Competing in the prestigious Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida, is an honor typically reserved for only the most serious and privileged equestrians, those with the time, money and access it takes to hone a serious riding career in the show ring.Stony Hill Stables in Amagansett is doing its part to help make that experience more widely available to riders, young and old, who have dreams of competing on the big stage—and thanks in part to the Stony Hill Stables Foundation, that goal is becoming a reality.
This past March, riders from the Amagansett stable, which has been owned by Wick Hotchkiss and her family for more than 50 years, competed in Wellington in the final two weeks of the month. While several of Stony Hill’s adult dressage riders have competed there in the past, it marked the first time young hunter-jumper riders from the stable traveled to the show.
Trainer Aisha Ali took a total of five riders—Oliver Ritter, Lily Ezrow, Laura Conner, Johanna Zwirner and Lara Lowlicht—and three horses down to Florida, and she was very pleased with their performances. Ritter was Grand Hunter Champion in the 2-foot division, and he was also reserve champion in the 2-foot-9 jumpers. He also was in the ribbons in the 3-foot equitation division, including finishing second in one of his over-fences classes.
Conner won both of her dressage tests in Level 1 at the Dressage at White Fences Horse Show, while Zwirner won her over-fences class in the 2-foot hunters and was ranked seventh overall later in the week in the Children’s Pony Hunter Large division.
Ezrow and Lowlicht earned fifth-place finishes in the crossrail Hunter division, riding a borrowed pony that they were unfamiliar with.
Lowlicht, in particular, is a feel-good story, as she is one of several riders at the barn who were recipients of a Stony Hill Stables Foundation scholarship. The foundation gave out a total of seven scholarships to beginner, short-stirrup, adult hunter and dressage riders in its first year of existence, enabling them to take lessons, compete in shows and even lease a horse for a five-month span. Children and young adults ages 6 to 28 are eligible for the scholarships. They must be year-round residents and the idea is to give them an opportunity that they might otherwise not be able to afford.
The foundation is currently accepting applications for this summer’s season, and will host its annual benefit cocktail party, which includes a dressage and pony drill team exhibition, on June 29. For more information, visit stonyhillstables.com.
Maureen Bluedorn, the foundation president, who also rides and trains in dressage at Stony Hill, said she has been delighted with the success of the scholarship program, and added that seeing young riders like Lowlicht get a chance to succeed on a big stage is beyond rewarding.
“We consider this a huge success for our first year and are so grateful to the community for supporting the concept of equestrian scholarship education for the local youngsters in the community,” she said. “This has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have had. I gained so much invaluable insight from my riding and competitive experience as a child, that extending that experience and the benefits to these young people in this challenging sport thrills me. The feedback from parents, clients of the stable and town officials has been beyond positive for both Wick Hotchkiss and me to see. This was an idea Wick only dreamed about over the years, and now it is a reality for all.”
Ali, who calls Lowlicht an “equestrian prodigy,” said she was honored to take the riders down to Florida for the first time, and that it was particularly rewarding to see the foundation’s first scholarship rider achieve her dreams. Lowlicht, 11, is a student at East Hampton Middle School.
“It was a true honor to be a part of Lara’s dream come true,” she said. “Stony Hill gave her the chance of a lifetime to go to WEF. The best part was telling Lara she was going. She was in shock at first and didn’t know whether to cry, scream or celebrate!”
Lowlicht said on Monday that getting the chance to show, especially at a prestigious venue like the Winter Equestrian Festival, was something she never expected. She said she felt “nervous but confident” before entering the show ring.
“It felt really good,” she said. “I was one of those people who wanted to go but couldn’t afford to so it was amazing. I am really speechless about how they are doing this for me. They are very kind.”
Hotchkiss was just as pleased to see the success of the foundation that has been a dream of hers for years.
“To see Lara compete at the Wellington Equestrian Festival was heartwarming and confirms for me the value of what we are accomplishing here,” she said. “These kids who have won scholarships and show even locally under the guidance of supportive Aisha have learned such wonderful life skills; teamwork through working with the pony, working toward a goal, making small failures into positive outcomes, handling success with grace, and sportsmanship.”
Hotchkiss is a seasoned dressage competitor herself and also saw success over the winter, winning her United States Dressage Federation Gold Medal.
Mark Lowlicht, Lara’s father, has nothing but praise for the program which has enabled his daughter to follow her riding dreams. “The difference in her as a person in response to being around horses and the discipline it takes has been amazing,” he said. “She’s matured beyond her years from the whole process.”
Lowlicht added that Stony Hill is doing a great service to children in the community.
“Stony Hill is really providing them an outlet,” he said. “It’s one of the few places I know of where I can comfortably drop off my kid at 9 in the morning and not come back until 5 p.m., and not worry about what’s going on.
“There are a lot of local kids who can’t afford to ride, and their families are very hard, local workers,” Lowlicht added. “To give the local community something back is very commendable.”