Stony Hill Aims To Level Equestrian Playing Field

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Morgan prepares her horse for a quick ride at Stony Hill Stables. Emma Buetel photo
Morgan prepares her horse for a quick ride at Stony Hill Stables. Emma Betuel photo

By Emma Betuel

In their black riding helmets and show jackets, it is hard to distinguish Morgan Fullman and Lara Lowlicht from the crowds of competitors at the Hampton Classic — a crop of elite riders who own their own horses, board them at private barns, and pay thousands of dollars to finance their equestrian careers.

But Morgan and Lara don’t own or lease their own horses, unlike much of their competition at The Classic. Both girls are recipients of the Stony Hill Stables Foundation scholarship. Started by Stony Hill founder Wick Hotchkiss, the scholarship provides local kids with the funds to lease a horse for the summer and enter a series of competitions that would otherwise be financially out of reach.

“Last year I got to lease a horse. I would never really have been able to do that before.” said Morgan, a sophomore at Southampton High School. “I got to show in the Hampton Classic. I’ve been going since I was little, so that was an amazing opportunity.”

The scholarship also covers the less obvious sources of financial stress seen in horseback riding: from the lesson fees, to the clothes required to compete.

“They actually gave me a full show outfit when I was younger, which can be pretty expensive to buy,” said Lara, a junior at East Hampton High School.

Morgan just before her lesson. Both Morgan and Lara stress that the “connection between horse and rider” is paramount. Emma Buetel photo

Lara started riding when she was eight. Morgan started when she was six. Both were introduced to riding through a parent. Morgan’s mother, Tricia Fullman, had been riding at Stony Hill while her father worked construction jobs down the road at a local farm. Lara’s father lived on a farm and consistently rode his horse, Chester, before he brought his daughter into the equestrian world.

Since then, both have spent hours with their trainer’s horses, Candyland and Honeybear, who they are able to lease through the scholarship.

The ability to lease a horse can change the course of a young rider’s career. As riders start to get older and more skillful, a clear divide is formed in the equestrian world. Those who can afford to compete, and those who can’t.

“Quite often our local kids who don’t have the financial backing to do what our other kids that live in the city do, tend to reach a point where they’re not able to progress past that,” said Terri Engel, a trainer at Stony Hill.

Young riders who can’t afford showing fees don’t leave the sport all together, Ms. Engel says. But school horses can only jump so high, and without access to competition some riders tend to plateau.

“That is hard to watch as a trainer,” says Ms. Engel. “The scholarship gave them the opportunity to go above that and go to the next level.”

Riding is expensive everywhere, but riding in the Hamptons is especially costly, says Ms. Engel, who has competed on the professional circuit from Canada to New Zealand.

Together Morgan, Lara and Ms. Engel have formed an unique cohort at Stony Hill — riders who are able to compete at the highest level without shelling out thousands of dollars.

They have to be confident, cherish every moment and take advantage of every opportunity, says Morgan.

“The scholarship is almost too good to be true. But, even if you don’t get this opportunity, you should never get give up,” Lara added. “It’s one of those things that can help you through life in general. You have to believe that if it’s what you want, you’re going to get it.”

For Morgan, this attitude has been instrumental in her life outside of riding. When she first started at Stony Hill, she struggled with bullying in school. Receiving the scholarship and the opportunity to compete amongst the best have changed her outlook, she says.

“It taught me responsibility and individuality. “It just gave me confidence to know that you don’t have to give up. You can get through anything.”

While Lara works consistently with another trainer, Morgan trains almost exclusively with Ms. Engel, who has a similar upbringing in the equestrian world. Ms. Engel was a working student for much of her competitive career, and brings that mindset to the riders she trains at Stony Hill.

“I was in the same position as these local children. I worked my way up and rode whatever I was given, and worked and cleaned stalls and did whatever I could possibly do to be able to afford my own horse,” says Ms. Engel.

Regardless of obstacles, Lara and Morgan both want to keep riding. For them, the scholarship is just the beginning of what will become long equestrian careers, but Stony Hill will always be a home filled with like-minded individuals.

“They really do treat you like a special individual no matter who you are,” said Lara of her family at Stony Hill Stables. “I never plan on stopping.”

The annual Stony Hill Cocktail Party will be held June 24 at Stony Hill Stables in Amagansett from 6 to 8 p.m. Tickets are $125 for individuals $200 for couples and free for children under 12. Proceeds go to the Stony Hill Foundation’s scholarship fund. For more information, visit stonyhillstables.com.

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