Charleigh Read’s favorite memories come from the saddle, or, out of the saddle, as it were. Her first pony, Party Girl, hated water. Charleigh remembers flying through the air and landing in her dad’s arms after the pony demonstrated her contempt for puddles. It’s one of her first memories and also one of her fondest.
Now 12, Charleigh lives at Atoka Farm in Marshall, Virginia, with her mother Kristy and father Chris. While she keeps that particular memory with Party Girl in a special place, her favorite is the time she hunted first flight and jumped everything in the field. It’s an admirable accomplishment for anyone let alone someone Charleigh’s age. Then again, some might say she has an old soul, and that a life with horses has fostered remarkable maturity.
To be sure, Charleigh knows her priorities, which is why when the opportunity to pursue her Pony Club C1 rating fell on the same day as the Junior North American Field Hunter Championships, she chose the JNAFHC without hesitation. When her own horse, Griffin, showed his preference for the show ring over the hunt field, she found the right mount to safely get her where her heart lies.
Charleigh rides with Haley Walsh at Daffodill Hill and is typically the first to arrive and the last to leave the barn, especially on hunt days. “Charleigh knows that tack has to be cleaned, and horses bathed and checked before hunting day,” Kristy said. “Sometimes she helps get two or three horses ready. Haley is so confident in her that she doesn’t have to watch over her. She knows that the job will get done correctly. I can’t think of another 12-year-old who’s trusted so much.”
Charleigh also helps Haley conduct lessons with younger riders. While most early adolescent preteens rage and sass, somehow Charleigh has avoided that behavior—her mom thanks the horses and the lifestyle.
“I think it’s because she’s so busy and tired,” Kristy says of her 7th-grade daughter. “She holds the horses for the vets and farriers and cleans a stall better than her own room. She rides seven days a week and asks the bus driver to drop her off at the barn after school.”
Kristy rode in her childhood but took a break when her family moved to Saint Louis when she was in ninth grade. With the rest of her family in the saddle now, she picked up the reins like she’d never put them down. Now, as she watches how horses have shaped Charleigh’s life, it all means so much more.
Charleigh joined the Casanova-Warrenton Pony Club this year, the same Pony Club her father came through. He also participated in mounted games, which is how Charleigh witnessed firsthand “how fast they went and how fun the relay races were,” Kristy says.
Charleigh qualified for the Hilltopper 11 and Over division at this year’s finals in mid-November at Whitewood Farm in The Plains, Virginia. She rode Haley’s trusty Leo The Lion to an impressive sixth-place finish in the competitive division.
Charleigh represented the MOC Beagles at this year’s championships and often helps whip-in during hunts under the watchful eyes of Nina and Beth Fout. “Leo is a super sweet pony who listens well and keeps me safe while hunting,” Charleigh explains. “He is very patient with other horses and doesn’t mind leaving the pack. He also tolerates the younger puppies.”
Charleigh, who has aspirations of being a jockey and a vet, doesn’t second-guess her decision to wait until next year to pursue her C1. She loves the thrill of the chase more than anything. “The best part about hunting is when the hounds go into covert and start speaking and you get to run up the covert line,” she says.