Claddagh Manor provides chance to saddle up

After taking over the program, Claddagh Manor has brought the equestrian team to the next level


Grant Sharretts

Junior Selina Petronelli practices a jump at her farm during practice. Petronelli has been part of the team since her freshman year and placed eighth at nationals last year.

“I never would have expected this to be the biggest and most important part of my life,” junior Selina Petronelli said.
Petronelli has lived her whole life on an 110-acre horse farm named Claddagh Manor. Now, not only does Petronelli get to experience this life, but many of her classmates do as well.

Back in 2004, when Petronelli’s sister Lauren Moran, class of ’08, was a freshman, there was no equestrian team. “We started the team at John Carroll, and at that time, we just competed at local horse shows. It was more of a club sport,” varsity equestrian head coach Denise Petronelli said.

After Moran left, however, the team was taken over by another farm. According to Denise, that farm unfortunately didn’t encourage their team members to ride as much as team members do now. “When we left in 2008, there was a strong number of riders, and when we inherited the team back to our farm, there were only two on the team. This was due to the fact that the other farm didn’t make the kids ride every day, like we do here,” Denise said.

The sport is governed nationally by the Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA), which all riders and coaches have to join in order to participate in competitions. The team competes against Oldfields, St. Timothy’s, McDonough, and Garrison Forest.

After Selina came to JC in 2014, the team gained more people through the years. “We have a good group of 15 kids now, which is much better than the two we had when Selina started,” Denise said.

Fellow rider sophomore Haley Ferguson loves coming to the farm and riding each day. “I love practice, the setting, and all the people on the team,” Ferguson said.

I first looked at John Carroll because they had an equestrian team, and after that, it only made me love it more.

— Sophomore rider Haley Ferguson

The intention behind the sport is to gave students who want to ride the opportunity to do so without having to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a horse.
“Some kids are just handed a great horse, and all you have to do is just sit on its back, and it does everything you want. The way we do it is the positive to all of this. That rider is made to appreciate the animal for what it is,” Denise said.

At IEA competitions, all riders have to draw for horses the morning of the competitions and ride with the horses they draw. According to Denise, what sets the riders apart is the ability to control horses that they have never ridden before.

Although equestrian is practically unknown, according to riders it’s arguably one of the most demanding sports that JC offers. “What people don’t realize is that our season runs from September all the way until March, which is when our post-season starts, running all the way to April,” Denise said.

Now, equestrian is receiving interest from middle schoolers who want an opportunity to ride. “I already have confirmation of five or six students coming to JC next year that will participate in equestrian, and at least three of them are coming strictly for the sport, because without that you must go to Baltimore County to ride,” Denise said.

“I first looked at John Carroll because they had an equestrian team,” Ferguson said. “After that, it only made me love it more.”
Eighth graders that intend to ride will start practicing and getting lessons at the farm in the summer. This is mandatory in order to prepare for the upcoming season that will ultimately start in September.

Selina plans to go to college with a scholarship for equestrian in the future. “I don’t want to go anywhere too far. I intend on coming back and helping my mom out with coaching the team,” Selina said.

Selina believes that growing up the way she did brought her and her family closer together, as they work each day with all their animals on the farm.
“This is my whole life, horse showing and training, and I’m grateful it gave me the opportunity to spend time with my family, because we become closer each day,” Selina said.

Grant Sharretts is a Sports Editor for The Patriot and