Passion for riding leads Warrenton senior to national title

WINNING RIDER — Grant Kelly poses for a photo on his horse after winning in his class and earning reserve circuit champion for his category in the western pleasure riding competition at the Gold Coast Quarter Horse Circuit in Florida. With him are Josh Faulkner, Latifa Meena and Larry Newsome. Submitted photo.
Adam Rollins
Staff Writer

Warrenton High School senior Grant Kelly recently celebrated a milestone in one of his life’s passions, earning one of the top placements in a national horse show and riding competition.

Kelly competed in December in the youth western pleasure riding competition of the Gold Coast Quarter Horse Circuit in Tampa, Fla., bringing home the titles of class winner and reserve circuit champion.

Kelly said working with horses and riding have been a passion for nearly 10 years, one he now regularly travels to participate in with competitions and internships. The riding style he just earned his titles in is one that he said requires poise, athleticism and training with the horse.

“It’s just like an athlete, or ballet. You can’t expect someone to just go out there and start standing on their toes fresh out the gate. ... The same for horses, it’s a slow process and they have to find their legs,” Kelly explained. “For me, it’s about teaching the horses something. ... To see your end product, to go show it and show everybody that you trained that horse, it’s a really satisfying feeling.”

Kelly began his passion for riding when he was 8 years old, when his uncle took him along to help care for a family member’s horse. Eventually Kelly was allowed to ride, and developed a blossoming interest from there. His family found riding instructors and leased horses for him to ride, until they could purchase a horse of their own and move to a home with plenty of land for it.

As he grew older, Kelly moved up from small local shows to regional competitions in multiple states, connecting and working with a growing network of mentors in the field. He said those relationships have been some of the most valuable opportunities for him to learn, compete, and participate in internships caring for and training horses.

In high school, Kelly has been traveling and participating in as many as 10 competitions a year. He said he’s shown four or five times at the national level, often with high placements.

“It just shows how much hard work actually pays off. It’s really satisfying,” Kelly commented.

The greatest challenge of this passion, he said, is the time commitment required to care for the horses and prepare them for competition. It’s a daily effort that he knows he needs to put in to do what he loves.

Kelly’s mother, Fleda Kelly, said she’s extremely proud of the dedication her son has shown to get where he is. It’s something she didn’t imagine when he was a young boy being driven around to area horse shows. 

“It’s a little nerve wracking,” when he competes, Fleda said. “It isn’t any different than your kids on the baseball field. You always want them to do well.

“It’s really amazing to me for a kid to find a passion and stick with it for as long as he has,” Fleda added.

As he prepares to graduate from high school, Grant said his passion for competitive riding might have to take a back seat for a time as he pursues a college education. There won’t be as much time for traveling to competitions, but he’ll still be riding every day.

“I definitely know there’s always going to be  a horse in my life,” he said.


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