Meet the incredible young athletes of Long Run Woodford Hounds and the fierce women who support them
By Mariah Kline
Photos by Andrea Hutchinson
Makeup by Erica McDowell, SKYN Lounge
Last November, three exceptional young athletes represented Kentucky in the Junior North American Field Hunter Championship. In a field of 45 riders, Tate Northrop placed third and Gracie Shriner placed fourth overall. Lydia Eifler placed seventh and was a Best Turned Out division winner.
All three are members of the Long Run Woodford Hounds, the foxhunting club located in Simpsonville that brings together hunting enthusiasts, hound owners and land conservationists. Members uphold the traditions of the club as well as the rules of the sport. For those who are unfamiliar with foxhunting and what it entails, the emphasis is on the riding rather than hunting. “The stated reward is to enjoy the chase and not to capture or harm,” according to the club’s mission statement.
Carrying on the joys and the traditions of the hunt are Lydia, Tate and Gracie, all nationally-recognized athletes who have been riding horses since they were toddlers. With the support of their mothers and their mentors, the girls have grown into astounding equestrians who show no signs of slowing down.
Lydia and Lisa Eifler
A junior at Assumption High School, Lydia comes from a long line of equestrians. Her mother Lisa has been hunting for more than 40 years. Lisa’s mother Sheila Heider bred and raised Thoroughbreds, fox hunters, draft mules and Welsh ponies on the family’s farm in Loudoun County, Virginia. Lisa’s father Albert Heider was a fifth-generation farmer who owned and hunted with his own pack of foxhounds during the 1980s and 1990s.
Lisa introduced Lydia to riding when she was three years old. Since she took to it immediately, Lydia started her fox hunting career at the age of five. For the last five years, Lydia has qualified for the Junior North American Field Hunter Championships (JNAFHC) and has placed in the top 10 each time.
“I feel a huge sense of accomplishment,” Lydia says. “Being called up and given the award brings such a rush of happiness.”
While incredibly proud of her daughter’s accomplishments, Lisa maintains that the memories mean much more than the accolades.
“Ribbons and trophies are not important at the end of the day,” Lisa says. “I want Lydia to remember the time spent trotting through the woods, the thrill of flying over fields, the beauty of nature and the look of pure joy as we ride side by side.”
“My family has sacrificed so much for me to ride horses,” says Lydia. “They are always there for me and cheer me on at competitions. My mom is the reason I am the rider I am today. She has taught me so much, and I wouldn’t be able to ride without her.”
Tate and Megan Northrop
Tate attends South Oldham High School and also inherited her love of foxhunting from her mother, Megan.
“Sharing a sport you love with your child is one of the most gratifying things in the world,” Megan says. “I’ve been known to allow Tate to play ‘hooky’ from school to enjoy a day of foxhunting with me.”
Megan began riding and competing at the age of nine under the guidance of her cousin and mentor, Dr. Madelyn Jacobs. Madelyn inspired Megan’s interest in hunting when she was 16 and has continued to serve as a mentor to Tate and the other girls.
“Ever since I could walk, Madelyn has been there for me and guided me through the hunt,” Tate says. “She and Colleen (Walker) do so much for us. It means so much to have their guidance and support.”
“Tate has learned the importance of land conservation and has developed into a more capable and confident rider,” Megan says. “I love that foxhunting is steeped in tradition and Tate has had to learn that it requires a great deal of respect for the traditions.”
“Foxhunting isn’t just about riding,” Tate adds. “It’s a way of life. Our club is so much fun, even when we’re not hunting. I love working with the hounds, playing with the puppies and being with my friends as much as I love hunting.”
Gracie Shriner and Ellen Harkins
Ellen Harkins has been involved with LRWH for 18 years. The Eastern Kentucky native was introduced to foxhunting when she attended Foxcroft School in Middleburg, Virginia. Today, her daughter Gracie attends the same boarding school. While she, Tate and Lydia all attend different schools, the trio maintains their lifelong connection.
“Lydia and Tate are undoubtedly my oldest friends,” Gracie says. “We’ve been hunting together since we were three and have enjoyed each other’s company since. We compete in different disciplines and train with different coaches, but we always try to make time for each other.”
Though she has her sights set on a career in medicine, Gracie has no intention of giving up riding.
“I’ve been preparing for the possibility of competing on the IHSA (Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association) circuit,” says Gracie. “I also plan to hunt as much as possible when I’m home for breaks. I know that riding might not always be possible for me at every stage of my life due to school and work, but I am grateful to have such a wonderful sport to return to whenever I choose.”
Ellen has watched Gracie thrive as a competitor but understands that defeat is sometimes a necessity.
“Let your kid fail,” says Ellen. “Failure is so important. Your child must fail to establish future goals and will, in turn, appreciate hard work and success. I watched my young child gain confidence, learn responsibility, time and equine management skills, respect for authority, history and traditions. She grew up roaming the amazing countrysides of Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.”
Having spent countless hours riding through the country, Gracie and her fellow LRWH members share a passion and appreciation for conservation.
“Kentucky has some of the most beautiful land in the country,” says Gracie. “It would be a shame if the generations after us never got to experience it.”
Dr. Madelyn Jacobs, a family practitioner with Norton Healthcare, plays an integral role in the club and the lives of the young women. As a fieldmaster, she leads riders on hunts to ensure order in the group and safety for the riders. Off the field, Madelyn is a cousin of Megan and Tate, and she’s Gracie’s godmother.
“I showed up to Gracie’s second birthday party – without telling her parents – with a mini pony for her,” Madelyn laughs.
She has watched the girls go from toddlers on mini ponies to equestrian champions. She recalls a cold day in December when Lydia and Gracie, both five years old, took a trail ride with Madelyn and their mothers. When Lydia was ready to call it a day and return to the barn, Gracie adopted a more ambitious attitude.
“Gracie is sitting there on her pony, just as quiet as can be, and then she looks up at me all serious,” Madelyn says. “She says to me, ‘You know, it never hurts to push yourself a little.’”
As her work ethic and passion for the sport rubbed off on the young riders, Madelyn is proud to have played a part in their success.
“I wouldn’t give up a moment of it,” she says. “I’ve been so lucky to watch them grow up and mature into who they are. It’s been a lot of fun and hopefully, it’s not over yet.”
Also providing insurmountable support is Colleen Walker, who has been a member of the club for 12 years and is a longtime adviser to the group.
“It’s fabulous to see what strong women these ladies have grown into and the kind of focus they have – the moms and the girls,” Colleen says. “I remember when they were so little they couldn’t reach their stirrups.”
Walker emphasizes the great privilege it is to compete in a national championship, and she recognizes how rare it is to have three junior riders from the same club achieve such success.
“The competition is rigorous,” she says. “You have to be nominated and earn the points in order to go to the championships. I’m proud to be a part of it – to see what these kids have accomplished and their commitment to it.”
“I have known Gracie, Tate and Lydia since they were small children,” says Paul Bickel, MFH (Master of Fox Hounds) and a joint-master of the Long Run Woodford Hounds. “They all come from fox hunting families and it has been great fun to see them become accomplished young riders. Their enthusiasm is infectious and just being around them helps us all enjoy the sport even more.”
The ties that bind this group of people go beyond family and friendship, and their shared love of the hunt has created an everlasting bond.
“It’s a sport that commands your focus,” Colleen says. “It will build your confidence and your relationship with your horse. There’s a level of trust that you both need with each other that you can’t explain with just words. It’s a collaboration, a partnership, a team effort. The sport is steeped in tradition, but it’s wonderful to be a part of it. It’ll take you across the globe. It’ll give you the thrill of a lifetime.” V