After growing up in the hunt field, many talented riders whose parents were huntsmen or Masters would later gain fame and notoriety in the world of show jumping. One such rider was the legendary Rodney Jenkins, who as a boy whipped-in for his huntsman father throughout Virginia and would eventually become one of the most prominent show jumping riders in the United States in the 1970s and ’80s.
The same path to success holds true for many riders today. For three women who’ve made a name for themselves in the horse show world, growing up with roots firmly planted in the foxhunting community helped kickstart their careers. Caelinn Leahy, Sloane Coles, and Alden Moylan all agree on three main principles they absorbed through early years of hunting: gaining horsemanship skills from their parents, learning to be effective and balanced riders, and appreciating a sense of community.
These three equestrians will be featured in “The Daughters,” a profile in the upcoming Summer 2020 issue of Covertside. Here’s a further look at what they discovered in their early years out hunting, and how it shaped them into the riders they are today.
All in the Family
For an 18-year-old rising star in the jumper ring, horsemanship has been a part of Leahy’s life from an early age. Her father Tony Leahy, President of the MFHA and MFH of the Fox River Valley Hunt, learned about training and caring for horses from his Irish ancestors. “Some of the best fundamental horsemanship skills I’ve learned from my dad, especially understanding how horses’ brains work,” she says.
Similarly, Moylan, daughter of Penny Denegre (long-time MFH of Middleburg Hunt), who runs a thriving hunter/jumper barn with her husband Gavin, inherited her family’s devotion to their horses. “You take care of your horse before tending to your own needs,” Moylan explains. “Your horse just carried you over hill and dale for 4+ hours and it is your responsibility to care for him/her the best you can. This was number one in my parents’ eyes and the same applies to our top hunters and jumpers; we ask the best of them, so we should always give them our best.”
Coles’ father, John, the Joint Master of Orange County Hounds, always came up with systems in the barn to make their work more efficient and her mother Julie, (a successful hunter/jumper rider in her own right) made sure Coles understood the importance of cleanliness. “Both of my parents were consistent in teaching us the basics and safety,” Coles says. “I think the biggest lesson was just learning how to read your horse's body language every step of the way.”
Becoming Better Riders
Each of the three women discovered how hunting helped them develop strong, balanced riding positions, instilling confidence that carried over to the show ring.
“If you watch foxhunters,” says Leahy, “I think they have a really good base underneath of them, which translates really well to the show jumping. Sometimes you’re out hunting and your horse might trip over something on the ground, so you really have to have that solid position down through your leg. And in the ring, maybe your horse is feeling a little fresh and jumps really big over the first jump. A lot of people could easily fall out of position, but I think that fundamental base strength from foxhunting really helps you.”
Moylan echoes Leahy’s sentiments about developing a strong lower leg, and also believes hunting is especially useful in learning to find a comfortable, balanced, and effective position off the horse’s back. “Also, you gain practice jumping fences at varied gaits and you learn to stay on your canter and find your fences out of that rhythm, which is hugely important in the show world,” she adds.
“I learned to keep my balance in the air, as anything could happen on the backside of the fence as well as the front,” says Coles, a frequent competitor in the grand prix ring. “I always felt it was best if you had a good pace and stayed out of their way.”
A Sense of Community
One of the most special things that they each learned early on was that life-long fellowships come along with the sport.
Moylan’s mother has been a Master at Middleburg since 1994, and it has been a labor of love for the whole family. “The hunt has certainly not just been about the sport for me!” says Moylan, who’s volunteered countless hours alongside fellow club members over the years for dozens of different activities and fundraisers. “From my upbringing as a Master’s daughter, I’ve learned a great deal about hard work, diplomacy, and comportment in social environments.”
Though she has a busy international showing schedule these days, Coles always makes time to get home and visit with her “foxhunting family” who helped mentor her in her youth. Likewise,
Leahy, who balances her budding career in the show ring with her formal education, loves the chance to reconnect with long-time friends in the hunt. “I’ve always considered them to be extended family members – they’re all my ‘uncles’ and ‘aunts.’ They’ve all helped shape me into who I am today. I can’t imagine growing up without them.”
Be sure to check out “The Daughters” in the Summer 2020 issue of Covertside for more insight from these three women.