MANAHAWKIN – A Southern Regional High School senior recently nabbed the title of 2019 New Jersey Equestrian of the Year by the New Jersey Equine Advisory Board. Riley Chenoweth-Hafner, 17, received the award at the 62nd Annual New Jersey Breeders’ Luncheon in Hamilton on Jan. 27.
As New Jersey Equestrian of the Year, Riley will represent the New Jersey Equine Advisory Board at various functions throughout the year.
“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.”
Riley lives in Manahawkin and is completing her senior year at Southern Regional High School. She began her riding career at just 8 years old, growing up to be named New Jersey 4-H First Runner-up for Equestrian of the Year in 2019 and the Ocean County Equestrian of the Year for the last four years.
Riley has always been involved with horses, learning to ride at an early age and joining the 4-H Horse Program at just 9 years old. 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, is President of the Equine Science 4-H Club in Ocean County, and volunteered as a ring steward for Olympic Qualifiers at the Horse Park of New Jersey and worked on the ring crew for Central Jersey Horse Shows, according to the NJ Department of Agriculture.
“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.”
Riley’s love for horses isn’t just about riding and competing, but also companionship.
“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.”
In particular, Riley has shown an affinity for rescue horses. Both her pony Dante and her horse Rocky are rescues. According to Riley, Rocky is now ready to take part in shows.
“Rocky had a lot of issues with being scared so my main goal has been to get him into a show ring,” Riley 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.”
Not only is Riley a horse-lover and champion equestrian, but she also plays soccer for her school, and participates in the German and Science clubs.
With plans to attend Stockton University after graduation this year, Riley hopes to become a veterinarian.
“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,” Riley 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.”