Horsemanship is a hot topic in equestrian sport today. All too often, it’s a facet of the industry that’s assumed to be the responsibility of the professionals; coaches and managers who monitor our horses and make most of the day-to-day decisions about their training and care. But while there will always be amateurs who simply show up for their ride times, there are others who prove just the opposite every day, and one of them is Victoria (Tory) Grauer.

Having participated in the sport seriously since her pony days, today Tory still spends much of her time on the road competing her string of jumpers at her homebase in Wellington, Florida during the winter, and at major shows on the East Coast during the summer months. From feeding and fitness to her daily riding schedule, Tory is hands-on about all aspects of her horses’ care and maintenance. Here, she talks to NF Style about the trainers and horses who helped her carve out her niche in the sport, and one, very special pony who changed everything.

NF Style: Okay, so let’s talk about your horses… 

Tory Grauer (now Ketchum): Currently I have four horses competing in the Low and Medium Amateur-Owner jumpers as well as some open jumper classes that are on the road with me this summer. My goal is to move up to the High Amateurs within the coming year! My horses are Kelly Tramp (“Kelly”), a 10-year-old chestnut mare; Beluga (“Baby”), an 11-year-old dark bay mare; Chellou (“Louie”), a 13-year-old bay gelding; and Serenade de Mai (“Abby”), an 11-year-old bay mare.

I’m lucky enough to be able to do this full time and have an incredibly supportive family! My husband Ben is always encouraging me to go after my dreams and is my biggest cheerleader. It’s definitely hard to be away from him when I’m on the road, but we make it work and I am so grateful to have him by my side.

What does your typical schedule look like throughout the year?

This year is somewhat new for us because we moved to Florida full-time last September. So now we are down in Wellington from about September until May, showing at WEF a bit and The Ridge—which I really enjoyed! Then we headed up north for some of the summer shows.

This year, we started with Upperville, then Lake Placid for two weeks, Silver Oak Jumper Tournament, and we’ll finish the summer with The Hampton Classic. We wanted to keep the summer show schedule a bit lighter than we have in the past. June and July we are keeping our horses at Five Way Farm in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, and then in August, we will be in Sagaponack, New York.

“To this day, the story always reminds me that what’s meant to be will be. [Maggie] was meant to be with me at the end of her life.”  

Who are the trainers who’ve had the biggest influence on your career? 

I currently ride with Eliza Lehrman for the most part and then do some smaller shows on my own. I have been riding with her since I was about 18 years old (but I took a six-year break from riding somewhere in there). Eliza has taught me so many valuable lessons, probably too many to count! She has really empowered me to function independently and confidently.

I would say the most important thing I learned from not only Eliza but also from Robin Greenwood, who I rode with for the majority of my childhood, really boils down to sheer hard work in every area of the sport. For me, that not only includes the riding part, but really connecting with your horses and knowing every inch of them physically and mentally.

I really try to do as much as I can with them on the ground as well as with our training. I believe that comes from consistency and time at the barn and with my horses. The horsemanship aspect is very important to me, and that also has been instilled in me through Eliza.

What does a typical barn day look like for you? 

When we aren’t showing, I get to the barn around 8:00 a.m. or 8:30 a.m. I ride each horse for 45 minutes to an hour and each day is different. In the beginning of the week, I start with just an easy flat with a lot of walking, and then as the week progresses, so does the work load. I try not to jump too much at home when I’m in the swing of showing. I’ll focus more on rail exercises with a few little jumps thrown in sometimes. I focus a lot on flat work—I think that comes from Eliza! If she is around we will work together.

Depending on how many horses I ride, that gets me to about 1 p.m. or 2 p.m. I always try to feel each horse’s legs after they work just to keep a close eye on them in case anything out of the ordinary pops up (I’m constantly texting with my vet!). Then I prepare grain for that evening and the following morning, clean my boots, do the board for the next day, and discuss our schedule and anything else that’s important with my manager, Billee Carvill. Billee has worked for me for more than three years and has been with me through a ton of ups and downs. She is a very special person and significant member of my team.

Then we let the dogs run around, I write down what each horse did and any other information from the day in my notebook, and head home around 4 p.m.!

 Horses really depend on you showing up and putting in the time.

I know you started riding at a young age—is there a special horse or pony from your childhood? 

I was lucky to have the opportunity to have a couple amazing ponies throughout my pony career. Espresso, my first, was a small pony and he taught me a lot about being competitive. We won quite a bit, including Champion, Grand Champion, and Best Child Rider On a Pony at Devon and Reserve Champion at Harrisburg. However, it was my large pony, Unlock The Magic or “Maggie”, who taught me the most.

She was very special and made me understand a lot about patience and the importance of trust between horse and rider. She wasn’t the easiest and definitely challenged me, but the more time I spent with her, the more trust we built and the better we were together. That trust got us from having really difficult rounds—where nine times out of 10 I would fall off—to winning classes and ribbons at many top shows, including The Hampton Classic, indoors, and Devon, where we were Reserve Champion. She was a huge part of my childhood in this sport and though it may sound silly, a big part of who I am today as a rider and a human being. She definitely kept me humble and taught me more than I can say.

What’s the most inspiring thing to have happened to you in your riding? 

I took some time off from riding when I was 14 so that I could play some team sports, so we sold Maggie. I loved her beyond belief, but it was time to move on. I came back to riding when I was 17, and I had always kept track of Maggie and knew that she was at a farm close by and the kid who was riding her at the time was having a hard time with her. Day after day, I tried to convince my dad to buy her back so that my little sister could have her and so that she would be in our family. He told me that the people we sold her to didn’t want to sell her, and that it wasn’t going to happen.

I graduated high school several months later, and the barn I was riding with had a cookout to kick off the summer and celebrate my graduation. The trainer stood up and said congratulations to me and announced that as a graduation present, my parents had bought Maggie back! There she was, walking around the corner straight to me. Of course, I broke down in tears, and then everyone was crying! It was a truly magical moment and one that always gives me chills.

A few months later, something wasn’t right, and Maggie went to the clinic. She had to undergo colic surgery and while they were operating, they discovered she had a large, cancerous tumor growing on her spine. Maggie died on the operating table. My heart was completely broken and it took me a long time to recover from losing her. But to this day, the story always reminds me that what’s meant to be will be. She was meant to be with me at the end of her life. Fate has a funny way of working, and though it might not go to plan, everything happens for a reason.

“The ups and downs of the sport, like in life, help to keep me determined and focused, though that can be really hard at times.”

What’s the last thing you learned on a horse? 

Hmm, my last light bulb moment? I have those a lot, so it’s hard to say what my last was. It might have been with my horse, Louie. He is very different from right to left, and I’ve been trying to figure out how best to ride him on either lead specifically to the jumps. I realized at Lake Placid that he needs a bit more of a gappy distance off the right lead so he can get his feet underneath him! He’s a big guy, and is weak left-hind, so all of the sudden, it made sense!

What’s your favorite part of the sport? 

I think my absolute favorite part about riding is the relationships I get to build with my horses and seeing their different personalities. They are all so different!

What’s your least favorite part?

That is a more difficult question! I think the uncertainty of it all is quite difficult for me. This sport is a total roller coaster, and though that makes the great moments that much better, the hard moments can be a bit crushing when you have your hopes set on a big goal.

What’s the most important thing horses have taught you?

I think riding, especially if you start at a young age, teaches you so many valuable lessons. For me, the top three would be patience, determination, and responsibility. Horses force me to be patient because they are living, breathing animals and they— like us—have good days and bad days.

The ups and downs of the sport, like in life, help to keep me determined and focused, though that can be really hard at times. Responsibility, at least for me, is a big lesson this sport teaches, especially at a young age. Horses really depend on you showing up and putting in the time. There are many more, but those are the top three for me, and though I struggle (especially with patience!), I always try to carry them over to the other areas of my life.

-Photo credit: The Book LLC; Sportfot®. All photos courtesy of Tory Grauer.