Keeping His Shoes Dirty

TVT_8892In his early 20s, Gregg Mitchell loved being a caretaker at Rock Creek Riding Club. Bonding with the awe-inspiring animals that passed through those stables made the grueling work, long hours and low pay worth it. At least, it did until he found something he loved even more than horses.

Her name: Gretchen.

“I knew having a family was above everything else what I wanted,” he explains. “Knowing I couldn’t raise a family doing that, I knew I needed to find myself ‘a real job.’”

So he did. With the help of someone he knew through Rock Creek, he landed a job at KFC. He left the stables, though he knew he’d never abandon his love for horses or the sport. Case in point: Gregg took Gretchen to a World’s Championship Horse Show for their second date to test whether she shared his passion.

“I had to know she could weather this,” he says.

She not only weathered his hobby; she “thrived.”

Gregg proposed three months later, and the couple married six months after that.

“I knew she was the one,” he says.

Gretchen agrees.

“He used to come into my work, and I would tell all my coworkers, ‘I want a guy like that.’ That’s what we called him, ‘Guy Like That.’”

TVT_8923Twenty-nine years later, the Mitchells are still happily married. They have three children: Alaina, 25, Ellis, 23, and Isabel, 15.

“When I had kids, it was everything I expected and more,” says Gregg. “They keep me grounded and give me focus. They get along well, and they’re good, hard workers. I’m a very proud dad.”

Gregg is vice president of sales and marketing at Awningtec USA, after having worked his way up through KFC and Yum! Brands.

He’s also the owner of a burgeoning 3-year-old breeding farm in Fisherville, Ky. It has five saddlebreds, one of which the Mitchells are hoping can be competitive at the prestigious World’s Championship Horse Show during the Kentucky State Fair.

“It’s an expensive hobby,” says Gregg, acknowledging: “Until I make a profit, it’s just a hobby. It takes time to build up.”

He knows the potential is there. He’s been following bloodlines and breeding with established lines, like the sire Sir William Roberts out of a farm in Shelbyville.

“A guy like me can get lucky by taking a risk, maybe have himself a world champion,” he says. “You just keep scratching, like a lotto ticket.”

Even if nothing comes of it, he appreciates the bonds he forms with the animals, which he sees everyday.

“I see them every day,” he says. “I think that’s my biggest advantage; they are in my backyard. They come when I call. That relationship helps. It’s just like with children, each one is different in its own right. You prepare them as appropriately as you can.”

He also sees the value in having raised his children around horses.

“It teaches them responsibility,” he says. “They are relying on you. At the same time, it’s also a lot of fun.”

That much was evident last weekend. On a perfect early summer evening, when most children would be angling to do anything other than spend time with their parents, Ellis and Isabel were happily sitting with theirs in a box at the 78th annual Rock Creek Horse Show. (Eldest daughter Alaina lives in New York City.)

“One thing I appreciate is that this is a common denominator,” says Gregg, noting the different ages and backgrounds of all the attendees. “You can be a millionaire; you can not be. It doesn’t make a bit of difference. Here, everyone’s shoes are dirty. You just have fun with it.”

Together, the family watched the competitions, chatting along the way about their favorite markings on the horses, the strategies of the riders, and who might be their friendly competition down the line. All the while, in the family’s view, just past the track, loomed the house where Gregg used to live when he was a caretaker.

Gregg can’t help but smile at how far – and how full circle – his life has come in three decades. “I consider myself a very lucky person.” VT