Grace McEneaney '20 earned top equestrian awards from the Connecticut Hunter and Jumper Association (CHJA) this month. The Newtown resident received a first-place ribbon in the Junior Hunter Division for Connecticut, and a first-place ribbon and trophy in the same division for New England. The honors were presented at CHJA’s 50th anniversary awards banquet, held February 1 at The Riverview in Simsbury.
“It’s something that I’ve wanted to do from a very young age, and I’ve always enjoyed doing it,” McEneaney said of her interest in riding. “When I’m on a horse, I can go into a different mind space. It’s a different world for me, a different experience.”
McEneaney grew up around horses and started taking lessons around the age of 8. “There was a summer camp at the barn down the road from my house and I had always talked to my parents about wanting to ride horses,” she said. Her parents enrolled her in the camp at Rabbit Hill Farm in Newtown, and she never looked back. “I loved it,” she said.
“My parents have been very supportive. They definitely were not expecting me to love it as much as I did. They’ve come to understand that I’m very committed to this sport and in my eyes it was very worth it,” she said.
She took lessons at Rabbit Hill for two years, and then at age 10, transitioned to the show barn, where she got her first pony, Jake, who was all black with a white blaze, and started competing. “I definitely fell off every single show I went to,” McEneaney recalled. But she didn’t give up. “I went in the ring again and I got around and was usually successful on my second try.”
Four years ago, she got her own horse, Matty, a 12-year-old, all-white mare who loves to eat bananas. “She brought me around to my first national finals,” McEneaney said of Matty, who also enjoys apples, peppermints, and oats with molasses as treats.
“I competed at all of the national equitation finals at the 3-foot, 6-inch height, and I qualified to compete in Kentucky for 2018.” she said, referring to the National Maclay Finals Championship held at the Kentucky Horse Park. “I’d been trying to qualify for that horse show for the past three years. I was competing in the class all year long, earning points to qualify for the regional, which was held at Old Salem Farm in Old Salem, New York. You need to have a certain ranking in New York to qualify for the competition in Kentucky.”
About a year ago, McEneaney had to give up riding Matty because the mare suffered a leg injury. “She got hurt and needed surgery so for the whole year she’s been out.”
While Matty was receiving medical care, McEneaney had the opportunity to catch ride a five-year-old gelding named Bolero, whose owner is Carrie Bensley. “I worked with him and I brought him to his first horse show two springs ago,” McEneaney said. “I sort of taught him everything he knew with competing and I brought him up to jumping the Junior Hunter-height.”
She won her dual first-place honors from CJHA with Bolero. It was the first time she was honored in the Junior Hunter Division as she previously competed in the Equitation Division. “Competing is a way to showcase and show the learning and growth that I’ve had over the years. It just proves to me that I’ve been improving,” McEnearney said, adding, “When you have good outcomes in competitions, it encourages you to want to do more.”
Her current focus is getting Matty back to health. “Hopefully, we can start competing again this year, but I’ve also been working with a lot of the younger horses in my barn and doing with them what I did with Bolero, so hopefully they can have success with other riders.”
“I still ride Matty and have been working with her to get her back. We definitely have a bond. I always say that if I were a horse, I would be Matty. We have very similar personalities,” she said.
In addition to a full schedule of courses and co-curriculars, including Girls Varsity Basketball during the winter term, McEneaney adheres to a rigorous training schedule at Rabbit Hill. She is at the barn working with her trainer, Abbi Ferrigno, on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturdays and weekdays after her classes and before practices or games, except Monday, which is a day off for horses and riders. “In the fall, I do an Independent Study Project (ISP) for riding that allows me to go and ride during my co-curricular time,” she said.
This is her third year at The Gunnery, where her favorite classes are currently Environmental Science and Psychology. She is still waiting on a few college acceptances but is already looking ahead to next year. “I do hope to ride on a club team in college. I had considered looking into D1 programs, but I wanted to stay at a smaller school that was similar to The Gunnery and that was closer to home.”