TRENTON, N.J. — Riley Chenoweth-Hafner, 17, was named the 2019 New Jersey Equestrian of the Year by the New Jersey Equine Advisory Board on Jan. 27 at the 62nd Annual New Jersey Breeders’ Luncheon in Hamilton. 

The Southern Regional High School junior from Manahawkin, Ocean County, represented New Jersey Pony Breeders and Owners.

As Equestrian of the Year, Chenoweth-Hafner will attend functions hosted by the New Jersey Equine Advisory Board and represent the Board at various events.

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“Riley’s distinguished work with horses in a dedicated and compassionate manner shows why she has been chosen to represent the industry as the Equestrian of the Year,” said New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas H. Fisher. “Her love for horses started at a young age and she will be a proud ambassador for the Garden State and an outstanding role model to encourage children and others who are interested in equine activities.”

Chenoweth-Hafner took her first riding lessons at age 8. She has been involved in the 4-H Horse Program since she was 9. She went on to be the New Jersey 4-H First Runner-up for Equestrian of the Year in 2019 and the Ocean County Equestrian of the Year in each of the last four years. She also has been on the National 4-H Roundup Communications and Horse Judging teams, has been a judge for the New England Regionals Communications competition the last two years, a judge at the American Quarter Horse Congress and is President of the Equine Science 4-H Club in Ocean County. She also has volunteered as a ring steward for Olympic equestrian event qualifiers at the Horse Park of New Jersey and worked on the ring crew for Central Jersey Horse Shows.

“I was very excited to be named Equestrian of the Year,” Chenoweth-Hafner said. “Most of the people who were competing for this honor, I know them personally and I know how good they are and I knew it was going to be a very, very hard contest against very good people. I was very surprised when I did win.”

What’s not a surprise is that this Equestrian of the Year has long felt a special connection with horses.

“I think probably what made me fall in love with horses is that whenever I was around them, it felt like they understood everything I was saying,” she said. “It’s like they can relate to me and understand my emotions. It kind of grew my love for them. They seem to love me just as much as I love them.”

Chenoweth-Hafner’s specific love for equine is being involved with rescues. She has a rescue pony named Dante and has done extensive work with her thoroughbred named Rocky, a rescue she has been working with for three years. She said Rocky is now ready to start doing some shows.

“Rocky had a lot of issues with being scared so my main goal has been to get him into a show ring,” Chenoweth-Hafner said. “Mostly I train him to get him used to the sights and sounds. We went to a show in the beginning of last fall and that was his first big show. We slowly worked him up to that and we are hoping to do more showing this summer.”

Chenoweth-Hafner is also involved in school activities. She has played goalie for her middle school and high school soccer teams and is a member of the German and Science clubs at her high school. She hopes to attend Stockton University after graduation and then eventually become a veterinarian. She said being involved with horses has helped her understand the importance of patience with herself and others.

“When you are training a young horse, you can do something one day and they get it, and then come back the next day and they may act like they have never seen that lesson,” Chenoweth-Hafner said. “You have to work on their terms, not yours. It’s taught me to not get uptight when something doesn’t go right. I’ve learned to take a step back, relax, and then go forward again.”

Seven youth competed in the state contest. First runner up was Morgan Puglisi, New Jersey 4-H and second runner up was Sophie Wayner, ESDCTA.

Also competing was Hunter Morgan (representing New Jersey Horse Council); Grayson Link (representing Gladstone Equestrian); Erin Drake (representing Standardbred Breeders and Owners and Barbara Brogan (representing Pony Club).

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