Young N.J. equestrian rides acclaim

Angela Howard brushes her American quarter horse , Lamont, before beginning a ride at the Dei Cavalli Farm in Franklinville. Her skills in recounting the ordeals of Hurricane Irene helped win her the title.
Angela Howard brushes her American quarter horse , Lamont, before beginning a ride at the Dei Cavalli Farm in Franklinville. Her skills in recounting the ordeals of Hurricane Irene helped win her the title. (RON CORTES / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 09, 2014

The barn could have collapsed.

As Hurricane Irene made its steady march toward New Jersey, Angela Howard zipped on a jacket and worked through the rain. She needed to bring fences and horse jumps indoors. The larger pieces of equipment - too big to move - had to be tied down with cords and weighed down with buckets before the winds picked up and the deluge began. There wasn't much time left.

She wouldn't be able to safely stay overnight with Lamont, the American quarter horse that her family has owned since Howard was 10. After making sure the horse had been given enough hay and water to last the night, Howard left him in the care of the trainer, who had set up camp at the Franklinville farm overnight.

"I was up all night texting my trainer every five minutes," the Mullica Hill resident said. "I didn't sleep much."

Howard is able to recount the story with ease - an essay the 16-year-old wrote about the 2011 storm helped her land the title of New Jersey Equestrian of the Year on Jan. 26.

Howard, a junior at Kingsway Regional High School in Woolwich Township, will spend the year giving speeches at agricultural conventions and horseback riding shows on behalf of the 48-member Equine Advisory Board, a division of the state Department of Agriculture.

The board is made up of equestrian interest groups and riding clubs throughout the state, including the New Jersey Farm Bureau and the Garden State Horse and Carriage Society.

"She'll be out explaining to people why the equine industry is so important," said Lynn Mathews, director of the Department of Agriculture's horse breeding and development programs. "We don't just ride horses. Farms still use them every day. Proper feeding and care are essential."

To enter the competition, riders must be nominated by members of the Equestrian Advisory Board. In both the 2013 and 2014 competitions, Howard represented the Gladstone Equestrian Association, a nonprofit group that hosts horseback riding events at the Hamilton Farm Golf and Equestrian Center in Gladstone.

"Angela is a lovely young lady, which is why we asked her to compete for us again in 2014," Gayle Stinson, the association's treasurer, said. "She's very focused on what she wants to do in life. She's incredibly intelligent."

Howard had to pass four tests to claim her title. She had to write an essay about preparing a farm for a natural disaster, submit a resumé, give a speech on the ways in which New Jersey should deal with horse overpopulation, and interview with a panel of Equine Advisory Board members.

Mathews said Howard's writing skills and enthusiasm made her stand out.

"Her essay was so vivid and well-written," Mathews said. "In a situation like a hurricane, you could be dealing with a barn collapse or a flood. She handled it well."

Now that she's been awarded the title, invitations to trade shows and agricultural conventions will begin to flood Howard's inbox. She has no set schedule and will be free to accept or deny any that come her way.

"We've been doing this for 29 years, and in that time, some winners have been very active, and some not so much," Mathews explained.

So far, Howard has attended three events as Equestrian of the Year: The 2014 New Jersey Agricultural Convention, from Feb. 5 to 6 at the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Hotel in Atlantic City; an awards banquet for Gloucester County's 4-H programs; and a fund-raiser to help the Gloucester County 4-H raise money to replace a stolen tractor.

"She'd skip school and ride all day if that were allowed," said Angela's mother, Mary Howard, a South Harrison Township committeewoman. "That's actually what she does in the summer months anyhow. This was the perfect job for her."

A budding scientist who hopes to major in biology or environmental engineering in college, Howard is an active member of both the Gloucester County 4-H Equine club - where she participates in dressage competitions - and its Equine Science Club, designed to teach riders about horse anatomy and nutrition.

"I care just as much about nature as I do horses," Howard said. "I want to key people in on how their farms can be better for the environment."

Through years of riding atop animals that often weigh more than a half-ton - as well as protecting them from floodwaters - Howard also sees her new role as an opportunity to show people how much confidence they can gain from horseback riding.

"When you're up on a horse, it's such a feeling of power. You're controlling a massive animal that can throw you off at any moment. It takes a ton of courage."


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