By Katie Navarra
Young professional Taylor Ann Adams has had the junior riding career that all young equestrians dream about. She has won the Grand Junior Hunter Champion at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show (2007), the Taylor Harris Insurance Services (THIS) Medal (2007), the Large Junior 16–17 Champion at National Junior Hunter Finals-East (2010), the USEF/Platinum Performance Talent Search Finals-West (2010) and the Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) Pony Medal (2007). At 14, she won the USEF Pony Medal. To top it off, the majority of these wins were aboard catch rides.
That success is following her into her professional career. In 2013, during her second year as a professional, she was named the Developing Professional World Championship Hunter Rider.
But she admits that being at the top of the sport is a lonely place. “You travel from town to town and stay in one hotel and then another. I got lost somewhere along the way,” she said.
Road to the Top
Taylor Ann’s career started as many other professional riders. She sat on her first pony when she was 6 and announced to her mother that riding was all she wanted to do. Her parents purchased a large farm in Eads, Tennessee, and filled the barn with hunter ponies. “I had all the ponies I could ever want,” she said.
Though she had plenty to choose from, Gayfield Steamy Windows, a Welsh pony, was her favorite. The mare carried Taylor Ann to her first indoor event and together the pair earned top placings at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show in Harrisburg in the small ponies division.
Her riding career began with Dave Pelligrini, also of Eads. Under his guidance, she learned the fundamentals and started showing competitively. When she was 11, she moved to Florida and rode under Bill Schaub for two years. Then she moved to Ocala and rode with Don Stewart for the final five years of her junior eligibility.
“Don was like a father to me. Riding with him I had the opportunity to show some of the finest horses in the nation,” she said.
Taylor Ann celebrated her 18th birthday in July 2011 and in December that year she turned professional. Her first year out as a working professional wasn’t as glorious as her years as a junior rider. In March 2012, a few months into her professional career, a horse standing in cross ties flipped over and landed on her legs. The fall broke her left foot and ankle and right leg. Between casts and physical therapy, she was laid up for nearly a full year.
“It was horrible to wake up every day knowing everyone else was at the barn having fun and I was sitting at home,” she said.
Shortly after the doctor cleared her to ride in January 2013, she boarded a plane and got back in the saddle at the HITS Thermal California. After nearly a year out of the saddle she won five divisions that week. “I’ve had some pretty amazing horses to ride,” she said. But alongside her journey on horseback, Taylor Ann was struggling with big trials in her life journey.
Loneliness and Addictions
Taylor Ann started drinking at age 14 despite warnings that addiction was something several family members battled. “My parents talked to me about addiction: everybody in my family has had an addiction of some sort,” she said.
Soon she was waking up every morning thinking about the first drink of the day and went to bed thinking about drinking the next day. She found that most adults looked the other way because she was winning and the horses she was riding were selling.
Taylor Ann knew that partying was wrong and that she had a life most people envied, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that regardless of how much she won, she didn’t feel like she was good enough. Without fail, the morning after a night of partying she’d wake up feeling frustrated with herself for drinking and acting “like a spoiled brat,” but she couldn’t break the cycle.
“When you don’t feel good enough, you go drink so you don’t feel those feelings, then you wake up in the morning physically feeling like crap and feeling guilty because you know that what you’re doing is wrong,” she said.
A bender of partying at the Devon Horse Show in 2016 was a reality check. “My best friend, Alexa White, looked me in the eye and told me I needed to get my life together. That’s when I realized I was an alcoholic,” Taylor Ann said.
Taylor Ann voluntarily checked into a recovery program and continues to attend outpatient rehabilitation three times a week scheduled around all of the time she spends in the saddle. She had to surrender her phone and disconnect from social media. She wasn’t allowed to communicate with family or friends. She says that the experience was brutal at first, but realizes they were teaching her to find herself.
“Being a recovering alcoholic is exhausting. I feel like I’ve lived eight lives already, but I’m so lucky to have people still standing by me and supporting me while I regroup,” she said.
And she is committed to regrouping.
Taylor Ann is resilient. With Alexa’s help and support, she is committed to staying sober. “We have made a pact that neither one of us will drink,” she said.
She also acknowledges that she is grateful to her clients and industry professionals who have given her a second chance. Clients have continued taking lessons and have kept horses in training with Taylor Ann.
“I disappointed a lot of people and wished I had asked for help a long time ago,” she said. “I’ve been able to admit that I’m not perfect and that with the support of my family, friends and the show community, I’ve been able to move forward with my life.”
Taylor Ann currently rides for and trains out of Alexa’s Ocala, Florida-based ARose Farms, LLC. She specializes in coaching junior riders and riding client horses in derbies and grand prix events. She continues to have the opportunity to ride some of the most talented horses in hunter-jumper events across the country including Alexa’s horse, Bo Beep, a Holsteiner mare that finished seventh at the 2016 7-year-old Young Jumper Championship Finals. When Alexa tore her ACL in December 2016 and had surgery, Taylor Ann took the irons showing the mare at the Great Southwest Equestrian Center Winter Series in February 2017. There the pair finished third in the International Derby and the next day the pair competed in a grand prix, a first for both horse and rider.
“To have a horse finish third in the Derby and jump in a grand prix the next day is unbelievable. It’s super rare to have a horse compete in those events back to back and do so well,” she said.
This year, Taylor Ann is in her fifth year as a professional rider. Although she’s had some bumps in the road, she feels like she’s on solid footing and is eager to continue finding success in the show ring as a trainer and an exhibitor. “I’m thankful to the owners who keep their horses with me and I’m grateful for all the people who have supported me,” she said.
She knows it won’t be easy and encourages others who may be feeling a bit lost in the show world to reach out and ask for help. “More people will forgive you if you own up to what you’ve done. I’m here to talk to anyone going through something similar,” she said.
About the writer: Katie Navarra is a professional writer based in Upstate New York. She has been a lifelong horse lover and competes in ranch horse events with her dun Quarter Horse mare.