Hannah O’Brien carries on family riding tradition


Photo provided by Hannah O'Brien

Hannah O’Brien (’19) jumps a fence while fox hunting with Mount Caramel Hunt Club. She started fox hunting before she started show jumping.

Sarah Borton, Reporter

Some athletes have grown up with a ball at their feet or a lacrosse stick in their hand, but Hannah O’Brien (’19) has had a horse by her side.

“I live on a horseback farm, so I’ve been riding my whole life,” O’Brien said.

Both of her parents are involved with horseback riding and the family owns about eight horses.

O’Brien fox hunts and competes in jumper shows and pentathlons.

In fox hunting, participants on horseback follow a pack of hounds who chase the scent of a fox through the country side.

“You have to be an excellent rider [to fox hunt],” Stephanie LePree, trainer and owner of LePree Stables, said.  “You have to be very well balanced and be able to stick on your horse and get through sticky situations because you’re going very fast.  There’s a lot of unknown obstacles out there. The hounds can pop out, you have to be ready for anything.”

From fall to spring, O’Brien is fox hunting practically every weekend, but during the summer, she is show jumping.

“[Show jumping] is a competitive sport of jumping a course of fences,” O’Brien said.  Between fox hunting and show jumping, she said she prefers show jumping because, in total, it involves more jumping.

LePree said riders must overcome the fear of falling off; they are on a 1200-pound animal that has a mind of its own.  She said when the rider falls off, they should get back on the horse and keep going.

“You have to push it in the back of your head,” LePree said.  “The way I do it is I just go through my list – my skills list on what I’m supposed to be doing on the horse and that’s just like my zen.”

Along with fox hunting and show jumping, O’Brien competes in pentathlons during the spring and summer.  Pentathlons are comprised of fencing, 200-meter freestyle swimming, 15 equestrian show jumps, and a combined event of pistol shooting and cross country running of 3200 meters. She will be traveling to Colorado to compete at the national level for pentathlon and hopes to do some additional sight-seeing while she is there.

Some of the rider’s role models include her mother, steeplechase jockey Mark Beecher, and Suzanne Stettinius, a pentathlete who represented the United States at the 2012 Olympics in modern pentathlon.

O’Brien’s mother is one of her main coaches, but she does not train every day during the school year because due to her being a member of Towson Merit’s swim team in the fall and the varsity track team in the winter.

Tetrathlon is also included in O’Brien’s horse events.  Tetrathlon is a variant of the pentathlon, comprising of the events of pentathlon, minus fencing.

“Last year I went to championships for tetrathlon and I went in as the underdog and came out as the winner, so that was exciting,” O’Brien said.