By Britney Grover
Jane Fennessy grew up riding alongside her father and five siblings—despite her mother’s intense fear of horses—in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. “After a year of college, I came home and told my parents they were wasting their money, and that I was pretty sure I wanted to work with horses,” Jane said. Her equestrian career began caring for the 15-stall barn of the Master of Fox Hounds of the Metamora Hunt, then running the Grosse Pointe Hunt Club’s riding program.
Then, Jane left home to try to create an equestrian life for herself in Florida—and ended up with a successful career spanning over five decades. She now lives on the water in North Palm Beach and runs her Carriage Hill Farms in nearby Delray Beach, Florida. Though she’s looking to semi-retire after over 50 years, she still stays busy with Carriage Hill’s lesson program, local shows, “AA” shows, national finals and the occasional European competition. “When I was younger, I didn’t have a big enough imagination to see where this life was going to take me,” she said. “I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, and it’s been an incredible ride!”
What are your best early memories of riding and horses?
Winning a parent-and-child class with my dad around 8; the Rolling Rock Horse Show in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, where I groomed and got to show a difficult lesson horse; a clinic with Gordon Wright at around 12; foxhunting at 19 in my first horse job.
Any favorite horses over the years?
There have been so many, and they all have their special attributes, from the special lesson horse to a promising young hunter to the high-performance jumper! My first Open Jumper, Cat Dancer, a Thoroughbred I got from the track, was very spicy but it was fun to go head to head with a 14-year-old Jimmy Torano back in the day! We were both pretty fearless and crazy back then. Jimmy still is—me, not so much!
What’s something you’ve done that not many people have?
I left home alone, in the van that I paneled and carpeted, with $1,000 in my pocket to create my life in South Florida. Thank goodness it all worked out!
What talents do you feel you have?
I’ve always kind of known what a horse was feeling and thinking, and I’ve since developed a sense of people’s energy as well.
Do you have a personal motto or catch phrase?
If you’re not happy, do something different!
Who inspires you?
My mother and father, Gordon Wright, Beezie and John Madden, Stacia Madden and all those unknowns who just kept on trying.
What is your favorite thing about being part of the horse world?
The horses and the many special clients who have believed in me over these many years
If you could tell every rider one thing, what would it be?
Persistence! It’s a difficult sport, but hard work, dedication and a love for animals can light your way whatever the level. So many get hung up trying to compete at the highest levels; be realistic, find your niche; there’s a place for everyone!
If you had a week off, what would you do?
I love to travel when I get time off—or sleep.
Outside of horses, what do you like to do?
I’m a boater, support a lot of local live music and, of course, travel.
Where is your favorite place you have been?
There are too many! Australia and New Zealand were pretty special, and I’m just returning from Iceland and Norway, where I was fortunate to experience the Northern Lights for a few days in a row! I’ve been fortunate to have seen a lot of the world; I’m thinking my next adventure will be to explore more fully the British Isles. But the Far East, South America and Africa are still on my bucket list.
If you weren’t involved with the horse world, what career do you think you would have picked?
I was in the art department in college. Back then I couldn’t foresee how to make a living in that world, which is why I followed my passion for horses. In hindsight, jewelry design, interior decorating or flipping properties are probably all things in which I could have excelled.
What three things can always be found in your refrigerator?
Champagne, champagne, champagne
What’s your favorite item of clothing to wear?
I pretty much live in jeans, but I do like to get dressed up when out on the town. But my Vionic shoes are essential!
What don’t people know about you?
I’m quite shy and very grateful for the life I’ve lived.
What would be the best gift in the world?
That the divisiveness and negativity in the world today will someday fade away. I’m concerned it won’t be in my lifetime!
What’s something everyone should try at least once?
Get out of their box, whatever that is—travel, zip line, sing, learn an instrument, paint, throw pottery, a cooking class, whatever—but most of all, learn how to enjoy and love your own company!
Photo by Georgie Hammond/KGR Creative