BY GEORGIA ANN SMITH
Just like many other horse-obsessed little girls, Lily Layman developed a love for horses at an early age. Layman’s parents let her start taking lessons at the age of seven when her passion for the animals grew deeper. Most children start out on ponies or a retired show horse with many miles under the saddle, but Layman started on a six-year-old Thoroughbred named Flax. From that moment on, she was hooked on the breed.
“Against all stereotypes, they are the sweetest horses. They have the most character. I just feel like their eyes tell a whole different story from other horses. It is so much easier for me to connect with and understand Thoroughbreds,” said Layman.
Layman’s family leased Flax so Layman could ride him more often. The two acquired an unbreakable bond. As challenging as Flax was to ride, being forward and spooky, she saw a kind-hearted animal that allowed her to be around horses. She got bucked off many times but always overlooked his quirks. The team rode together for many years until he was sold. Layman was heartbroken when she could no longer see the horse she adored so much.
She then moved out to another barn to take riding lessons. Around this time, she got introduced to Redemption (a.k.a Red). Layman went to try him out and instantly fell in love. He was green and had not been ridden that much, but his incredible personality won her over. She knew he was the horse for her.
“He felt like I was like made to be on him and he was made for me. We got stronger and we learned together. One of my favorite things about Red was that when we got him, he was green, and I was a very new rider too. From that point on, we learned and grew together. I was back to square one, but I was fine with it because I got to relearn everything with the best possible horse I could have. He was everything I wanted in a horse,” said Layman.
In 2021, three years after she received Red, her family moved to Texas. Red came with them, and they started a new riding journey at Summer Hill Farms near Fort Worth. Jordan Gilchrist and Laura Hightower were Layman’s new trainers and they instantly fell in love with the team. “He’s just such a cool horse,” said Gilchrist.
Gilchrist and Hightower guided Layman and Red to their first blue ribbon. Layman was ecstatic. Gilchrist said she felt so proud of the horse and rider team and that she is excited for the two to progress together. Layman and her trainers knew this was the start of a successful career for her and Red.
“She is so kindhearted and a very sympathetic rider to the horses. They all love her. Lily has a special mindset and talent and she’s so understanding of the horses. She just naturally puts the horse first and that’s not the case for most people; for Lily it’s natural. And I think it’s an uncanny, superior quality that she has. That is what sets her apart from other riders,” said Gilchrist.
Red was recently entered in the Pin Oak Classic with another rider in the 3ft Thoroughbred Hunters and came out as champion. Layman said she was “so proud of him” and that it showed her his potential. The two will be working toward that goal together, conquering the ring and conventional ideas.
Thoroughbreds are sometimes looked down upon because of their high energy personalities or for the pure fact that they often raced before their hunter careers. They can get a bad reputation from the start and some people have a challenging time looking past that. Not Layman though, she loves the breed and would not be advancing in her riding career with any other type of horse.
“One time I was looking into a barn before we moved to Texas and the trainer at the barn was talking to me about the possibly of me taking lessons there. She said, ‘We don’t really show thoroughbreds; I don’t normally teach people that have thoroughbreds. So, if you join the barn, you will have to look for a different horse.’ I immediately turned away from that barn,” said Layman.
Layman breaks the common stereotypes against the breed every time she rides. She focuses on the individuality of the horses and never lets stigmas get to her. Layman made a comparison to dogs by saying it is like how pit bulls are used for fighting, so people think that pit bulls are vicious when they are just shaped into that imagery. It parallels how people use thoroughbreds for racing. The first thing people think of is a jittery, skittish horse that needs to run all the time. Many imagine the horses can easily hurt someone because of how sensitive they are. But more often than not, it is simply not true.
Thoroughbreds can be very well-rounded and can be trained easily, which makes them good hunter horses. If they have the right mindset and someone trains them well, the sky is the limit for these horses. And that is exactly the case for Layman. She has future aspirations of “going big time,” jumping 4ft courses and competing in college. She currently has two more years of high school and will be practicing extremely hard for upcoming competitions. But most of all, she will be furthering her connection with Red.
“My favorite part about all of it is the relationship with my horse and all the other horses I ride. I like learning about horses and their little habits and stuff. The small things that they do that differentiate them from other horses. Each of them is special,” said Layman.
Her and Red will be attending many more shows in the future, competing in the 2’6 hunters. Everyone that helps with their riding career and the people watching from the stands are happy to see the team enter the arena. “They give off a bona fide impression. People can see that they put their heart into it, which makes a world of difference in any part of life,” said Gilchrist. They are truly made for each other.
Horse-lover at heart, Georgia Smith attends Middle Tennessee State University in pursuits of a Journalism degree. After college, she aims to become a travel journalist while still focusing on her equine roots, sharing her passion through her writings, photography, and other creative media. In her free time, she loves to be outdoors and spend time with her beloved friends and family.