By Julie Unger
Portraits by Kathy Russell Photography
Wishes do come true, yet often the hard work and dedication going on in the background goes unnoticed. But 18-year-old Abigail Brayman of Rhode Island was noticed. Her spark was seen as a rising star in the equestrian community at North Run Farm in Vermont, where Abigail has been a working student for the last three years.
Her barn family, including North Run owners Missy Clark and John Brennan, trainers Maggie Gampfer and Anthony Desimone, and Tia Gierkink all stood together to nominate Abigail — without her knowledge — for the inaugural Lindsay Maxwell Charitable Fund WIHS Equitation Grant. The grant would defray the costs of competing in the Lindsay Maxwell Charitable Fund WIHS Equitation Finals, which she had previously qualified for.
“Equitation finals are an extremely important part of any young rider’s career, whether their focus be more on the hunters or the jumpers,” LMCF Founder Lindsay Maxwell said. “While all of the finals come with associated costs, WIHS Equitation finals are particularly cost prohibitive given the location, which is why I wanted to give a rider who would not otherwise have it the opportunity to participate.”
Abigail had just finished practice for the day when she looked at her cell phone and noticed three missed calls from her father. She quickly called him, surprised by his efforts to reach her.
Bubbling with excitement, he told her she had won the Lindsay Maxwell Charitable Fund WIHS Equitation Grant. He was supposed to wait for them to tell her at the barn, but he couldn’t wait; the news was just too good.
“I was honestly so shocked. I didn’t even know a grant like that existed,” she said. “It was a really incredible feeling.”
Typically, a rider applies for a grant. But since her barn family had secretly nominated Abigail, she was completely surprised.
“I’ve always felt like I’m part of the team there and a part of the family,” Abigail said. “It really showed that what I do all day as a working student is worth it. Sometimes it doesn’t always go the best in the ring, or I don’t always have the greatest ride, but just knowing I have a team of people behind me like that is just amazing.”
Abigail was one of the 40 junior riders qualified to compete in the Lindsay Maxwell Charitable Fund WIHS Equitation Finals at the Washington International Horse Show, placing her in an elite group of junior equestrians.
“It’s really wonderful being able to compete at those finals,” she said. “Looking back, when I started at North Run I never thought I’d be able to get a ribbon at one of those. Going was always a goal, and getting a ribbon was a goal, but I didn’t think it was achievable. Just being a part of it is really cool. To be able to compete at that level and be successful was something I’ve always dreamed about. It was nice to finally have that achieved this year.”
Abigail had competed at WIHS before, showing ponies and hunters, but had never competed in equitation. She thoroughly enjoyed the experience, which she shared with Cassini W, owned by North Run. “I’ve been riding him the last two years. To me, that’s my favorite part, to go in the ring and show him. He’s really incredible,” she said.
Abigail loves that WIHS takes place in the city. “It’s such a cool atmosphere,” she said, “to see the horses stabled on the street.”
Abigail was also impressed with how the show was run. “I love how they make the classes so important,” she said. “They don’t let any of the exhibitors feel like their class is less important.”
It was a busy few weeks for Abigail, who finished sixth at the Maclay Finals and 10th at the Medal Finals with Cassini W, in addition to finishing fourth at the USET Finals with Corleone, owned by Mary and John Tyree.
In the meantime, Abigail is focusing on her studies at Oklahoma State University, where she’s studying sports media, and being an asset to the school’s NCAA equestrian team. For the summer, she is planning to secure a grooming job to stay in the industry.
“I think it’s great that the Lindsay Maxwell Charitable Fund Equitation Grant exists,” Abigail said. “Riding is not an inexpensive sport. There are many of us who are working students and whose families have to sacrifice and work twice as hard to afford us the opportunity to attend shows throughout the year, let alone indoors. I’m grateful to the Fund, my parents and my North Run family for the opportunity.”
Photos by Kathy Russell Photography, kathyrussellphotography.com, unless noted otherwise