By Catie Staszak for Heritage Farm
In this behind-the-scenes series from Heritage Farm, we’re introducing you to the program’s horses and riders in a whole new way. Get to know our group beyond what you’ve seen ringside, accolades and all:
- Age: 16
- Hometown: Avon, CT
- Horse(s): Coconder PS
- 2022 Highlights: Winner, 15-Year-Old Equitation at Capital Challenge; Third Standby, ASPCA Maclay National Championship
Halfway through the 2022 Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF), Grace Sappington scrolled through her social media feed and found the inspiration she’d been looking for.
It was a behind-the-scenes video of life at Heritage Farm in the winter season; it included an interview with Andre Dignelli.
“[Something he said was], ‘Sometimes riders are in a great program, but they needed someone to see something in them. So they came [to Heritage], and that happened for them,'” recalled Sappington, 16.
“I showed [the video] to my parents and said, ‘This is where I need to be.'”
It took some convincing, particularly because at the time, Sappington was riding just 15 minutes away from her family’s home in Avon, CT. Riding at Heritage would be a 90-minute commute, and Sappington didn’t yet have a driver’s license.
But after May’s Devon Horse Show, Sappington made the move and set out for Katonah with the goal of signing with a collegiate equestrian team. By year’s end, she was a winner in the highly competitive 16-Year-Old Equitation at Capital Challenge; made it to the penultimate standby list at the ASPCA Maclay National Championship; and committed to ride for the NCEA Division 1 Hunt Seat team at Southern Methodist University (SMU). It was Sappington’s first year competing in Big Eq classes.
“It’s been great,” Sappington said. “I credit so much of it to Andre and his team and just the exposure [riding at Heritage gives you]. Getting to ride so many extra horses, even just hacking, really helps.
“It’s more than the lessons and the riding. It’s outside of the ring as well,” she added. “There’s an amazing team of grooms and barn managers. Just grasping every aspect of the program and watching lessons, watching the trainers ride the horses—the young ones and the experienced ones—you can really learn so much.”
Heritage also helped pair Sappington with her current mount, the 10-year-old Oldenburg gelding, Coconder PS. The bay was jumping international classes, campaigning up to 1.50m, but the brave horse displayed qualities of a promising equitation mount when Dignelli scouted him in New York.
“Andre saw something in him on the first day that I don’t think a lot of other people would have saw,” Sappington said. “We took things slowly. He’s so sweet in the barn, and he always wants to please. He’s not a spooky horse, and I can always trust him. He’s just a great partner.”
At USEF Medal Finals, Sappington also rode Heritage Farm’s Lindos van’t Oudbos. Heading into a new show year, she aspires for greater consistency at WEF 2023.
“I’d love to go to [the USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals—East]. That’s a big goal of mine,” she said. “I’m going to go down to Wellington, and I’ll be there January through March. I want to get more consistent in those Big Eq classes throughout the season. We’re planning to go to the WEC Equitation Cup, so I’m excited for that as well.”
She’ll do it all with college recruitment already in the rearview mirror.
“It’s been really surreal,” she said, “and something that I’ve dreamed of for so long.”
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