By Tafra Donberger
Portraits by Kristie Scholten
Taylor Manning was a very determined 11-year-old with a plan when she called her parents into their family living room one afternoon. Unbeknownst to them, she had decided she wanted to ride horses and had researched everything she might need to know about the sport.
She was so excited for her pitch that she compiled a PowerPoint presentation and had it waiting when she asked them into the living room that fateful day. “She had researched what it takes to buy, care for, and board a horse,” said her mother, Laura. “At the end of the session, we told her we loved her to death but there was no way we were investing that kind of money! I thought that was the end of the discussion.”
Too resolved to give up, Taylor continued her investigations and began calling barns around the Houston, Texas, area where she lived in an effort to find a place that would let her work in exchange for lessons. She received more than a few “no thank you’s,” but her tenacity paid off. “Two weeks later, one trainer was so impressed by her drive and ambition that she said yes,” Laura recalled. “We talked and came up with a plan. Taylor was only 11, so the plan was that we would pay for two lessons and Taylor would work for two.”
“It was a barn called Bridle Creek,” Taylor said. “They let me work off my lessons by grooming, cleaning tack, helping lesson kids get ponies out—things that you’re capable of doing at 11.” Taylor’s efforts continued to pay off as different trainers recognized her drive to succeed and rewarded it by giving her more opportunities to ride and work. She was a working student until her early graduation from high school at 16.
Though Laura and Taylor’s dad, Kevin, may not have known how serious Taylor was in the very beginning, it was becoming clear that Taylor’s future was 100% equine.
Her Own Horse
After those first few years of watching their daughter work tirelessly to pursue her dreams while remaining exceptional in academics, the Mannings helped Taylor to purchase her first horse when she was 14 years old: a half-blind Thoroughbred named Jack. He had a foggy blue eye no one could explain, but the pair competed in local hunter-jumper classes and High Children’s Jumpers at rated shows.
“He was super brave and always tried his heart out,” Taylor recalled. “After him was my first ‘fancy’ horse, a Dutch Warmblood by Voltaire named Kid.” Kid took Taylor through Level 6 jumpers and the pair won a puissance jumping competition at 5’6”. When Taylor graduated from high school early, she took Kid with her to Mexico, where she spent a winter working for Jorge Verswyvel in Monterey. The stipulation for the adventure initially included a return to schooling when she came back to Texas.
Taylor sold Kid upon her return to Texas to fulfill her bargain with her parents, attending evening college courses and on the lookout for a new mount. A big, forward horse named Dream On came next. “I did my first 1.50m Grand Prix with him,” Taylor explained. “He’d jump a big track but he was a little bit of a runaway and not careful at all! He’d have at least four faults, usually eight.”
Though Dream On was trustworthy and powerful, his lack of cleanliness in the course was causing some reconsideration for Taylor. “My parents had said they weren’t buying any more horses,” Taylor said, “and I was a young person trying to figure out how to finance a new horse. I ran across HVL Madame Butterfly on the internet.” Barn name Gia was a yearling Irish Sport Horse whose breeder worked with Taylor for the purchase to be made, and Gia came to Texas shortly before turning 2. Unfortunately, she was still too young to ride and was thus turned out to pasture to grow, still leaving Taylor in need of a useable horse.
She was frustrated and a bit disenchanted for several months after Dream On sold and with Gia not yet ready. Luckily, Taylor’s parents recognized that she might need a “hail Mary” and helped her purchase one last horse. That horse turned out to be “the greatest thing since sliced bread,” Taylor laughed.
Coralanda Van De Ketse, aka Cora, a European import from Belgium able to compete at the level that Taylor wanted to be at, had been living in Florida. Taylor and Cora did everything from the Low Amateur Jumpers to a 1.50m Grand Prix. Now 21, Cora is still jumping strong for Taylor, who goes out of her way to ensure the mare’s comfort and soundness.
“Every time I think it’s time to retire her, she goes and jumps an amazing class,” Taylor said. “We’ll keep showing until she tells me she doesn’t want to do it anymore!”
Talent and Hard Work
Cora’s exceptional condition is a reflection of the care that Taylor puts into her horses. “The fact that she’s showing up and jumping big classes clean is a testament to her development and maintenance of Cora,” said former trainer and good friend Lauren Evans, who spent several years hauling to horse shows across the eastern United States with Taylor and now cheers her on from the sidelines whenever she can.
“She’s a very talented rider,” Lauren continued. “She’s adaptable, very hardworking and super easy to be around. She’s also got a string of young horses she’s bringing along right now that she can do great things on!”
That string includes Cora’s daughter, a 5-year-old named Sarelia—affectionately nicknamed Baby by Taylor’s dad—and Gia, who was unfortunately put on stall rest this past summer after Taylor and her veterinary team determined she had a lesion in her superficial flexor tendon.
“I was slow to develop Gia because she jumps massively, and I didn’t want her to scare herself!” Taylor said. “She’s pretty high strung, and I had noticed a correlation between showing and getting a dermatitis condition. Then we found the lesion. Now I’m just throwing everything at it in hopes she returns to sport!”
Around the same time Taylor’s parents invested in Cora, they decided to invest in property in Magnolia, Texas, that was not only suitable for them but also a location that would allow Taylor to have a secure facility out of which to build her business. What Taylor didn’t know at the time, however, was that her business would swing not just toward becoming a professional but expand to teaching clients of her own.
“When I first started, my intention was to get a handful of sale horses, with another trainer running a business out of other stalls,” Taylor explained. After transitioning to professional status around 2016, the requests for lessons and horse training flooded in, and she finally acquiesced.
“I didn’t envision teaching, but I’ve found I enjoy helping people that want to learn and try hard,” she said. “I enjoy the relationships built from getting to know the people, and watching the younger students grow into adults is interesting!”
Taylor teaches a small handful of clients, which allows her to develop strong relationships and balance the development of her young horse roster. It also enables her to be trainer and coach to her own daughter, Kennedi, who is now 12 and showing in the Small Pony Hunters, to the delight of her parents.
“I love Taylor to the moon and back, but there’s something really special about watching a grandbaby go,” Laura said. “It’s amazing to see the similarities between them. I’ll often catch them out joyriding with each other or walking down after a lesson.”
Taylor’s ability to stay flexible in the face of the many uncertainties in the equine world or the changes that come her way is truly a reflection of her dedication and love of the horses themselves. The exceptional work ethic she developed as a tween never dissipated—“Taylor is this little energizer bunny; she is very, very hardworking!” laughed Lauren—and she’s always been determined to meet the goals she sets for herself.
“I have personal goals for myself to be as successful as I can be at the highest level I can,” Taylor said. “Obviously I want to prioritize my daughter, so until she graduates, I’m going to stay in Texas. The cool thing about our industry is I’m not going to age out as long as I keep working. Whenever Kennedi is off doing young adult things, the world is my oyster!”
“She has always had a vision,” said Laura. “There have been many things where we said, ‘Figure it out!’ and she’s done it. She knows how she’s going to make her vision a reality!”
Taylor’s life course may have been determined with that fateful PowerPoint presentation, and she certainly wouldn’t change that now. Her family has been there in various ways, whether cheering her on at Pin Oak in Houston or making key property investments, but it would be nothing if not for Taylor’s undying work ethic and commitment to her dreams.
“Honestly, I don’t know what my life would look like without horses,” she said. “From the moment I started riding, everything has been either school or being at the barn. It’s the only job I’ve ever had and has shaped every facet of my life!”
For more information follow Manning Estate on Facebook and Taylor on Instagram @ManningEstate.
Photos by Kristie Scholten,