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A Better, Braver Rider

When you unexpectedly dismount in the field with Glenmore Hunt out of Staunton, Virginia, you owe the master a bottle of something special at the next tailgate. Club rules. But when you’re only six years old, as Waverly McDavid was when her pony Jiminy Cricket unexpectedly sprouted wings over a creek crossing, well, you give the master a bottle of Pepsi. Naturally.

Waverly McDavid, and her mother Mary Lee, during the first day of autumn hunting last season.Waverly McDavid, and her mother Mary Lee, during the first day of autumn hunting last season.

It’s one of the learning experiences Waverly’s mother, Mary Lee, appreciates after the fact, of course. Mary Lee grew up riding with her parents but didn’t pick up foxhunting until adulthood. Now, all three generations hunt together. Waverly sat up in the saddle practically before she could walk. She, however, started in the field on the other end of a leadline with the springy Jiminy Cricket at age 5. Now 14, the early experience have helped her mature not only as a horsewoman, but also an independent young lady.

Just as she bounced back up, dusted off her jodhpurs, and presented an offering to the master to add a little levity to a situation that might have otherwise turned off any other young child, foxhunting has a special way of helping riders rebound gracefully and pass on their knowledge to those who follow. While she and her current pony, Heidi, bound around the hunter/jumper show rings, it’s foxhunting, she says, that’s helped her gain the skills and confidence necessary to excel in both.

Waverly and her pony, Heidi, over a coop during a foxhunting clinic with Glenmore Hunt.Waverly and her pony, Heidi, over a coop during a foxhunting clinic with Glenmore Hunt.

“You learn to go with your gut and listen to your horse which, overall, helps in all aspects of riding,” she says. “I’ve learned to trust my horse and pay more attention to my surroundings while still looking ahead.”

“You have to be able to think and react quickly and stay in control and balanced on any kind of terrain which you just don’t get in a ring,” Mary Lee adds. “This has helped her tremendously in the hunters and now moving into jumpers.”

Four years ago, Glenmore gave a demonstration at the Frontier Culture Museum of Virginia in the McDavids’ hometown, Staunton. Hundreds of spectators gathered to watch the mock hunt. Waverly, then 10, had only just started riding again after a minor setback, but she was eager to participate, nonetheless.

“I rode in the second flight group and got to gallop a little which was cool because I hadn’t galloped on my pony in an open field in a long time,” she says.

Waverly and Heidi enjoying their day out in the hunt field.

After an invigorating run and well-received demonstration, celebrity status kicked in. “After the mock hunt, people were asking me questions like, 'How long have you been foxhunting?' and, 'When did you get your first pony?' It was fun talking to the adults and kids and telling them about foxhunting and how exciting it is,” she remembers.

Just as spectators took note of the pride and confidence she exuded that day, so too do the experienced within the foxhunting community. More recently, during the last Virginia Hunt Week, a state-wide tour of joint meets that takes place every even year, Mary Lee excused Waverly from school to go camp with their horses and catch up with as many hunts as they could.

“During the last Virginia Hunt Week a gentleman from Ireland came and we played host,” Mary Lee remembers. “He gave her the courage to move up to first flight and told me he would take care of her. Ever since that time she’s pretty much been riding first flight.”

Three generations of foxhunters: Berk Pemberton, his daughter Mary Lee Pemberton McDavid, and Mary Lee’s daughter Waverly.Three generations of foxhunters: Berk Pemberton, his daughter Mary Lee Pemberton McDavid, and Mary Lee’s daughter Waverly.

Mary Lee also served as Glenmore’s board president for years. She recently stepped down to spend more time with Waverly and recent high school graduate son, Rhodes. While she still leads Glenmore’s third flight and occasionally second, watching Waverly become a strong, independent rider and sharing that with her parents has moved her most of all.

“Riding with my parents and my daughter has meant the world to me,” she says. “Being outside and enjoying nature and sharing a common bond of horses is just an amazing thing and I feel very lucky and fortunate that I can share that with my daughter, especially as we move through the teenage years. It’s been a lot of fun watching her grow as a rider and seeing her become a better, braver rider than myself.”

Vaulting into a Life with Horses

Ballet and gymnastics suit many active 4-year-old girls. So do adventures with Breyer horses. But what do you get when you put all those together? As Jeannie Wood discovered, the trifecta opened a gateway to horsey heaven on earth for her daughter, Ava.

Bravely Entering the Field

Eliana Boan’s second birthday party was pony-themed. She and her twin brother, Evan, couldn’t get enough of them. So Heidi Boan connected with Suzanne Stettinius, a close family friend of the Boans and a modern pentathlete who represented the United States at the 2012 Olympics and trained racehorses, put both kids on ponies. Suzanne’s energy made it fun for them. For Eliana in particular, it helped her feel brave.

The Joyful Spirit of the Sport

Most foxhunters have experienced some kind of time-bending moment out in the hunt field. An 11-year-old girl by the name of Sydney Pemberton eloquently summed up that feeling when she recently recalled one of her favorite hunting memories.

Harry Potter Gifts the Magic of Foxhunting

Braylee Duckworth2Young Braylee Duckworth has found a perfect hunting partner with her new pony Harry Potter. Photo courtesy of Carine Stava.

Hatchimals dominated Christmas in 2016. For those of us who don’t remember, Hatchimals are interactive eggs that hatch into toys after you care for them. For many kids, this might do. But not for Braylee Duckworth of Blair, Nebraska. She dreamed of caring for and connecting with something a little more real, something a little more magical.

So, in 2016, at 8-years-old, Braylee’s parents gave her a different kind of gift for Christmas, one that would change her life forever.

“We were tired of all of the nonsense gifts that just get played with for a few weeks and then eventually get thrown away,” says Braylee’s mother, Traci Duckworth. Instead, Traci and her husband Cory, gifted Braylee riding lessons. Two days later, Braylee found herself in the saddle and learning the ropes of Western riding with a feisty pony named Squirt.

Fast forward to spring 2019 when Traci and 11-year-old Braylee got a pony named Simba. The gelding needed some training and the family connected with Carine Stava.

Carine took Simba that summer and Braylee started working at her farm one day a week in exchange for lessons. Soon enough, once a week turned into daily trips to the barn. Braylee rode Simba, mucked stalls, helped feed, and groomed. That’s when she met Harry Potter, a 12-year-old, 13.3-hand “Western cow-bred” pony.

Braylee Duckworth1Braylee and Harry Potter, getting ready to tackle their next adventure together. Traci Duckworth Photo.

“One day, she saw Harry Potter in the field and asked if she could ride him,” Carine says. “And the rest, as it goes, is history.”

“Next thing I knew, I was receiving a picture of Braylee jumping a horse in the indoor arena,” Traci recalls. “I started laughing because I had no clue my daughter had secretly been riding and jumping Carine's horse.”

Braylee had spent the summer learning and loving Simba, but Harry had taught her to fly. It didn’t take long for Braylee to start schooling cross country with Harry and Carine.

Braylee Duckworth 4Braylee and Harry Potter galloping through a water complex during a cross-country schooling session. Traci Duckworth Photo.

Cross country schooling fees help support RIDERS, a program Carine developed in conjunction with North Hills Hunt to promote foxhunting and provide financial assistance to kids who otherwise might not be able to afford it.

“The riders pay half their membership, RIDERS pays the other half,” Carine explains. “They take lessons during the week and on hunt days they come early and stay after to help with chores. At Christmas they help make cookies we deliver to our landowners.”

After relishing in the rush of riding and jumping across the country at numerous RIDERS events, Braylee told her mother all about foxhunting. She had earned her way into the world of foxhunting with the help of Carine, Harry, and RIDERS. So, Traci did what any mother unfamiliar with the sport would do – she Googled it. “I thought, sure we’ll try it,” she says. She actually didn’t think Braylee would like it, but her daughter would soon prove her wrong.

Braylee Duckworth 3RIDERS has helped Braylee and other young riders get involved with foxhunting. Carine Stava Photo.

Labor Day weekend in September 2019, they loaded Harry into a trailer and headed to North Hills Hunt in Burwell, Nebraska, for a workday and an early season hunt with some of the young hounds. “I was clueless,” Traci admits, “but in awe at the same time as to what this sport was.”

It was Braylee’s first real hunt. On the first day, she and Harry rode with the gate group. On the second day, they followed Carine in first flight. They took to it like seasoned pros and never looked back.

“I loved running fast through the fields and flying over coops," says Braylee.

“They are really perfect for each other,” says Carine of Braylee and Harry. “Burwell can be challenging. Steep ravines, big gallops across rolling hills—the coops are around 2’6” to 3’. We can go 10 to 17 miles in a day. Braylee is so great to the coops that some of our adult riders like to follow behind her to get a good lead.”

While Harry had shown Braylee the magic of foxhunting, underneath it all, there had always been a subtle bitterness to the sweetness she grew to love. Harry was for sale and when offers came, so did her tears.

“So, my husband, mom, and myself talked and decided that she had to have Harry Potter,” Traci says. “We talked to Carine and told her we would love to buy him but needed to get some things in place first. Carine, being the amazing person she is, said she would wait and work with us. She knew that Harry and Bray belonged together.”

Harry PotterThis past Christmas, Braylee got the gift of a lifetime—her beloved Harry Potter. Traci Duckworth Photo.

For Christmas this past year, exactly three years after her first lesson, Harry Potter appeared under Braylee’s tree. Beyond experiencing the magic of galloping across open fields and flying over coops in first flight, Harry gave Braylee the gift of confidence by caring for and connecting with something real. For Traci and Cory, the gift was, and has been, Carine and her RIDERS program, which carved the path for Braylee to find herself in Harry and foxhunting.

“The RIDERS Program is an absolute blessing for us,” Traci says. “Because of this program, we are able to afford the sport. The club members are very welcoming to us as parents and are so nice to Bray. If it weren't for this club, Bray would never have been able to learn about foxhunting. She has gained so much confidence through this program and has also found a group of friends and family that truly understand her passion for horses.”

While Braylee plans to continue hunting for the foreseeable future, as well as aiming for Local Day at the Burlington Capital International at the Omaha Equestrian Center in April, she will always remember her roots. “Now that I have Harry,” she said, “we will start working on Western Pleasure together.”

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