By Ruby Tevis
Mary Choate’s impact within the horse show community stretches far and wide. She’s a second-generation steward—inspired by her father, Tom Brennan, who was a steward for USEF and FEI. Mary was raised in a family of eight children on her parents’ farm in Charlotte, North Carolina. In middle school, Mary began hunt seat lessons and showed in hunters, jumpers and equitation with her first horse, Golden Fred. In 1980, Mary married her husband, Ben, and purchased a farm in Indian Land, South Carolina, where they would raise their son and daughter.
“My dad encouraged me to become a steward, and for that I am grateful,” Mary said. “My husband, Ben, has been extremely supportive, enabling me to pursue my career as a USEF and FEI steward.” Today, Mary and Ben have been married 42 years, and live in Heath Springs, South Carolina, about 25 miles south of their first farm. Now a grandmother to five grandchildren, Mary enjoys traveling and spending time with her family as they, too, have found a passion in horses.
Recently, Mary had the opportunity to work at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas alongside Production Manager Allen Rheinheimer. “My daughter, Kennedy Snyder, is his assistant,” Mary said. “To spend time with Kennedy and be involved in the NFR ‘behind the scenes’ was phenomenal.”
As Mary looks back on her career, she can’t help but feel grateful for the experiences she’s had, the friendships she’s made, and places she’s traveled, all because of her love for the sport. “I have had the good fortune to work at many wonderful shows over the years,” she said. Those shows include the World Cup, Devon, Pony Finals, Hampton Classic, The National Horse Show, Las Vegas National, WEF and many, many more. “Wow, how lucky am I?”
What are your best early memories of riding or with horses?
We had Shetland ponies, a lot of them. We rode them Western, bareback and hooked them to a cart. It wasn’t until I was in middle school that I took hunt seat riding lessons and my dad bought me a school horse named Golden Fred. He was a saint of a horse.
Any favorite horses over the years?
My favorite horse was a horse named Blackout. He was trained by George Wallace. I was very grateful that my parents supported me and afforded me with such a nice horse. I took lessons from Nora Cook in Charlotte, North Carolina. I competed in Equitation, Junior Hunters, Green Hunters and rode on an occasional trail ride. We competed at many shows and even qualified for Devon, Pennsylvania National Horse Show and the National Horse Show (when it was at Madison Square Garden). When I aged out of the Junior Division, Blackout continued to be shown by some of my sisters and brothers.
What is your favorite thing about being part of the horse world?
I cherish the friendships that I have made. I always look forward to spending time with colleagues and the different people I have met through horses. I am also fortunate to experience all levels of competition, from beginners to Olympians.
If you could tell every rider one thing, what would it be?
As a steward I cringe when we (stewards) are referred to as “police.” As a steward, I would hope to be identified as an advocate of the sport and safeguard the welfare of both horse and competitors.
If you had a week off, what would you do?
Ben and I would spend the time with our grandchildren. They are so much fun.
Who inspires you?
Barn clothes, jersey, blue jeans, boots
Something people don’t know about you?
My husband and I have owned and operated a cow-calf operation for years. We have two Angus-cross cow herds and bulls. I love this part our lives and being involved in the daily care and work this industry requires. We are proud of the calves raised on our farm. We are also blessed to have our son Brennan’s expertise and he lends a hand when needed.
What would be the best gift in the world?
I think there are two: the gifts of time and knowledge. As I have progressed in years, I realize how fast time flies by. Since I come from a large family, the few times we can get together are cherished. I never stop learning. We are constantly learning.