A young Brentwood equestrian is one of only 12 U.S. riders who have been invited to join a new training program in Florida with Olympian rider Lendon Gray.
“I'm excited,” Grace Gregory told Nashville's News 2. “It's a very exciting opportunity. I am really nervous at the same time.”
Nineteen-year-old Grace, who was diagnosed with autism as a child, said she is most comfortable in a saddle, riding a horse.
When she was just seven years old, the Brentwood resident said she turned to Saddle Up, a therapeutic horseback riding program for children with disabilities.
“My daughter said it just the other day to me, said mom, I always felt different like I never fit in, but she said when I went to Saddle Up, I never felt different. I fit in and I had a place where I could be who I was,” mother Susan Gregory said.
Years of riding at the facility eventually led to Grace getting her own pony.
“Grace started learning what it was like to be responsible, to take care of her own pony and that's a lot of work and I think that really helped her too,” Susan said.
She continued, “She became a volunteer at Saddle Up. She was the first participant ever to become a volunteer in the program, and now she works as a lesson assistant and actually receives a paycheck. It's really an incredible experience for her.”
Grace said the highlight of her life so far came two years ago when she won a three-day riding competition in New York.
Her mother said she was the only special needs competitor in the event.
“The last day in New York we just wanted a ribbon, we didn't care what color it was and when they called her name she won the whole thing in her division out of 120 kids, she had the highest score of all those days of competition. I just cannot tell you as a mom, what that meant for my daughter,” Susan recalled.
Grace said her win was the incentive she needed to continue competing in the future.
She said she hopes to raise $20,000 so that she and her horse Bella can train in Florida in January.
For more information on Saddle Up, visit their Web site.