by Regina Welsh

©Katherine O. Rizzo

Any given Sunday from August through March, one can typically find 15-year-old Erin Swope whipping-in alongside her father Ben with the Carrollton Hounds. And every Saturday and Sunday after foxhunting season is over, one will most likely find the father-daughter duo at a steeplechase race.

Erin made her first race start aboard Blueberry Muffin at the Howard County-Iron Bridge Point-to-Point Races in the Junior Field Master’s Chase in 2009. She now boasts 70 starts over fences and on the flat with a 44.29 win percentage! Erin has also collected several year-end awards through her years as a junior jockey including the Hopeful Hunter Award and the Junior Foxchasing Award, also awarded as part of the Governor’s Cup Series.

One can often catch a glimpse of the South Carroll High School sophomore showing the ropes to new junior jockeys at the races, as well as getting them excited about foxhunting. It is no wonder that Erin Swope was chosen as the recipient of the 2013 Jonathan Kiser Memorial Scholarship presented by the Maryland Governor’s Cup Association.

A Family Tradition
“I always thought it would be amazing if I ever won the Kiser scholarship. Ever since I started racing it has been a goal of mine to someday win it but I never thought it would actually happen! I was absolutely shocked the night of the awards because I had no idea!” Erin said.

Erin with her dad Ben Swope, whipper-in for Carrollton Hounds and steeplechase jockey and trainer ©Sandy Rohwein

Erin’s father rides, owns and trains his own steeplechase horses, so her love of the sport came to her fairly early in life. “I have been around horses and involved with them my whole life,” explained Erin. “I would say that I have always been ‘hooked,’ but if I had to pick a moment, it was probably when I started foxhunting at the age of four. It would be freezing cold out and I still wouldn’t want to miss a day.”

Because of that dedication and determination, Erin has reached many of her goals. From her first pony to her favorite mount thus far, Jordan, they’ve all taught Erin. “Jordan has been my favorite pony so far because before Jordan I had a small pony who was my first racing pony and when I moved up onto a larger pony, it gave me more opportunities like participating in Foxhall and jumping some bigger fences,” Erin stated. “I rode Jordan in the fast time over fences hunter pace series with my partner, Cassie Frederick, and we won the series! Also I started whipping-in on Jordan.”

During the 2013 race season, Erin rode in 19 races with three mounts. Her race record with her favorite, Jordan, is impressive, with seven wins out of 10 runs. Erin transitioned into horse races with Sweet Talking Guy, finishing second several times. She also rode Ameri Weber to win Restricted Young Adult Flat races at both Orange County and Old Dominion.

Camp Experience

Erin and Jordan were on the winning optimum time team at the 2013 Foxhall Farm Cup ©Bob Keller

Erin took full advantage of her Kiser scholarship benefits and found that both the Steeplechase Camp and working for the late Tom Voss to be “amazing” experiences. For most kids in the summer, schoolwork is exchanged for flip-flops and pool time. But for Erin, she rolled up her sleeves and worked harder than she does during the school year!

The six-day summer Steeplechase Camp sponsored by the National Steeplechase Foundation and run by U.S. Pony Racing, kicked off in Middleburg, Virginia at Great Meadow, home of the Virginia Gold Cup. Erin was joined at camp by fellow junior jockeys Jacob Crotts (Sumter, SC), Taylor Leatherman (Union Bridge, MD), John Brophy (Oxford, PA), Sabrina Brown (West Grove, PA) and Avery Smith (Baltimore, MD). An instant friendship was formed among everyone in the group. They traveled from Virginia to Butler, MD, Unionville, PA, and Saratoga Springs, NY, working and riding for top jump trainers Neil Morris, Doug Fout, Jack Fisher, Alicia Murphy, Leslie Young, and many more. Days started early, typically at 4:40 am and ended late, but it was all worth it to Erin.

“The camp was important to me because it allowed me to work for trainers in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, which was cool because I have raced in all three states and am familiar with all the trainers,” said Erin, adding, “Camp also allowed me to meet many other jockeys and people my age. It was fun to go to Saratoga to watch some great races, and even watch the horses work in the morning.”

Erin showing legendary flat track trainer D. Wayne Lukas some pony racing videos ©Regina Welsh

In addition to the country’s top steeplechase trainers, Erin met the legendary D. Wayne Lukas while at Saratoga, getting an up-close look at 2013 Preakness Stakes winner Oxbow and 2013 Eclipse Award winner Will Take Charge. “I picked up some tips from [Mr. Lukas’] riders, like how to hold really strong horses. It was a great opportunity and experience,” remembered Erin, who – thanks to her smart phone – even got to share some Maryland pony racing moments with Lukas himself.

Tom Voss’ Last Kiser Kid
The steeplechasing community suffered a tremendous loss with the death of champion trainer Tom Voss. Voss, who was also a mentor to the late Jonathan Kiser, had opened up his home and barn to Kiser Scholars since the scholarship’s inception in 1999.

Like the other Kiser kids before her, Erin found the experience a little nervewracking at first. “He was such an amazing trainer and all of his horses are top notch. I really didn’t want to make any mistakes,” she explained, adding, “I really learned a lot from riding his horses and picked up a lot of helpful tips from the other riders there. I have always wanted to know what it’s like to work for a big-time trainer like Tom Voss and getting the opportunity to do so was incredible.”

Erin’s favorite moments from her week at Atlanta Hall was getting to ride good horses like Left Unsaid. “I never dreamed of getting the chance to gallop a horse like that,” she said; “I also liked being able to talk to Mr. Voss at dinner about my future in this sport.”

Erin, pictured here in from of Armata Stable’s training board, was the last Kiser Scholar to have the opportunity to train with the late Tom Voss. ©Regina Welsh