Central Cabarrus senior Grace Howard is one of the top equestrian competitors in the country and recently signed a letter of intent to compete at the University of Georgia next season.
Howard, 17, has been riding horses since age 4 and competing at a high level since about age 8. She has two horses that she rides in competition – Peri and HiHo Houdini.
“It’s something I’ve loved since I started,” Howard said. “I did dance, soccer and other things growing up, but I’m happiest when I’m with the horses.”
Howard was ranked sixth nationally in 2014 in the older large junior hunter division and competed in the 2014 International Hunter Derby Finals, held at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky.
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She trains at the Finally Farm in Camden, S.C., with the help of trainers Jack Towell and his daughter, Liza Towell Boyd. At Georgia, she will compete on a team that finished second in the NCEA championships this season and has won four national titles in the past seven years.
“Grace is a versatile rider and accomplished competitor,” Georgia assistant coach Lisa Anderson said in a statement. “She has experience in both the hunter and jumper rings. Grace will be a wonderful addition to our team.”
Howard said her decision to go to Georgia was pretty easy after she visited because she meshed right away with the coaching staff and team. She said it seemed like a family atmosphere.
It’s also been a family affair for Howard and her parents, Kim and Jay. Grace Howard said her parents sacrificed a lot, driving her to meets on weekends, going to the barn to work and clean the stalls and helping in other ways.
Kim Howard says she plans on watching her daughter compete as a Georgia Bulldog.
“Watching Grace’s growth as a rider has been a lot of fun,” she said. “She has tremendous determination, which is one of the big reasons she has done so well. Her passion for riding shows every time she rides, and we’re looking forward to watching her at Georgia.”
Matt Kline is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Matt? Email him at Mathew_kline@att.net.
Equestrian competition at most levels, including college, is made up of four events:
Fences: Judges evaluate a rider’s position, smoothness, flow from jump to jump as well as the number of strides taken in a line.
Horsemanship: Judges evaluate a rider’s ability to execute a prescribed set of maneuvers.
Equitation on the flat: Riders perform a flat test on their horses in a 40x20 arena consisting of nine movements.
Reining: Based on set patterns, including spins, stops and circles, with a precise scoring system