Islander rides with distinction
Robyn Hanover's passion for horses and her equestrian skill have put her in a position to compete at increasingly high levels. It has also brought financial challenges that she struggles to meet.
Two weeks ago, the 24-year-old West Tisbury woman reached out to Islanders with a newspaper advertisement seeking sponsors. A fundraising effort by Ms. Hanover and her family last fall raised $11,600 from local contributors. Along with substantial family donations, it enabled her to spend the winter in Florida, working with Olympic-level trainer Darren Chiaccia and competing.
Her expertise is in the equestrian sport known as eventing. An Olympic sport, it is conducted under the authority of the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI). Sometimes known as the triathlon of equestrian sports, eventing combines both dressage (complex maneuvers sometimes called equine ballet) and show jumping with cross-country. In the latter, the horse and rider must complete a several-mile course comprising two to three dozen jump obstacles within a specified time. Eventing competitions usually take three days, beginning with dressage, followed by cross-country, and finally show jumping. Ms. Hanover has taken part in these competitions both in Area 1 that includes New York and New England, and in Area 3 (southeastern U.S.). She was also named the number-three amateur adult rider at preliminary level in Area 1 in 2007, and has advanced to the one-star level, a sign of considerable achievement.
Early love for horses
Robyn Hanover grew up in West Tisbury and, like so many Island children, fell in love with horses at a tender age. But unlike many youngsters, she was not content with a pony ride or two. Instead, her first pony rides at age five quickly lead to a desire to spend much more time around horses. Her mother recalls signing her up for a two-week horse camp.
"This was something she absolutely loved," said her mother, Linda Hanover, of West Tisbury. Her daughter continued with lessons and shows throughout her school days on Martha's Vineyard and teachers recognized her equestrian talents. As a student at Johnson and Wales College in Providence, R.I., her competitive desires became solidified. She began training with Tom Davis at his stable in Rehoboth and competing frequently.
Photo courtesy of Robyn Hanover
"I was seeing and learning about the competitive life and I had a trainer showing me how to ride successfully," she recalled.
Mr. Davis also introduced her to Mr. Chiaccia, who is considered a top eventer and is a member of the American Olympic Eventing Team. By the winter of 2006, Ms. Hanover was in Ocala, Fla., a working student at Mr. Chiaccia's large and prestigious stable. Despite having no time for other pursuits, Ms. Hanover said it was all worthwhile. The following winter, with the support of family and sponsors, she was an employee at the Ocala stable, continuing to train and work, constantly honing her abilities as she competed with "Team Chiaccia." The experiences gave a dynamic boost to the young woman's riding career.
Linda Hanover is impressed by her daughter's achievement and loves to watch her compete. "She's fluid - she just flows with the horse," she said. "She's a natural."
Robyn's dream is to continue her progress in Ocala this winter. But this will require a generous response from donors. Because of her level of achievement, Ms. Hanover is eligible to raise tax-deductible contributions through the American Horse Trials Foundation, which benefits her and other equestrians.
"The relationship I have with my horse keeps me motivated, because he loves to compete too," she said, "along with my relationship with my trainers, and all the people that compete with me. It's a lot of work and time, but being out there and having people to support and people supporting me is wonderful."
Expenses add up
Costs of owning, stabling, and maintaining a horse are high. Combined with transportation to events, competition entry fees, and living expenses for the rider, they add up quickly.
Annual expenses estimated at $45,000 to $50,000 include competition costs of $10,500 - $7,000 for entry fees and $3,500 for training. Horse expenses -including stable, veterinarian bills, farrier, travel, insurance, and incidentals - add up to approximately $18,400. Car lease, trailer payments, along with vehicle maintenance and insurance total roughly $17,500. Clothing and equipment at $4,000 and maintaining a website are among other costs. In the past, as a working student, Ms. Hanover received some stabling and training free of charge.
"It does get really expensive after a while, but it's worth it," said Ms. Hanover. "It's a lot of work and it's tiring but I can't imagine doing anything else."
Although competitive riders may occasionally win prize money, eventing is not a money-making career, according to Linda Hanover. Skilled riders can get some income by teaching or competing on other people's horses.
Home for the last few months, Robyn works at Linda Jean's Restaurant in Oak Bluffs, owned by her father, Marc Hanover. Then she heads off-Island to care for her horse in Rehoboth and stay in a Providence rental.
She fits in training and competing whenever possible. This season she and her horse, Mac, competed in Woodstock, Vt., Millbrook, N.Y., and in Hamilton. She just completed a cross-country event in Southampton and is thrilled to be planning her first international competition in Ontario, September 25 through 28.
"It is your entire life," said Ms. Hanover, explaining that the only way she can keep competing is to work at a stable too. "But it's not that I don't love it enough to do it."
Ms. Hanover hopes that Island generosity will allow her to meet a $25,000 fundraising goal to carry her through another winter of training and competition, although she knows she may need to scale back her aspirations. She has a contingency plan if she does not receive enough support to fund a third winter in Florida. She will find work in Providence, she said, and spend time at the stable, caring for Mac and training with Mr. Davis. "Tom still has a lot to teach me," she said. "It would not be a waste at all."
For more information, visit hanoverevening.org.