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Competitive equestrian joins Bishop Brady Class of 2014 in taking next leap

  • Hayley Anderson, 17, sits for her portrait in her room at home in New Boston before her graduation from Bishop Brady High School on Friday, June 6, 2014.   <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Hayley Anderson, 17, sits for her portrait in her room at home in New Boston before her graduation from Bishop Brady High School on Friday, June 6, 2014.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

  • Sierra Taylor (left) and Maggie Alosa (right) bump fists after receiving their diplomas at the Bishop Brady Class of 2014 graduation on Friday evening, June 6, 2014 at the school's auditorium in Concord. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Sierra Taylor (left) and Maggie Alosa (right) bump fists after receiving their diplomas at the Bishop Brady Class of 2014 graduation on Friday evening, June 6, 2014 at the school's auditorium in Concord.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Thomas Pelchat crosses the stage at the Bishop Brady Class of 2014 graduation on Friday evening, June 6, 2014 at the school's auditorium in Concord. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Thomas Pelchat crosses the stage at the Bishop Brady Class of 2014 graduation on Friday evening, June 6, 2014 at the school's auditorium in Concord.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Bishop Brady Class of 2014 graduation on Friday evening, June 6, 2014 at the school's auditorium in Concord. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Bishop Brady Class of 2014 graduation on Friday evening, June 6, 2014 at the school's auditorium in Concord.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Lauren Abbott, the class salutatorian, delivers her speech at the Bishop Brady Class of 2014 graduation on Friday evening, June 6, 2014 at the school's auditorium in Concord. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Lauren Abbott, the class salutatorian, delivers her speech at the Bishop Brady Class of 2014 graduation on Friday evening, June 6, 2014 at the school's auditorium in Concord.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • During the closing prayer, students held hands at the Bishop Brady Class of 2014 graduation on Friday evening, June 6, 2014 at the school's auditorium in Concord. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    During the closing prayer, students held hands at the Bishop Brady Class of 2014 graduation on Friday evening, June 6, 2014 at the school's auditorium in Concord.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Fiona Hogg's graduation cap decorations glittered in the evening light at the Bishop Brady Class of 2014 graduation on Friday evening, June 6, 2014 at the school's auditorium in Concord. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Fiona Hogg's graduation cap decorations glittered in the evening light at the Bishop Brady Class of 2014 graduation on Friday evening, June 6, 2014 at the school's auditorium in Concord.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Bishop Brady Class of 2014 graduation on Friday evening, June 6, 2014 at the school's auditorium in Concord. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Bishop Brady Class of 2014 graduation on Friday evening, June 6, 2014 at the school's auditorium in Concord.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Riselly Deoleo listens during the Bishop Brady Class of 2014 graduation on Friday evening, June 6, 2014 at the school's auditorium in Concord. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Riselly Deoleo listens during the Bishop Brady Class of 2014 graduation on Friday evening, June 6, 2014 at the school's auditorium in Concord.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Hayley Anderson, 17, sits for her portrait in her room at home in New Boston before her graduation from Bishop Brady High School on Friday, June 6, 2014.   <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
  • Sierra Taylor (left) and Maggie Alosa (right) bump fists after receiving their diplomas at the Bishop Brady Class of 2014 graduation on Friday evening, June 6, 2014 at the school's auditorium in Concord. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Thomas Pelchat crosses the stage at the Bishop Brady Class of 2014 graduation on Friday evening, June 6, 2014 at the school's auditorium in Concord. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Bishop Brady Class of 2014 graduation on Friday evening, June 6, 2014 at the school's auditorium in Concord. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Lauren Abbott, the class salutatorian, delivers her speech at the Bishop Brady Class of 2014 graduation on Friday evening, June 6, 2014 at the school's auditorium in Concord. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • During the closing prayer, students held hands at the Bishop Brady Class of 2014 graduation on Friday evening, June 6, 2014 at the school's auditorium in Concord. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Fiona Hogg's graduation cap decorations glittered in the evening light at the Bishop Brady Class of 2014 graduation on Friday evening, June 6, 2014 at the school's auditorium in Concord. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Bishop Brady Class of 2014 graduation on Friday evening, June 6, 2014 at the school's auditorium in Concord. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Riselly Deoleo listens during the Bishop Brady Class of 2014 graduation on Friday evening, June 6, 2014 at the school's auditorium in Concord. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

For Hayley Anderson, something was missing during last night’s graduation ceremony at Bishop Brady High School.

Her smile was there, as usual, and so was her grace under pressure and the applause she’s grown accustomed to.

But the horse. Where was the horse?

It’s a safe bet that Anderson will be back in the

saddle soon. In fact, she’s competing today in a jumping competition, her specialty, in Fremont – part of a competitive career that has moved her into the national spotlight and led to a scholarship to Delaware State University.

Some graduating girls at Brady played lacrosse, some played hockey, some played softball and some dabbled in more than one sport.

Anderson? She rode and rode and rode some more.

She was one of 86 students who received a diploma in the packed school gym during a ceremony that also marked the school’s 50th anniversary.

Another highlight included a standing ovation for Greg Roberts, who’s leaving his post as football coach after 16 years and three state titles.

Father John Fortin got the biggest laugh of the night when he said, “I’m like a body at a wake. I know I’m supposed to be present, but I know I’m not supposed to say very much.”

Salutatorian Lauren Abbott stressed that students were not judged by their grades but rather “the knowledge we hold.”

And valedictorian Hannah Provost brought the house down while raising the audience to its feet. She stressed the idea of valuing and loving people, using students such as Arianna Harris to illustrate her point.

Harris taught a little girl, who was so poor she had no toilet, to read during a class trip to El Salvador.

As for Anderson, her mother, Gretchen, is a legend within the state’s equestrian community, and her father, Mark, is a veterinarian. The family lives in New Boston, on 40 acres called Apple Knoll Farm.

There, with cattle and pigs mixing in the landscape, Gretchen and Hayley use their horse sense, teaching riders, training horses and becoming familiar with their own horses so Hayley can jump better than anyone else.

She’s a three-time state champion and has also won a New England title. That’s what happens when you ride before you walk. Anderson’s first jumping competition happened by age 5.

“At shows when I was little, one person would hold my legs and one held the pony so I could stay up,” Anderson said during a pre-ceremony interview this week.

Her greatest achievement occurred in Lexington, Ky., where Anderson has qualified for and competed in the nationals each of the past seven years, in an age division that groups all jumpers 18 and younger together.

That’s what made Anderson’s third-place finish in 2008, at age 11, so impressive.

“That was insane because it was only the second time I’d been down there,” Anderson said. “I was just a little nobody from New Hampshire.”

Anderson then laughed, but her competitive fire is serious business, a lifelong commitment that includes practice seven days a week.

It also includes some rough patches. Just 10 days ago, a horse named Trading Spaces died suddenly from an aneurysm. Gretchen had sold Trading Spaces to an 8-year-old Massachusetts girl.

“I just crumbled and started balling my eyes out,” Anderson said. “I rode my other two horses that I have at home, and I just cried the entire time.”

There’s another story behind one of those two horses, Oliver, who Anderson depends on to win ribbons.

Gretchen sold Oliver to a family in Florida 10 years ago, giving a young girl, Lawson Susanne Mayfield, the chance to ride and compete.

But five years ago, Mayfield, 18 at the time, died suddenly of meningitis. The Mayfields then gave Oliver back to Anderson, and the two have formed a winning combination.

And, in the process, the two families are closer than ever, with Oliver serving as the bond.

“There’s an emotional connection through this horse that connects my family with Lawson’s,” Anderson said. “We were in Atlanta last year, and we were all together and we could feel Lawson’s presence there. We were all bawling our eyes out.”

Anderson isn’t sure whether she’ll make a career out of riding and training. But one thing’s for sure.

“I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t comfortable on a horse,” she said.

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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