Grace Russo: Putting Horsemanship First

BY April Bilodeau

California native Grace Russo has had a busy, successful year in the show ring. The 16-year-old junior rider spent almost every weekend in 2023 showing, from her home state to all of the major East Coast finals, stopping at venues like Lake Placid and Split Rock in between.

Along with an ambitious show schedule, Grace has maintained her status as an in-person high school student at Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, taking several honors and AP courses and earning a 4.2 GPA.

Competition highlights from this year for Russo include Reserve Champion in the USHJA Gladstone Cup Equitation Challenge-West, multiple top placings in the Junior Hunter divisions, equitation, and jumpers at Blenheim, and a third place finish at the National Horse Show in the 3’6” Small Junior Hunter division on Ceremony, a catch ride offered by the Little family. 

Russo, who rides with Mike Endicott, enjoys her time in the show ring aboard her multiple partners, but more than anything else, she strives to continue her education as a horsewoman. 

“Horsemanship is something you can cultivate in and out of the ring,” says Russo. “Building a relationship with your horse can improve your riding so much.” 

Her rides include Casalino, her partner of four years, Cupid, her main hunter, Diane De Sivray, her jumper mare that she shows in classes ranging from 1.20 m to 1.30 m, and her equitation horse, Diplomat. 

“Diplomat has just become the most wonderful partner,” says Russo. “He has a dressage background which makes him great on the flat.”

Together, Diplomat and Russo were fifth overall at the 2023 USHJA 3’3” Jumping Seat Medal Finals-West, where the 9-year-old Oldenburg gelding was also awarded Best Equitation Horse. 

“It was kind of magical,” says Russo of her partner winning the prestigious award. 

While Russo enters her last junior year, she has started thinking about her future as a rider. 

“My goal as a rider is to always be the best horsewoman I can be,” says Russo. “They’re animals. It’s so much more than getting on and getting off.”

Russo encourages other riders to reach for their goals in the show ring by focusing on getting to know their horses, whether it be handwalking them at the horse shows or spending extra time grooming them at home. 

She credits much of her success to the many trainers who have worked with her since she started riding, as well as the ones who have trusted her this year with catch rides, including Mike Endicott, Archie Cox, Carleton and Traci Brooks, the Little family, Philip Klipa, Karen Healey, John French, Don Stewart, Ken and Emily Smith, Corinne Bevis, Shawn Casady, Liz Reilly, and Hardin Towell. 

Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography

Watch Grace Russo’s final round of the 2023 Gladstone Cup Equitation Challenge West here or below.

Fun Fact: When Grace was reserve champion of the Gladstone, she was recovering from a broken foot!