By Sheryl Hodge
Portraits by Shawna Simmons
Rider, horse show competitor, singer, songwriter, recording artist, wife, mom, stall mucker and caretaker of horses, dogs, miniature donkeys and two baby boys — you name it, and Missy Chiles probably has it on her plate.
But don’t label her any one of those things, because she’s not ‘just’ any one of those things and she is more than all of those things. If anything, Missy would like to help break the mold of the stay-at-home-mom stereotype by doing her best every day to be her true self, her best self, and she hopes that will inspire others who might feel like they’ve been put in some kind of box.
Born With It
Missy was born with it — the ‘it,’ of course, being a love for horses. As far as Missy can remember, she’s always wanted horses in her life. “I was just born with the need for them in my DNA,” Missy said with the matter-of-factness only other horse-obsessed people understand. Her passion turned from dream to reality when she was 7 years old and her parents finally conceded to the begging for riding lessons. “It was all I wanted, and it became my whole world!”
Her horse journey began at Foxmeade Farm in Midlothian, Virginia. The Mayes family had so many wonderful school horses to help Missy begin her equine education. She did much more than learn how to ride there, though. “I was there as often as humanly possible as a kid, riding and mucking every stall they would give me so I could get in an extra ride!” Missy remembered. “I learned how to really take care of horses, too. In addition to cleaning stalls, I learned all about grooming, clipping, wrapping, etc. They really instilled in me a love for the whole horse, not just the riding part.”
By age 14, the desire to compete beyond the local level kicked in. Her mom still didn’t ‘get’ the horse thing, but as someone who has always been into sports, she appreciated and valued the commitment and athleticism that riding entails and wholeheartedly supported her daughter’s horse aspirations. Her mom connected with trainer Ada Cosby out of Walnut Knoll Farm in Manakin Sabot, Virginia, to help Missy move up to that next level in her riding career and compete at A shows — and she still trains with Ada today.
While training with Ada, Missy connected with a very special horse, a Thoroughbred named Could Be California, aka Guy, that became a very defining part of her life. Guy was an amazing jumper, but alas, he “could buck like a superfreak and get anyone off of him when he wanted,” Missy recalled. “He was so tough, I fell off him more times than I can even count, and got a few concussions too. He really taught me how to ride, and a lot about life.”
Missy and Guy were together throughout her college years, but as it often does, life changed after college for a while and horses weren’t as big a part of it. Missy entered the world of finance, though it didn’t really suit her. “Being behind a desk and computer all day took away a lot of my creativity,” she said. When Missy became pregnant with her first child, she left the finance world behind to become a stay-at-home mom and brought horses back into her life. Missy was looking for a horse that was safe but that she could be competitive with, and she was on a limited budget.
She found Fennario (aka Bennett), an 11-year-old OTTB who had been restarted by Lisa Flynn. Missy got lucky with this great find, bought him, continued working with him, then began successfully competing with him, and they’re currently at 3’3” amateur-owner hunters.
A couple of years later, her growing family moved to a farm in Maidens, Virginia, and Missy affectionately named their new place Daydream Farm. She could now keep Bennett at home, along with a retired 21-year-old Westphalian gelding, Arbott Street, a massive warmblood that treats her kids like gold. Missy was also able to get Guy back and bring him home to live out his retirement. He was a little over 25 years old and had mellowed with age, so much so that the horse once known for having to be excused from the show ring on more than one occasion was now giving her son Jet pony rides. Guy took amazing care of Jet. “He’d stand calmly and quietly as Jet ran around him,” Missy said with emotion. “It was amazing and incredibly rewarding to be able to bring him back home and have that special time with him.”
Missy’s Musical Side
But it isn’t just horses and homemaking for Missy. As with horses, her interest in music began at an early age. In fifth grade, she began taking piano lessons, but really wanted to play guitar. Despite her initial lack of enthusiasm for piano, Missy did have a talent for it and her music teacher saw that and encouraged her to keep pursuing music. “I began taking guitar lessons in high school and really enjoyed it,” Missy said. However, at that time in her life, horses were more important to her. Music made a comeback and took on a bigger role in her life during college. In fact, her graduation gift was a keyboard.
She started out playing and singing covers at open mic nights with friends. Her focus evolved to singing and songwriting, thanks to the support and encouragement of her husband, Steve, who previously played bass in the band Exebelle. Steve continues to play when Missy performs with Exebelle, who released a double album, “After All This Time” in 2017. The band supports and backs her — literally. They helped her record her EP “About a Horse” in 2015, which featured her handsome horse Bennett on the album cover.
While horses were Missy’s first passion, music had a special hold on her as well. At different times, each held a more prominent part of her life. With two kids and her horses at home, Missy’s two worlds connected in an unexpected way. It all happened naturally: During what Missy has come to call “naptime sessions,” she began taking her guitar into the barn to play and write lyrics.
Missy says being around the horses is comforting and inspiring. “Music and horses are similar to me in a lot of ways. You have to practice and want to perform and get over the fear of what other people are thinking and just do what you love,” she said. “It’s putting yourself out there; the nerves you feel right before you go on stage are so similar to how you feel just as you’re getting ready to go through the gate at a big horse show.
“You can’t be afraid to make mistakes; it’s all part of the process. You have to get over that fear of failing and focus on trying to be your best in that moment,” Missy continued. “There is also a definite attention to detail in both music and riding, rhythm and so many other overlapping themes. If you get too obsessed with trying to be perfect in either, that’s when you really blow it!”
At the End of the Day
Missy wears a lot of hats every day, but her goal is to simply be the best version of herself that she can be. “I want to be a good wife, a good mom, a good singer/songwriter and a good horseperson,” she said. “Being a mom can often feel overwhelming and all-consuming, so being able to ride and be around horses is an outlet and a time to be me.”
Missy is currently working with new project that she hopes to turn into a hunter. “His name is Ryman and he’s a 3-year-old Oldenburg by Rosenthal.”
Her competitive nature of course seeks to win when she gets into the show ring, and she works hard for it, but what’s really important to her is being a true horseperson — doing right by and for her horses always comes first and always matters more than any ribbon ever could.
“Showing is about the process, the relationship, the learning, the partnership,” she explained. For Missy, winning is good, ribbons are good, but at the end of the day, they are icing on the cake when compared to the rewards of the overall process.
Singing and songwriting are also great outlets to express emotion and share experiences, to be creative and in some ways, be yourself while stepping outside of yourself.
In the end, these two passions help Missy be the best version of her that she can be, as a wife, as a mom, as a rider, as a horseperson, as a musician — as herself.
Photos by Shawna Simmons, www.sasequinephotography.com, unless noted otherwise