Guilford’s Teasdale a National Equestrian Finalist
Guilford High School junior Kennedy Teasdale has already achieved a great deal, qualifying for the Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) National Finals where she will represent New England in the two highest competitive divisions. Still, despite the knack she has for working with horses and being on the race track, she’s not above doing some work around the barn as it’s been part of her lifestyle for years.
“I’ve always been a working student at all the barns I’ve trained at,” Kennedy says. “It really puts a sense of importance and work ethic in the sport. I’ve had to work for everything I have, even after all the work I’ve put in to be strong at the sport itself. It’s been a really amazing learning experience because I get to learn from professionals who have done this their whole lives and learn the tricks of the trade for this sport.”
Kennedy is a student of the game when it comes to equestrian, and has successfully applied what she has learned to become one of the best riders in New England. The Guilford native will compete in the IEA National Finals in Mill Spring, North Carolina from April 27 to April 30 in the Varsity Open Equitation Over Fences and the Varsity Open Equitation on the Flat division.
To reach the finals, Kennedy won both her Regional Finals and Zone 1 New England Finals. The junior rides for the Southeastern Connecticut Equestrian Team out of Mystic Valley Hunt Club, which is run by Sally Hinkle Russell. Russell and Deb Bakoledis are also Kennedy’s coaches. For Kennedy, this will be her second trip to the IEA National Finals, and she says she is still processing all she’s accomplished.
“It definitely hasn’t hit me yet,” Kennedy says. “I went to Nationals when I was in seventh or eighth grade, so I have some more experience, which is nice. It’s surreal especially to go at a higher level, it’s definitely crazy to have all my hard work pay off.”
Russell said hard work is something the Guilford native has never shied away from. She adds that Kennedy has always been a rider that holds herself to a high standard.
“I told her she was trying to be 100% better everyday, so pick one skill she wanted to improve and make it 1% better and in 100 days she’s got it, which is really not a lot of time,” Russell says. “Think of different ways to make small pieces better and it makes the whole better without pressuring her or the horse.”
Kennedy also mentions that, at times, she does place too much pressure on herself.
“Being a perfectionist has worked for me and against me in a lot of ways,” Kennedy says. “Being tense and uptight has always been something I’ve had to work myself out of. It’s very hard to do that in this sport because you’re working with another living being who senses a lot of the things you feel also, so the sport has taught me a lot about how to handle myself in stressful situations. It’s just been an amazing life experience to channel my emotions into working for me.”
Kennedy got her start in the sport when she was six years old. She says her mother, Cara Mulqueen-Teasdale, used to ride and as a young girl she developed a love for horses, too, just like her mom. After a very special birthday party, her mother let her begin training.
“When I was about six, I’d always shown an interest in horses, I had a birthday party and it was a horse-themed birthday party,” Kennedy says. “(My mother) let me take lessons after that and I’ve been riding ever since.”
Kennedy rode at Movado Farms in Durham and Farmington Polo Club before ending up in Mystic. The Durham barn had an IEA team and became the sister team of Russell’s in Mystic. Kennedy was referred to the Mystic team after Movado closed its doors. Russell says she gravitated to Kennedy quickly, especially because of her personality.
“What I admire in Kennedy is that she’s a nice person and, to be frank, a lot of times the best competitors are a little mean,” Russell says.
Russell also explains that Kennedy was somewhat apprehensive at first due to the fact that equestrian requires riders to assert themselves in order to excel, but Kennedy adapted well.
“She has empathy for the animals and respect for them and she understands what it feels like to be a little anxious in new situations,” Russell says. “She becomes the leader and I think that’s what makes her unique for riding. She couldn’t be a follower, she had to be a leader. She had to be the one to say, ‘it’s okay, we’re going to go and we’re going to do this.’ She’s really excelled at that to get her brain in that calm place.”
Kennedy credits her trainers, such as Russell, Tricia Carlton and Louisa Fedora (who trained her in Durham), Johanna Hyyppa in Farmington, and Kristi Smith, who also currently trains her at Cedar Brook Farm in Madison, for helping to provide her with opportunities to gain crucial experience. Kennedy says that experience gives riders an edge in IEA competition, where competitors are tasked with riding horses they never have before.
“I’ve ridden for so long it’s really benefited me in being able to know how a bunch of different horses ride and adapt to that,” Kennedy says. “It’s about thinking quickly on your feet and making sure you are calm and collected and strong.”
Much of this experience Kennedy credits to her time as a working student at barns, enabling her to learn even more as she assists riders and horses.
“I’ll help when we go to shows by grooming the horses, preparing them for other riders, and alongside that I get to sit with my trainers and really learn the day-to-day life in a barn and on competition days,” says Kennedy. “It’s just learning as much as I can everyday. I’m really grateful for Kristi who is my trainer because she lets me go along with her to all the summer shows, she lets me stay in her camper. It’s an amazing experience.”
In addition to her trainers, Kennedy also gives praise to her parents for providing support throughout her time riding.
“Both of my parents are extremely supportive of me. They’ve put everything they have into my riding and I’m so grateful for everything they’ve done,” Kennedy says.
Kennedy’s work across the board is paying off, as the junior is excelling as an International Baccalaureate honors student at Guilford High School and she has already committed to ride for the Sacred Heart University Equestrian team. Despite her success, she remains humble, kind and deferential. At least until her mom reminds her, it’s her time to shine.
“I always ask my mom if she wants to ride again and she says, ‘no, it’s your sport now,’” Kennedy says.