BY JESS CLAWSON
Maria Shannon has been riding since before she could walk. She had the good fortune to be born into an equestrian family. Parents Tom and Claiborne Bishop, owners of The Barracks in Charlottesville, Virginia, taught her to ride, as did well known Virginia trainer Glenn Moody.
Like Shannon, her parents have been lifelong equestrians. Her mother, Claiborne, began riding at age three with Elliewood Keith at Keithwood, where she would eventually meet Tom. The two married in 1970, the same year they opened Great Neck Stables in Virginia Beach, which grew so rapidly that they opened The Barracks just three years later. Claiborne has twice been voted the Virginia Horse Shows Association Horse Person of the Year and in 2010 was inducted into the VHSA Hall of Fame.
Shannon’s father Tom was born in California, where he grew up foxhunting and eventing. He moved to Virginia in 1964 to attend the University of Virginia and would meet Claiborne while riding at Keithwood there. He also became involved with the IHSA, serving as their national steward for 25 years. Still an avid field hunter, he has held the positions the Master of Foxhounds, Field Master, and is now a Whipper In for the Farmington Hunt.
Shannon attended college at Hollins University, where she participated in IHSA. She won the individual open over fences class at Nationals in 1993 and 1995. In 1994, she won the team open over fences. “Hollins was a very good experience,” Shannon said. “Nancy Peterson and Liz Courter were great coaches, and I made some lifelong friends through the team. IHSA is very difficult because you don’t get to practice on the horse before you compete, so when I rode one well it was very rewarding. If I got a tough horse it could be frustrating, it was very luck of the draw, but it was a great experience.” Shannon was inducted into the Hollins Athletic Hall of Fame following her stellar career there.
After Shannon graduated, she worked as a barn manager for Will Coleman, Sr. at Fox Ridge. In 1998, she turned professional and split her time between Fox Ridge and The Barracks, where she enjoyed riding young horses. She began working for The Barracks full time and has been there since, teaching lessons and showing horses. Shannon enjoys the challenge of figuring out what each horse likes and what makes them tick. “A happy horse is a willing horse,” she said.
One of her early mounts, Strike It Rich, was a homebred pony on whom she went on to win Pony Finals. The pony taught Shannon a lot that she would carry with her throughout her career. “She could be tough but I learned a lot from her,” Shannon recalled.
She now coaches the UVA equestrian team, along with Laurie Turner and Sarah Irvine, which her parents founded in 1976. Virginia Riding is a club sport, which allows them to take riders of all levels and genders. The team has won 10 ANRC championships and several IHSA national championships since its inception. The team is based at The Barracks, which allows riders to compete with a Barracks trainer if they choose.
At The Barracks, Shannon’s students teach her as much as the horses do. “They drive me to teach the important things that I grew up learning and to continue to learn what the horses teach us,” she said. Teaching is a good way to learn, and the best teachers are those who stay open minded to what their students bring to the table. It says a lot about Shannon that she sees the teacher/student relationship as a two way street. She takes pride in what her students accomplish with their hard work.
Shannon coaches a variety of riders, from beginning students to top level hunter, jumper, and equitation riders. Their program’s success in large part credited to their excellent care of their high quality horses, many of whom have earned prestigious show records before entering the lesson program.
The Barracks is designed to be a good environment for learning. “I think we have a barn that is relaxed in a family oriented sort of way; ranging from children to college students to people who have been riding with us for 30 plus years,” she said. “ We take pride in making sure our students are good horsemen and horsewomen.”
The Barracks is a full service boarding and lesson facility in addition to being homebase for the Virginia Riding team. They also host schooling, VHSA, and A rated shows, as well as IHSA and IEA competitions.
Shannon’s plans for her future include continuing to bring the horses and riders under her guidance to their full potential while spending time with her family and raising her son.