By Laura Scaletti
Portraits by Emma Claire Stephens
Whether she’s in the saddle or her design studio, Leah Tenney is all about the details. An international dressage rider today, Leah has been captivated by dressage since her first time halting at X. “The attention to detail between horse and rider required in dressage became my passion, extending beyond horseback riding into my everyday life as well,” Leah said.
Based out of Wellington, Florida, Leah is able to focus on her training and competitions while catering to her Leah Tenney Interiors clients. Founded in 2022, Leah Tenney Interiors provides residential and equestrian interior design and organization services to its clients. “From finding innovative ways to incorporate equestrian elements to transforming a space to accommodate equine-related needs, these challenges invigorate my passion for design and keep me constantly inspired in the equestrian world,” she said.
Leah got her first exposure to horses when she was 5 years old. “I went to visit my grandparents in Vermont and while I was there, my grandmother signed me up for a riding camp,” Leah said. “I was immediately hooked and as soon as I got home to Maine, I started begging my parents for a pony. After listening to my pleas, day in and day out, they finally caved and got me a black Welsh pony named Wizard when I was 7.”
Like most girls who are bitten by the horse bug, riding quickly became more than a hobby for Leah. It soon became an integral part of her identity. “The connection I found with horses was so profound that it inspired my mom to take up riding alongside me, deepening our mother-daughter bond. We embarked on this equestrian journey together, sharing the highs and lows of the sport,” she said. “Having both of my parents’ support has meant the world to me throughout my time with horses.”
Once Leah had Wizard, the duo began competing in the Short Stirrup division at hunter competitions around New England. After a few years of enjoying the thrill of flying over fences, Leah’s path took a turn when she began entering two-phased combined tests (jumping and dressage) with her horse, Wilma. It was at these competitions that Leah really became interested in dressage.
“There was something about the precision and the artistry of dressage that really drew me in. As someone who’s always been fiercely competitive, I was intrigued by the unique scoring system of dressage,” Leah said. “Each movement was evaluated and scored separately, driving me to constantly improve every aspect of my performance.”
Finding Her Path
When it came time to go off to college, Leah chose Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts. When she first enrolled, her plan was to pursue a business degree; however, it only took five weeks into her college journey for Leah to discover business wasn’t the right fit for her.
“A pivotal moment came through one of my best friends, who happened to be enrolled in the interior design program. I found myself captivated by her homework and projects, which made the decision to switch majors feel very natural,” Leah said. “Within a week of immersing myself in the interior design program, I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t discovered this passion earlier.”
Although Leah has always had a creative side, she struggled to find the right avenue to express it. “This newfound path ignited my excitement and creativity, ultimately leading me to pursue interior design as a career,” Leah said.
Endicott College didn’t just help Leah discover her career path, it also allowed her to continue her equestrian endeavors while pursuing her degree. During her freshman year, Leah was a member of the Endicott College Equestrian Team, which involved hunter-jumper lessons twice a week and mandatory workout sessions. Simultaneously, Leah continued to ride her dressage horse, Adel K, with her trainer, Tanya Rennie, in Gorham, Maine.
“Balancing my school work, with early morning workouts and classes along with team lessons and the four-hour round trip drive to ride Adel, presented its challenges. However, I was fortunate to be within driving distance of home,” Leah said. “I was committed, which meant it was worth it to me. However, after my freshman year, I decided to focus solely on my personal riding journey.”
Part of Leah’s incentive to make the four-hour drive was her determination to participate with Adel K in the North American Youth Championships, which she competed in for three consecutive years. “While dressage is inherently individualistic, being part of a team and forming bonds with riders I typically competed against added a unique dimension to my development as an equestrian,” she said.
During her junior year, Leah formed additional bonds when she purchased her current horse, Enghavengaard’s Tebaldi, aka Tibi, at the end of the Florida season. That spring, Leah joined the program at Liz Austin Dressage in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. “It was great because Liz’s barn was only 10 minutes from school, so I was able to spend even more time with my personal horse,” Leah said.
Leah served as a working student for Liz and was given the opportunity to travel to bigger competitions, such as the Festival of Champions and Dressage at Devon. As her senior year approached, Leah continued to go to class in person, then went to Wellington at the end of November to work with Liz and Tibi.
“While I was down in Wellington, Tibi and I hit a remarkable stride in our partnership, achieving excellent results in competitions. Recognizing the potential for success with Tibi at our current level, I made the decision to stay in Wellington for the second half of the semester, completing my college courses remotely, including my senior thesis,” Leah said. “In the spring, I returned to Massachusetts with Tibi and Liz Austin Dressage, arriving just in time to attend my graduation, culminating my unique college experience balancing a competitive dressage career.”
Leah Tenney Interiors
As graduation approached, Leah found herself at a crossroads. “As all horse people know, timing is everything. Tibi was going well and I knew I needed to run with it. I had the rare chance to pursue my dreams of becoming a Grand Prix dressage rider,” Leah said. “I’ve always liked challenging myself with new experiences and adventures. Shortly after graduating in 2022, I made the bold decision to launch my interior design business immediately. By doing so, I’ve been able to combine my two passions: design and the equestrian space, as I offer residential and equestrian interior design and organizational services to the Wellington community and beyond.”
Leah knew she wouldn’t have the opportunity to chase her dressage dreams if she followed the traditional path and joined a design firm in a big city after graduation. Thankfully, after interning at several design firms throughout college, Leah felt it was possible to start her own business based on the behind-the-scenes insights she had gained as an intern. “Creating Leah Tenney Interiors has allowed me to chase my equestrian dreams while simultaneously building a thriving interior design business. I chose to create a life path that made sense to me,” Leah said.
Currently, Leah is a one-woman show when it comes to running her business. During this first year of Leah Tenney Interiors, Leah has encountered numerous challenges that have forced her to pivot and learn business management in real time. “No one tells you how to start an LLC, forge connections with subcontractors and navigate the intricacies of business taxes. They don’t teach you about taxes in college! However, I embraced these challenges and used this time to get comfortable with the uncomfortable,” Leah said.
Thankfully, horsewomen like Leah are accustomed to thriving in chaos and hustling to make everything happen. “During the past winter season in Florida, I often found myself basking in the appreciation of the life I’d created as I transitioned from competing at a dressage competition to attending interior design meetings with clients, and then running back and forth to the show grounds to take care of Tibi,” Leah said.
Leah enjoys the challenges that come from creating spaces that take advantage of her design and organizational skills, especially when it comes to crafting an equestrian-themed room. “I love the architectural challenges these projects require to turn my clients’ dreams into reality. I find joy in exploring the untapped potential within a space, embracing a client’s vision and then executing it,” Leah said.
U25 and Beyond
Today, Leah continues to train Tibi with Liz Austin, now out of Flying Cow Equestrian in Wellington, Florida. Over the past several years, Tibi and Leah have achieved significant milestones together including competing in the CDI ring internationally, participating in the Festival of Champions at the Young Rider level and competing at Dressage at Devon in the small tour category. “Tibi continues to teach me new things every day, and for that I’m so grateful,” she said.
One of the Leah’s most memorable moments with Tibi was during their CDI debut at the Global Dressage Festival in 2022. Although they entered the competition with the goal to just gain experience, they left with an unexpected victory in the Prix St. Georges event.
What made the win so memorable wasn’t just the victory, it was the support from friends and family in Wellington and beyond. “Liz, my dedicated coach, had worked tirelessly to prepare me for this moment. My mom, who never misses a competition, was there to share in the win, while McKayla Hohmann, who has been by my side since the beginning of my journey with Tibi, provided a much-needed helping hand in stressful times,” Leah said. “Even my dad, watching virtually from Maine, admitted to shedding a few tears as he witnessed our success.”
Tibi has proven to be Leah’s ideal partner to push her riding skills forward. “Tibi’s personality nicely complements what I like in a partner: he’s hardworking, gentle and kind. Despite his gentle nature, working with him can be challenging as he’s both sensitive and a big mover,” she said.
Leah is currently focused on competing on the small tour internationally while also working towards the U25 Grand Prix. Trying to be at the top of her passions, riding and interior design, has been a balancing act for Leah. “I’ve been able to juggle the craziness by maintaining a strict schedule—Google Calendar is my best friend—and investing in outsourcing the parts of my business that don’t come as naturally, such as branding. I have been fortunate to work closely with Grace Bartolotti, founder of With Grace Creative, who has embraced my vision for my business and created a beautiful website and branding assets, and guided me through social media and advertising, as that is not my specialty,” Leah said.
Although life can be crazy at times, with Leah’s newfound love of Google Calendar, she’s enthusiastic about what the future holds for both Leah Tenney Interiors and her equestrian pursuits. “I aspire to strategically grow Leah Tenney Interiors year after year, all while deepening my knowledge and expertise in the interior design field. I want to leave the distinctive Leah Tenney Interiors stamp on an ever-increasing number of homes and equestrian facilities, infusing them with a unique blend of aesthetics and functionality,” she said. “I’m excited about what’s to come and I’m wholeheartedly embracing the challenges that come with this lifestyle!”
For more information, visit www.leahtenneyinteriors.com and follow on Instagram @leahtenney_dressage and @leahtenneyinteriors
Photos by Emma Claire Stephens, emmaclaire.com and follow on Instagram @emmaclairestephens