By Lyssette Williams
Portraits by Tracy Kujawa
Jay Moore is not the stereotypical hunter-jumper trainer. He didn’t grow up with horse training parents, or riding ponies on the show circuit or working his way to a big win in the equitation or junior-jumper finals.
“I don’t look like the other hunter-jumper professionals either,” Jay laughed. “I’m not tall and thin with abs of steel. I’m a Black man and I have hips!”
What Jay does have in common with other hunter-jumper trainers also drives him to continue pursuing a career in the Deep South: an unwavering love for horses and the sport, an untiring work ethic and a deep devotion to community.
Moxie in Spades
Jay’s beginnings were humble. Born in Montgomery, Alabama, he’s the oldest of three kids raised by his mother, LaShonda Jones, and his grandmother, Dorothy Bradford. Horses captured Jay’s heart the first time he laid eyes on them. “Riding and horses always fascinated me,” Jay said. “I looked forward to the Montgomery Thanksgiving Parade every year. The marching band and floats were great, but I was only interested in staying until the very end to see the horses.”
The dream to ride first came true briefly at summer camp. Then in the seventh grade, Jay took his first riding lessons with a classmate’s mother, Susan Wainwright, who happened to be an avid eventer. Under her instruction, he learned the basics of dressage and jumping. Before starting the eighth grade, life threw Jay’s family a curve ball.
“We relocated to Memphis, Tennessee, after my mom received a promotion,” Jay said. “It was a great opportunity for my working-class family, though I wouldn’t ride again until I was in high school.”
While living in Tennessee, Jay was introduced to the world of hunter-jumper horse showing by trainers Victoria Hickerson and Sara Zurenko of Shady Creek Farms. “Victoria and Sara set me on the path to what would become my career,” Jay said. “The local circuit had quality shows put on by Oakview Stables and Alderwood Shows.”
After attending school in Tennessee for several years, Jay felt Alabama calling him back. In 2007 he packed his bags and returned to Montgomery, moving in with his grandmother. Jay’s desire to get back in the saddle hit a fever pitch, so he started the process of researching barns and reaching out to local trainers.
“I ended up taking lessons from Rise Jone-Metcalf at Spring Valley Stables,” Jay said. “She gave me a working student position. I would bike to the barn every day after school to clean stalls in exchange for lessons.”
Being an A-type overachiever, Jay had a full course load along with extracurricular activities vying for his time and attention. “I was on the school’s co-ed cheerleading team and in every club imaginable,”
he said. “I still found time to commit to furthering my equestrian education — I probably didn’t sleep much!”
Jay’s incredible commitment and work ethic was encouraged and supported by his family. “My mother and stepfather did everything they could to support my dream even though finances were tight,” he said.
“My grandmother and I are best friends — she’s my biggest cheerleader and supporter. When I first moved in with her and told her about my dream to make it in the horse industry, she said, ‘Now Jay, you must take this very seriously, no goofing around and no partying!’ I’m a lot like my grandmother, so I followed through on her rules. Some weekends I’d have a mountain of homework and barn chores to get through, so my grandmother would come help me clean stalls so I could wrap everything up at a reasonable time.”
Progress is Never Linear
At the end of his junior year of high school, Jay joined the Montgomery chapter of 4-H when his trainer incorporated the 4-H horse curriculum into her program. Jay focused solely on showing in the hunters, and his hard work and attention to detail paid off when he won the working hunter championship at the Alabama 4-H Championships in 2009. Hungry to get further in his riding, Jay applied to the equestrian studies and equestrian training program at Findlay University in Ohio.
“I had deferred my enrollment until spring semester,” Jay said. “Not many in my family have attended college, so we missed a couple of deadlines. We also weren’t sure how to pay for college, so I worked two jobs to save money — riding horses for Melanie Rish at His Place Horse Farms and working a retail job at Hollister clothing.”
The road to attending Findlay was proving to be bumpy — and getting Jay physically to the Ohio campus would also be an adventure.
“My mom, Grandma and I made the journey together,” Jay said. “What started out as a beautiful southern winter day with clear skies quickly turned into a blizzard after crossing state lines. My mother has only driven in the snow a handful of times, so it was a nerve-wracking experience. Thankfully, we arrived safely.”
While Jay loved his classes, peers and riding on the IHSA team at Findlay, his collegiate experience would be short lived.
“I only spent a semester and a half there,” Jay said “I worked hard, and the program director, Sandra ‘Sam’ McCarthy, noticed. She pulled me aside and told me I needed to go somewhere that would tap into my full potential. In the summer of 2010, I left Findlay to work for David Q. Wright in Nashville.”
Under David’s tutelage, Jay would gain the expertise needed to manage a top-level show barn and team while working at Hunters Court in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
“David was an amazing horseman and one of my biggest influences in the industry,” Jay reminisced. “Through him I met other great contacts like Matt Piccolo of Arrow Hill Farm.”
Another very influential trainer who took Jay under her wing was Ashley Morrison of Westminster Farm in Northport, Alabama. “She played an integral part at the beginning stages of my professional career,” Jay said. “I owe her so much.”
The winding path to becoming a professional hunter-jumper trainer, pouring his heart and soul into the work daily, burning the candle at both ends for the better part of a decade, took its toll on Jay. He was burned out and needed a break from the industry. For two years, he worked a corporate sales and marketing job with AT&T. This hiatus ended up being exactly what Jay needed to reignite his passion, while also teaching him valuable business skills for his next professional endeavor.
In September 2019, Jay officially launched his training business, The Authentic LLC, with the help of business partner Kevin Richardson.
“Inspiration for the name came from my personal motto of always staying true to who I am,” Jay said. “Being Black, from a working-class upbringing, and gay has been an uphill battle. Not everyone I’ve met has known how to love and accept me for who I am.”
While combating implicit bias and stereotypes within the industry is daunting, the adversity doesn’t scare Jay. Instead it inspires him to work harder, to be outgoing and forgiving. And in return, the equestrian community has taken notice.
“Jay has one of the best attitudes and outlooks I’ve seen at the horse shows,” said Michelle Anderton, director of marketing and public relations for the Brownland Farms horse shows. “He’s worked very hard to secure a well-respected position in our community.”
Jay could have based The Authentic LLC anywhere in the United States, but he remains emotionally tethered to his roots in Alabama.
“Our home base is at Sunshine Oaks Sport Horses in Madison, Alabama,” Jay said. “Madison is just outside of Huntsville, which is projected to be the biggest city in Alabama by 2022. The city is a bit like Seattle-meets-Nashville — with lots of hiking, biking and other outdoorsy activities. Industry here is booming, there is a Facebook data center and a Toyota plant and the largest employer is NASA, bringing people from all over. Some of my clients have moved here from as far away as San Diego, California.”
Four to five days a week, Jay can be found teaching at his home barn, but he also spends a lot of time on the road as a traveling trainer. “I teach three times a week in Birmingham, every other week in Nashville and Brownsboro. I’ll start teaching two to three times a week in Florence, Alabama, soon,” Jay said. “I’m fueled by coffee, people, horses and motivation — though the horses fuel me the most!”
Paying it Forward
Always planning, dreaming and looking ahead, Jay envisions growing The Authentic LLC with additional show clients, developing top-class sale horses and hiring an assistant trainer. “People with multiple businesses inspire me, like Emil Spadone,” Jay said. “I’ve started an IEA team and hope to coach IHSA soon. I’d also like to become a licensed judge with USEF — we need more Black judges.”
Jay reflects fondly on all the people in his life who helped get him to where he is today and lives by the motto of paying their kindness forward. “It really takes a village and I’ve known the love and support from so many people outside of my family,” Jay said. “Sarah Zurenko and Linda Rice both used to give me rides from school to the barn. Chelise Storace provided me with riding opportunities in New England and Ocala. A lot of riders don’t get these opportunities; I feel blessed.”
Jay’s journey meandered from his first riding lessons to declaring as a professional, but each detour leads him back to what he loves with even more conviction and clearer purpose than before. He knows whatever obstacles come his way in the future, he’ll make it through.
“To all the underdogs out there, regardless of your race, if you don’t think you have the finances to succeed — keep trying,” Jay said. “Asking for help is not a weakness; it may provide you with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Work hard, stay true to yourself and be so grateful it takes your breath away.”
For more information, visit theauthenticllc.com
Photos by Tracy Kujawa, angelheartfarm.com