Riding for Annie: Catching Up with Annie Goodwin Rising Star Grant Recipient Isabelle Bosley

Isabelle Bosely and Night Quality. Photo by Shelby Allen.

Annie Goodwin continues to live on through the dedication of friends, family, and supporters who have paid tribute to the Aiken, SC local since her sudden passing in 2021. The creation of the Annie Goodwin Rising Star Grant as well as the annual awarding of the Annie Goodwin Sportsmanship Award at Grand-Prix Eventing (won in 2024 by Austin O’Connor) each spring are two ongoing reminders of Annie’s generosity of spirit and genuine love for the horses and people surrounding her.

Last year, it was announced that the Annie Goodwin Rising Star Grant would be awarded to an Aiken-area budding professional. The grant “provides financial support for young professional equestrians establishing the early years of their business and wishing to continue their equestrian education and competition,” according to the web page created for the program. The intent of this grant is to “foster, support and develop Aiken’s young equestrians who embody Annie’s character and dedication in their respective sports.”

The inaugural recipient of this financial award is Isabelle Bosley, who’s spent the better part of a decade working alongside 5* rider Lillian Heard as she works her way up through the levels with her personal horse, Night Quality, and explores the realm of branching off on her own.

It can certainly be daunting, the thought of hanging one’s own shingle out after years of mentorship. Isabelle considers herself fortunate to have worked with Lillian as her program grew, providing a chance for Isabelle to witness firsthand how a successful business is built. “I feel really lucky with my timing,” she explained. “When I first started, we had I think 10 horses in the barn total, so over time as our barn has grown and I’ve gotten more independent, it’s all grown at the same time. Lillian’s gotten more horses, more clients and working students, but it’s kind of worked that it’s all grown together, which has been really cool.”

Isabelle Bosley and Night Quality. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Over time, Isabelle has taken on more riding responsibilities that will eventually feed her business as she launches it. She’s picked up a supportive owner, for whom she now campaigns young horses, and also plays an important role campaigning sales horses for Lillian, which is always a strong move for making connections. She learns this side of the business while also learning the ins and outs of producing an upper level horse; the now-13-year-old Irish gelding Night Quality has been her partner for this particular venture.

“He’s been my first horse that I’ve taken past Training, so not only my first Advanced horse, I hadn’t even gone past Prelim before I had him,” Isabelle said of “Millbrook”, who came to the U.S. first as a sale horse. Isabelle had to that point been primarily riding free Thoroughbreds she’d bartered for rides on, and had sold enough project horses that she now had enough to purchase a young horse to produce. “I was riding him as a sale horse every day. He’s definitely a little quirky and funny, but I really got to liking him and he was in my budget. I thought I could re-sell him as a Prelim horse down the road.”

Famous last words, as Isabelle soon found she had a horse she felt she could move up with, giving her a world of experience and competitive mileage. In 2021, the pair stepped out at the Advanced level, collecting enough competitive results to put herself on the radar of the US Eventing Pathway Program and stamping a ticket to the UK as part of the Nations Cup team competing at Bramham in 2022.

Looking back on the experience she’s had at the Advanced and 4* level, Isabelle applies the term “learning curve”, as many riders do when first stepping up to this top level of the sport. A mixed bag of results and a heartbreaking elimination at their final UK event (Houghton Hall) sent Isabelle back to the States feeling low. Here is where her Aiken connections picked her up once more, though.

“I definitely felt pretty rock bottom when I came home from England,” she said. “I just wanted to come home and curl up in a hole and die. I kept thinking, ‘I don’t want to have to go to Boyd’s tomorrow and look everyone in the face.’ But I think Boyd was one of the first ones who came up to me when I went to the barn; they all just told me about their first international experience and how they totally bombed. ‘It’s ok, no one will remember that!’ they all said. And that made me feel really good about it. Like, ‘it’s ok, it’s not the end of your career.’

Isabelle talked more about her experiences with Dr. Tyler Held in an interview for our “Between the Ears” series. Read it here.

Isabelle Bosley and Night Quality. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

After returning home and after comparing notes — she’d felt Millbrook just wasn’t quite right during his trip overseas — it was found that the horse had come down with EPM. “I wasn’t sure, though, because they always say the horses are a little tired after a big travel, and I knew the competition over there was that much tougher — was it that, or was it something else?” she questioned.

Isabelle says it took nearly a year for her horse to begin to feel better in his body after the EPM diagnosis and treatment. She’s taken a patience-first approach with her upper-level riding, opting to scale back to a lower level and build the confidence, fine-tune the details, before asking for another go at Advanced.

“To be quite honest, it took him awhile to feel really ok in his body again. I think being under that pressure while struggling with that [EPM], it definitely knocked him out, he was totally healthy but just didn’t feel right for awhile,” Isabelle elaborated. “And it was also a mental thing; it took a lot of confidence away from him not having his body feel right and he’s so careful, I think it really scared him. I’ve had to take awhile to build him back up, just going out and jumping Novice fences again and again. All around, it’s been a pretty big learning lesson, but in hindsight we’ve both really grown from it.”

Isabelle hopes she’ll eventually be able to move back up to the Advanced and 4* level, but in the meantime she’s removed the competitive pressure from her goal-setting, aiming only to ensure she and Millbrook are safe and confident when they do choose to move up. It’s a simultaneously difficult and easy decision: it’s hard to feel like you aren’t “making it” as an Advanced or 4*/5* rider (especially when you’ve only got one horse to take you there right now), but it’s also the easiest decision in the world (or, it should be) to do what’s right for your horse.

As she prepares for the season ahead, Isabelle is eager to use the benefits of the Annie Goodwin Rising Star Grant to increase her lesson load. “I’ve already had so many lessons this winter, more than I think I ever have, and from each one you can take something new back to your program at home,” she said. “Lillian remains my main mentor, and having a great community here in Aiken to learn from is a great addition.”

Annie Goodwin and Fedarman B. Photo by Christine Quinn Photography.

At the end of the day, Isabelle says, it’s simply an honor to be chosen to represent Annie Goodwin’s spirit, expressing her gratitude to the Goodwin family, whom she was able to meet and get to know at Grand-Prix Eventing, and the supporters of the program.

“I think the whole grant is a really incredible idea and a really nice way to honor her memory, and I feel really grateful that I was the first person to get it,” she said. “At the end of the day, the grant could have been $10 and it would’ve been special to me. The money is really just the icing on the cake. Annie was the kind of the rider — the type of person — I want to grow into. I always really respected her, and was so happy she was in our community. She always made the day a bit better whenever you saw her.”

If you’d like to make a donation or otherwise support the Annie Goodwin Rising Star Grant, you can click here to obtain more information.

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