Beatrice, Nebraska–– By the Grace of God, a grade chestnut mare owned and ridden by Victoria Whitehead of Tuskegee, Alabama, was named the 2018 winner of the North American Trail Ride Conference’s highest award, the President’s Cup, at the organization’s national convention held March 8-9, 2019 in Reno, Nevada.
Life wasn’t always the winner’s circle for Grace. Whitehead originally discovered Grace in 2011 in a pasture with little grass and no hay. The young mare was a walking skeleton.
“She was so emaciated that when I went to catch her, she didn’t even bother walking away,” said Whitehead, recalling that day. She named the two-year-old “By the Grace of God” because of Whitehead’s faith in God and what He brought into her life.
The pair spent the next three years working on trust, including lots of groundwork, and rebuilding Grace’s health. At just six weeks under saddle, Whitehead decided to enter a NATRC competitive ride. It was to be Grace’s first and only Victoria’s second competition. Whitehead describes what happened in a single word–disaster. Regardless, she took it as a sign to persevere with Grace and NATRC.
“Because spirits are easily broken on the ground and it is the act of getting up that gives us strength, I realized NATRC was exactly what both this filly and I needed,” said Whitehead.
Another three years and many NATRC competitive rides later, Whitehead’s goal for 2018 was simply to earn a national championship. They achieved that goal in April, with much of the ride year left to go. By mid-year, they found themselves at the top of the national NATRC standings.
“I have never been one of those hard core competitors, riding for points and glory. My competition has always been within myself. Do my best, have fun while I’m doing it and the rest will work itself out,” said Whitehead.
Friends and fellow competitors encouraged her. Whitehead says her reaction was, “Okay, I will continue to ride Grace the rest of the year and do what we can do. Why not raise the bar and shoot for the moon? We might just land among the stars!”
After more than 10,000 miles of trailering to different states and regions to compete in 16 NATRC rides, they did land in the stars. Together, Whitehead and Grace earned her region’s heavyweight top award, top national honors in NATRC for overall heavyweight horse, overall heavyweight horsemanship, the overall combined horse and horsemanship award, a national championship and the high point grade horse award. The capstone to this incredible year came in the form of the 2018 President’s Cup, NATRC’s highest recognition for horse and rider.
“I do not accept this award just for Grace and me. I accept it for my whole family–my family at home, Zeb and Zayne, my NATRC family, and my barn family,” said Whitehead as she accepted the President’s Cup in Reno. “For without all of you, the challenges and the high level of competition, Grace and I could not have achieved this.”
Since 1961, the North American Trail Ride Conference has helped riders of all ages learn the sport of competitive trail riding. Alongside other equine enthusiasts, riders can deepen the relationship with their horses while learning new skills and setting their own competitive goals. NATRC believes there is no better place to do this than on the open trail.
Photos by Becky Pearman Photography