By JEFF WOLFE
Special to SJSW
Grayson Link, an 18-year-old Paul VI High School senior, was named the 2020 New Jersey Equestrian of the Year by the New Jersey Equine Advisory Board this winter. Link represented New Jersey 4-H.
As Equestrian of the Year, Grayson will attend functions hosted by the New Jersey Equine Advisory Board and represent the Board at various events.
“Grayson’s love for horses, commitment to excellence, and experience in the equine industry is why she was chosen as New Jersey’s Equestrian of the Year,” New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas H. Fisher said. “We know she will be a wonderful ambassador for the Garden State and a great role model for individuals who are interested in equine.”
Grayson, who lives in Franklinville in Gloucester County, started riding on her 3rd birthday and began riding lessons at age 5.
She went on to be the 4-H Equestrian of the Year in 2019, the Gloucester County Equestrian of the Year in each of the last two years and to be involved in the 4-H horse program for 14 years. She also is a four-time champion and two-time reserve champion in the State Horse Show, has been President and Vice-President of the Little Bits 4-H Club, won the Mary and Fred Kossatz Scholarship Award and the Gerry Leonarski “Making the Best Better” Scholarship, was a Horse Management 4-H Fair Competition Grand Champion from 2013-18, and a Varsity US Equine Federation Athlete from 2017-2019.
“I was shocked at first when they called my name and I’m just overall honored and excited that they chose me to represent the New Jersey equine industry,” Link said. “I’ve been through a bunch of different competitions and it is incredible that I’ve been connected to these animals since I was 3 and to see that I’m representing New Jersey now.”
Link was also honored at a meeting in March of New Jersey’s Third Legislative District and the Gloucester County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
“This was a huge accomplishment for Grayson and it shows that hard work pays off,” Freeholder Director Robert M. Damminger said in a press release. “We are all very proud.”
“As a former athlete I understand how much hard work goes into winning these prestigious awards,” said Assemblyman Adam J. Taliaferro, a football standout at Eastern Regional High School and Penn State. “After hearing about Grayson’s involvement in the equine industry and community it’s no surprise that she is being recognized.”
Last year was a trying one for Link as her long-time horse Dandy, who she rode in competition, passed away in March and then her other horse, which was 32, passed away in August.
“Dandy was the horse that shifted my thinking into really wanting to do something in the equine field,” Link said of the solid Appaloosa.
Link ended up using her aunt’s horse Siona in competition for much of 2019. That aunt is Katie Pratt, who serves as Link’s trainer and was the last Gloucester County resident to win the New Jersey Equestrian of the Year in 2006.
“My aunt has been my trainer and cheerleader,” Link said. “She taught me that the connection with your horse is more important than ribbons and trophies.”
That connection is so important to Grayson that she hopes to share the benefits of being around horses with others in the future.
“I eventually want to become an equine therapist that uses horses as support animals to help people,” Link said. “Whenever I go to the farm, I’m able to escape everything. I see that horses have that connection with people and take away stresses because you can focus on what you are doing at that farm. I just feel at home there.”
Grayson plans to attend Auburn University and major in its Animal Science program with an Equine concentration. She also plans to compete with the school’s equestrian club team.
Link is also involved in several high school activities. While Paul VI recognized her equestrian competitions as a varsity sport, she is also on the varsity dance team, and in the national and Italian honor societies.
Link said her experience with horses has helped her handle other situations in life as well.
“Working with animals is quite a talent and you can learn a lot of leadership skills,” she said. “When you’re working with an animal, you know how your horse will react in certain situations. I feel like from riding horses so long, the skills I’ve learned can be implemented in life.”