the horse world. When I’m not riding horses, I like to watch Netflix or listen to some good tunes. My friends tell me that I’m very “food driven,” and I can get hangry very easily (some favorites are Chick-Fil-A and Chipotle). I’m known for being giggly and making people laugh. When I was younger, I would canter instead of walking places, but I’ve grown out of that now… mostly.

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Junior Eventer Spotlight: Anna Fitzhugh Follows Her Fire

Today we shine the spotlight on Maryland-based junior rider Anna Fitzhugh. Anna competes at Training level and impresses us with her organized, hardworking, goal-oriented approach to both riding and schoolwork, as well as the team mentality she demonstrated at Pony Club Championships and while grooming for the Area II team at the 2018 NAYC. 

Want to nominate a junior for this series? Email us at [email protected] 

Photo courtesy of Anna Fitzhugh.

Anna Fitzhugh’s secret to success is her ability to stay focused. As a 17-year-old eventer from Area II, she sometimes has tunnel vision when it comes to her goals of becoming a professional rider, which isn’t a bad thing, because she knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to go into the unknown to get it.

“I’m very focused. I’ve always thought, after that week in Kentucky [at Pony Club Championships], there’s no turning back now,” says Anna. “I could never do anything else. And then I just went all in. Even my own family members were like, ‘Don’t you think you should do something else?’ Still, even after a year or so, they say, ‘You could always be a vet!’ I can be kind of stubborn, but I am very focused. I know this is what I want to do.” 

Her parents, Dawn and Bill Fitzhugh, as well as her trainer Morgan Cillo, all point to Anna’s intense planning habits as the reason she is on track to meet her goals.

“One funny thing about Anna and riding is her extreme organization and scheduling,” Dawn says. “She has a huge dry erase board and will plan her time down to the minute. Just looking at that dry erase board tires me out, but Anna loves horses and likes to be busy and work hard so, for her, that’s what makes her happiest.” 

Anna has been riding for eight years and has three horses: her first pony, Penny; her Training level gelding, Ripley; and her new green mare, Lucy, whom she hopes to bring up the levels.  

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Anna extensively maps out her day at a competition on her white board. Photo by Dawn Fitzhugh.

An Early Love of Dressage Sparks Interest in Eventing

Not many eventers can say this, but Anna’s interest in eventing came through her early love of dressage. But once she got a taste of the thrill of cross country along with the attitude and mindsets of eventers, she knew she’d found her sport. Morgan Cillo, an upper-level eventer with whom Anna has trained since the beginning, was able to nudge her in the right direction.

“I always loved dressage, ever since the beginning,” Anna says. “Because I started riding with Morgan, I always did little bits of dressage and hunter stuff, but as soon as I did my first event, I just loved that feeling. The feeling you get when you’re in the startbox, and you know you’re prepared, but you get that adrenaline and you get all tingly — that’s my favorite feeling.

“I like that it’s not so much about ‘How much money do you have?’ or ‘What color breeches are you wearing?’ Instead, it’s more about ‘Are you and your horse prepared?’ and ‘Did you do all your homework?’ It’s more about hard work, and less about the money.”

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Anna with her childhood pony, Penny. Photo by Caught By A Flash Photography.

Success In and Out of the Saddle

Even though her career is just beginning, Anna has already had some great accomplishments. She’s been to the North America Youth Championships as a groom, competed at Pony Club Championships, completed the Waredaca Training Three-Day Event, traveled south to Aiken, and competed in countless events all over Area II.

One of her most memorable experiences is when she got to be a part of the Area II Young Riders team when they won team gold in 2018.

“Riding has taken me a lot of places, and not just on a horse,” Anna says. “I have a couple favorites, but one of them is when I groomed at Young Riders. I was walking Tayler Stewart and Taz into the ring, standing next to Mr. Medicott who’s an Olympian, and Olivia Dutton, holding both of them as the national anthem played and they got their gold medals. That was so surreal and I will always remember it. Mr. Medicott leaned over and nosed me, like he was saying ‘Wake up, this is real!’ and it was so surreal.”

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Anna with Mr. Medicott at the awards ceremony for Young Riders after Area II won team gold. Photo by JJ Sillman.

Anna qualified for the first time in 2017 to compete at Pony Club Championships, which took place at the Kentucky Horse Park, and the experience solidified in her mind that she wanted to pursue horses as a career.

“I always knew I wanted to ride, but after that week I just fell so in love with the sport that I thought, ‘Well this is definitely what I [want to] do.’ I didn’t have a great run there, but I got to experience being on a team. I had never been on a team before, and I just knew that this was it, this was what I wanted to do,” says Anna. “In Kentucky, as I was walking Ripley down [the chute that leads into the ring] and I show jumped him in that Rolex arena, my dad was up in the stands, according to my trainer Morgan, bawling his eyes out and saying, ‘One day she’s going to be here for the real thing.’ So that was really cool being in the grandstand arena, and hearing the announcer with the same British accent that the real announcer [at the Land Rover Kentucky Three Day Event] has.”

Neither of her parents were horse people before Anna started asking for riding lessons. Anna’s dad Bill has become immersed in the horse world through his daughter, and it has created a special connection between them.

“Her riding opened a world up for me that I never would have known. I have met so many wonderful people through Anna’s riding. Through Anna’s riding we have bonded on our many road trips early in the morning. We have our favorite places to stop on the way to shows. Each season we have favorite songs we like to listen to on the way to shows,” said Bill.

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Anna (middle) with her dad Bill (left) and trainer Morgan (right) before they traveled to Pony Club Championships. Photo courtesy of Anna Fitzhugh.

‘You Should Join Pony Club’

In addition to eventing, Anna has been greatly involved in Pony Club throughout the years, even though she originally didn’t want to join. Her mom encouraged it, but being an obstinate and determined third grader, she didn’t want her mom to be right. Six months later, after going to a meeting with Elkridge Harford Hunt Pony Club, Anna gave in and ever since then she has been hooked on Pony Club. She now has her C-3/H-B rating.

One of the reasons she loves Pony Club is because of the learning opportunities. Just a few life skills that Anna has learned are to pay a greater attention to detail, ask questions, and do lots of research.

Because of the opportunities and education she’s acquired through Pony Club, she strongly encourages other riders to join.

“I tell any person I meet, ‘You should join Pony Club,’ no matter who they are, how much they ride, or how much they want to do. Maybe I’m a little biased because I’ve met all my greatest friends through Pony Club, but I’ve loved it and have had so many opportunities, and met so many people. All of the opportunities that I’ve had have been through Pony Club,” said Anna.

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Anna with her teammates and coach Morgan at Pony Club Championships. Photo courtesy of Anna Fitzhugh.

Lessons Learned from Setbacks

Despite the many highs and accomplishments of Anna’s riding career, she has also had some setbacks.

A few years ago, on a rainy day while competing Ripley in the show jumping phase in a grass arena, she experienced what could have been a serious fall when Ripley lost his footing over a jump.

“At Shawan Downs, he slipped and fell in show jumping and crashed onto the jump, and then he wouldn’t jump for the next couple days. I went to take him cross country and he would not jump a single jump, because he was so scared,” says Anna.

To overcome the challenge of getting Ripley’s confidence back, the pair went back to basics and schooled cross country every chance they had in order to build his trust back up.

What matters more than the setbacks is the mindset that a person has to overcome their failures. For Anna, this is as simple as always focusing on the positives of a situation.

“I always look on the bright side in everything that I do, because with horses, no matter what, they’re going to get hurt, you’re going to fall off, have a bad day, or have stops, but no matter what, there’s always something you can learn. So, even if I have a stop somewhere and it was my fault, I learned that next time I have to pay more attention or do something differently,” says Anna.

Planning for the Future

As for her future goals, she has her mind made up that she will make a career out of riding, and it’s no surprise that she has a plan to get there.

“I would like to ride professionally, so my plan is to run my own horse business in a training center a couple years after I graduate college, preferably in Aiken because I love South Carolina. Until then my plan is to be a working student at Morningside since I’m graduating early from high school,” says Anna. “I’ll be a working student for [Skyeler Icke Voss] and then start college in the spring semester of 2020 at Wilson College.”

Trainer Morgan, a professional herself, believes that Anna has all of the traits and skills necessary to be successful as a professional.

“I think Anna will be successful as a professional for many reasons,” Morgan says. “For one, she’s a well-rounded person. Outside of horses, she’s an excellent student who loves to spend time with her family, travel and read. To be a successful professional, it takes so much more than being a good rider or trainer. You have to be articulate, solve problems quickly, and balance a hectic schedule. You have to be a proficient writer and be able to market yourself and your business. Anna easily has all of these skills. She is not only great with horses, but great with people. This skill is going to really help her professional career.

“Last but not least, Anna possesses an outstanding work ethic. I know how hard she works each and every day. Being any type of professional horse person requires an incredible amount of dedication, practice and work.”

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Both Anna and Ripley appear to be having a blast on cross country with her smile and his ears pricked! Photo by GRC Photo.

It’s Not All Fun and Games

On the path to becoming a professional, it’s not just all riding and training. Schooling and education are very important parts of riding, which Anna understands. She makes sure to keep up with her grades on top of riding, which is no easy task.

Anna’s secret to balancing horses with school work is simple: she uses every spare second she has in school to finish all of her homework.

“I will work through lunch, I’ll do my homework in homeroom, I’ll do it on the bus, I’ll sit in the car on the parking lot and do it before school, I will do anything to not do it at home. So when I leave at 2 o’clock, I have no school work. Usually after school I’ll go and ride probably four horses for different people, and then I come home and ride my two. I can balance riding pretty well despite having school all day,” says Anna.

As for her future plans with school, Anna’s current goal is to go to Wilson College for its equine programs.

“Wilson College has an equine business major, as well as equine journalism classes, which combine two of the things I love,” she says. “I’ve always loved to write, I’ve always loved to ride, and I really want to get a business degree, and in addition to that, they’re in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. This means they’re pretty central to all of the things that are happening. They’re two hours from the Virginia Horse Park and Fair Hill, so everything is in a manageable distance. They have a farm on campus, and they have a January term. That’s why I chose to go there, and they gave me a scholarship, which helps pay for horses.”

Be on the lookout for Anna this year at events. Her plan is to move her horse Ripley up to the new-for-2019 FEI one-star level at the Maryland Horse Trials. She took her horses in Aiken this month to contest Paradise Farm H.T. 

Despite Anna’s intense focus and rigorous schedule to meet her goals, in the end she goes the extra mile for her horses because of her genuine love for them and her sport. Riding is what she turns to for solace when all other aspects of her life may seem uncertain. Anna’s mother remembers when Anna was about 10 years old, she told her that “riding makes me forget about anything bad in life and only focus on the good.” Seven years later, Anna still has the same mentality, and she always will as she pursues her aspirations of creating a career out of her passion.

Read more from Grace at her blog, murphyslawofriding.wordpress.com.

Let’s Discuss: An Eventer Looks at Colleges

EN young rider blogger and high school Junior Grace Gorham is just beginning the process of looking at colleges and she’s feeling … more than a little overwhelmed. Can you offer any words of wisdom? Let’s discuss! 

Photo courtesy of Grace Gorham.

From Grace: 

Junior year is known by many as the most stressful year in high school. This is the year when classes get hard, you are prepping for senior year and college, and you start to realize that there really isn’t that much time until “the future.” So far, it’s not that bad with my classes, but what is really overwhelming to me is all of the “thinking about the future.” In this post I’ll share with you my thoughts about the college process and my experiences to far, and I hope that others are able to relate.

I am just in the beginning of my college search; I have visited four fairly local schools so far. With each school that I’ve visited, however, it seems that I just feel more confused! I’m not sure that it’s supposed to work like that … I have so many ideas of what I think I’m looking for in a college in my head, but after each visit, those ideas shift until I’m not even sure what I want anymore.

One of the hardest parts for me is the fact, while the USEA Intercollegiate Eventing Program is rapidly growing (there are currently 30 USEA affiliated colleges and universities), most schools still don’t have eventing teams. There are plenty of schools with IHSA teams, but very few with eventing. It’s understandable because for eventing you need your own horse, and for IHSA, you don’t — but it’s still frustrating. I’m not sure if I would be happy doing IHSA or not. Right now I feel like I would enjoy it. Obviously it’s very different from eventing, but I think I would enjoy the team atmosphere, and it would be something to help my position and become a more versatile rider.

Another decision I will have to make is whether I want to bring my own horse, compete on an IHSA team, look specifically for a school with an eventing team, or not compete at all and just be on a team recreationally. The one thing I am sure about is that I definitely don’t want to go to a college with absolutely no equine programs, whether that means it has a major or minor in equine studies, an equestrian team, or a barn on campus. That way even if I don’t bring my own horse or ride on a team, I can still have the barn atmosphere to be around or just ride for fun. I think I would feel a little lost without riding, since it’s been such a huge part of my life for over 10 years now.

The four schools that I have visited so far each have their own positives and negatives. For example, with some schools I liked their equine programs, but I didn’t feel like I fit in with the student population. With others, I liked the campus, but not the majors or courses offered. The list goes on and on. I just keep thinking about how it would be so much easier if I could just combine different aspects of each school and create my perfect school!

My ideal school would be something with a small to medium population (about 2,000 to 7,000 students), an equine program, a busy town or small city, and good educational programs. I am hoping to do something in the equine media field (read more about that here), so I think it would be best to go to a school that has a major in something related to communications and media or journalism. I still have to do more research about which major would be best; I’m not sure whether it would be better to have a more general major (such as English) or a very specific major (like an actual equine media major).

As you are probably already thinking, there’s no way I’m going to get all of this in one college. I feel like I’m on an episode of House Hunters where the people say, “I want a modern, 3,000 square foot open floor plan, with seven bedrooms and eight bathrooms, all new appliances, a huge yard, within five minutes of my work and five minutes from everything else I do, oh, and all under $200,000.”

So, I’m going to have to do some research, talk with some people, and figure out what my priorities are. Hopefully I will be able to figure out which schools I want to look at that are further away, and we can make some trips to different places. If you have gone through or are going through the decision of colleges, please leave a comment below about what your strategies were or what helped you through this stressful time.

Read more from Grace at her blog, murphyslawofriding.wordpress.com.

Product Review: Tiger’s Tongue Horse Groomer

Photo by Grace Gorham.

If you are searching for a softer alternative to a curry comb for your sensitive horse, check out the Tiger’s Tongue Horse Groomer! The Tiger’s Tongue is a flexible scrubber that gently but effectively cleans dirt, dander and sweat marks. It can be used on anything from getting mud off of white leg markings to buffing dull hoof walls.

Learn more about the Tiger’s Tongue Horse Groomer at the Epona website here. Find a list of Epona retailers here — the groomer is available from our friends at SmartPak here.

When Dread Turns to Joy

The thought of having to sell my pony has crept closer and closer in recent years.

Every time the topic came up, a feeling of dread washed over me, and I would shut down because I didn’t want anything to change. But recently, the perfect opportunity came up for my pony, Saucy. She is an older, 12.2-hand Welsh cross pony. We bought her when I was 9 years old, and we have had her ever since. I did everything with her, from hunters to eventing, and she taught me so much. I owe her everything, and she owes me nothing in return.

As soon as we pulled up to their barn, Emma and her sister came right into the trailer to see Saucy.

Saucy is the kind of pony where no one ever really believes how good she is until they see her in person. She is sassy (hence the name “Saucy”) but she isn’t anything like the pony you grew up riding who would buck you off every time you tried to canter or who would relentlessly drag you over to the nearest patch of grass. She will make sour faces and pin her ears at everyone unless they have treats. But underneath that, she loves trail rides, being groomed, and on top of everything, food. And best of all, she will happily and safely pack a little kid around who is still learning to post.

I outgrew Saucy a few years ago. She was living a semi-retired life at my friend’s barn where she would go on the occasional trail ride, but she needed more of a job. She needed a little kid who would groom her regularly, love her, and learn to ride on her.

Through mutual friends, we heard about a little girl named Emma whose pony suddenly passed away the week before, and her mom was casually looking for a new pony. It was such a sad story — the little girl had just cantered for the first time ever on that pony, and then he passed away the next day.

Emma’s smile is contagious and she was just so happy. She didn’t want to get off of Saucy!

My mom, who loves Saucy as much as I do, set up a time for Emma and her mom to meet Saucy. Emma was so excited when she came to meet and ride Saucy. Her big blue eyes were bright and filled with joy, her fiery red curls were bouncing as she bounded down to the barn to see Saucy, and that big smile with the missing front teeth never left her face. Right away, Emma wanted to get Saucy out of her stall, groom her, and feed her carrots. She put her tiny saddle, helmet, and vest on and headed out to the ring.

Emma immediately felt comfortable on Saucy. She walked, trotted, went over poles, and even cantered with me leading her. Her happiness was contagious. As I watched her trot around the ring laughing while she tried to catch her sister, who was running on the ground, a smile slowly started to spread across my face too.

When we got back to the barn, Emma announced that Saucy was her favorite out of all the ponies she had tried, and she was prepared to buy Saucy with her own piggy-bank full of money if she had to. Emma left the barn with her sister and mom, who seemed to also like Saucy. Emma’s mom contacted us a little later in the evening and said that they wanted to lease Saucy.

After seeing Emma ride Saucy, I didn’t feel any dread, sadness, or reluctance at all. Instead, I saw a little girl who loves ponies have her dreams come true, and my pony was going to have a gentle job where she will always be loved, happy, and have another enthusiastic child to teach. I was so genuinely happy for Emma, and I am eagerly awaiting all of the updates and pictures of them together.

Note — it was extremely difficult to choose one picture that encompasses all of the memories that I have with Saucy. After a solid 30 minutes of searching through all the pictures I had available, I was able to narrow it down to 25…

Read more from Grace at her blog, murphyslawofriding.wordpress.com.

 

A Summer of Silver Linings

I had so much in store for the summer: going to Tryon for Pony Club Championships, moving back up to Novice with confident cross country rounds, actually being competitive at events with improved dressage scores, maybe even thinking about a Training move up next season…

And then comes the feeling most of us know all too well.

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Murphy got lots of hand grazing and walks while he was lame.

You’re warming up your horse for an everyday ride. It starts like any other, but after a few steps, you start to notice that his steps aren’t falling quite right, and the next thing you know, you’re out of a horse for the next few weeks — or even months.

It couldn’t have been more perfect timing. Right before my qualifying event for Pony Club Championships and during the last week of school, with the whole summer stretched in front of me, but a lame horse to spend it with.

At first, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself because I was out of school with time on my hands, but without a horse to ride. Wow. My summer was off to a great start. Scrolling through social media seeing everyone’s fancy ribbons, adventures with their horses, and travels to far away competitions made the empty feeling in my chest grow even more.

At first I liked having time to binge watch Netflix and connect with friends I normally wouldn’t have had the time to talk to over the summer. But in the back of my mind I was growing restless.

That’s when I started uncovering some of the silver linings of having a lame horse.

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The horse I got to ride for the Show Jumping Rally was super fun!

My friends offered me their horses to ride when they heard about Murphy being lame. With these new opportunities, doors opened for me that I wouldn’t have been able to go through before. I got to go to my Pony Club’s Show Jumping Rally, riding a borrowed horse, not worrying about qualifying for Championships. I had a smile on my face the whole day, even when a storm came through and cancelled the last half of the show, because I was sitting under the tent laughing with my teammates, something I never would’ve been able to do without a lame horse.

All my life I’ve put so much pressure on myself to make the most out of the effort, time and money I’ve put into my horse. But now all of that was lifted off my shoulders, because I realized there weren’t really any expectations attached with someone else’s horse.

With others helping me so much with my less than perfect situation, I got the chance to pay it forward. I started helping out with a young horse’s training at my barn. I was able to put all of my own training to good use and give a young horse and his owner more confidence.

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I got to take my pony on a lot of bareback trail rides this summer.

If I would’ve been competing every weekend, I wouldn’t have had the time to do any of these things. As I replay the events of this summer in my mind, I can’t believe how many irreplaceable memories I’ve made.

As a bonus, Murphy is now sound. I brought him back slowly from being out of work. The first week I could only walk, and then in the following weeks I carefully added the trot and canter. I am savoring the everyday rides 10 times more because of the many days where all I wanted to do was get on and ride, but couldn’t.

I am enjoying the freedom of not having to stick to a rigorous schedule solely focused around competitions. I have become much better at reminding myself that it is good to go on trail rides and hacks several times during the week, and to balance out my lessons and practice with mental breaks for both of us.

Admittedly, it’s been hard to completely avoid feelings of jealousy, guilt and sadness as I see other young riders moving up the levels, winning blue ribbons and competing. These stressors pressure us to think we have to follow what everyone else is doing in order to succeed. I’ve learned to get so much more satisfaction from focusing on my own training, which is something that I hope other young riders make time for.

Recently I rode Murphy bareback for the first time in a while. He’s a very sensitive horse (Thoroughbreds, right?) and he definitely would not have tolerated this a year ago. In fact, the first time we attempted a bareback ride, I fell off because he took off the second I put my leg on.

My recent bareback ride probably wasn’t “social media worthy,” but you know what? I had fun. Which is the biggest silver lining of all this summer.