Laura Connaway had a dilemma.
A fourth generation horsewoman whose equestrian roots stretch back to a great-grandfather in the Danish cavalry, Connaway grew up riding and backing young horses at her parents’ farm in Little Rock, Arkansas. As a junior, she competed in the hunters, jumpers and equitation on a Thoroughbred-Quarter Horse cross her mother found and the family trained.
But when Connaway started thinking about where she’d like to see her riding career go, a problem arose: the price tag.
“I went to college, and I kept riding, but I didn’t have the funds to really show much, so I kept riding and training and devising a plan,” Connaway said. “As a junior I always had the most success and the most passion for horses that I started from the beginning; you’re just so committed to the animal, so I knew if I could just up the ante and the quality of the animal I would have the best shot to compete at the level I want to compete at.”
Connaway graduated and got a job editing technical reports for an environmental consulting company. In the evenings she started laying the groundwork to open her own equine insurance agency. She saved money to purchase a promising young horse, and in the meantime, she stayed sharp in the saddle aboard off-the-track Thoroughbreds she bought at auction and trained at her parents’ farm.
“I did my first grand prix around that time on a Thoroughbred named Zip Code,” Connaway said. “And the second horse I got to that level was another OTTB named Dansk, whom we bought as a 2-year-old for 350 bucks. After them I thought, ‘OK, I’m going to step back for a bit and see if I can up the quality of the horse I have.’ ”
Connaway saved enough money to go to Europe with a plan to find the best 3-year-old in her price range. She came home with Ceranova. It was five years before Connaway was ready to seriously compete the Holtseiner mare (Calido I—Juno F).
“It does take a while before you’re going to shows, but I really enjoy all the work on the ground and all the training it takes to get there,” Connaway said. “If you’re going to do this sport like this you have to love that daily work.”
By the time Ceranova was starting to step up, Connaway had left the consulting firm to start her own insurance company, Connaway & Associates. Ceranova moved up the ranks, hitting the top of her career in the mid-2000s with placings in national grand prix and high amateur-owner jumper classes.
When it came time to start developing her next big horse, Connaway looked no further than her own barn aisle—she bred Ceranova to the Holsteiner stallion Quite Easy I. Ceranova’s foal, Ceralena, grew up at Connaway’s farm in Little Rock, Arkansas. The property abuts her parents’ old farm and serves as Connaway’s home, work and stable all in one: her insurance company’s offices are housed above the four-stall barn.
“It’s quite a big, busy office,” Connaway said. “We employ eight people, so everyone comes to the farm, and when I’m home I’m working full time, and when I’m at shows I set up a remote office in our camper. I have a guy who helps with cleaning the stalls and turnout but I do all the grooming and training myself.”
Connaway added one more broodmare to her farm, Funny De Liere, by Quat’Sous, and bred her twice to Quite Easy. Fast-forward nearly a decade, and the three horses Connaway currently competes in the high amateur-owners and grand prix are all horses she bred: Ceralena (13), Quite Funny (11) and Quintard (9). In May of 2019 Connaway and Quite Funny completed their first FEI grand prix in Tryon, North Carolina, jumping clear over the fences with just 2 time faults.
“I adore all three of those horses, but I would have never bought any of them as a 4-year-old or 5-year-old,” Connaway said. “They didn’t look the part at all, and I think when you’re buying something at that age you want to see something flamboyant. But if you already own them your goal is just to make sure they develop into as good a horse as they can, and that’s what I tried to do with those three.”
To date, Connaway still owns every horse she’s bred except for one.
“I really respect people who can flip back and forth from the hunters to the jumpers; I found it really challenging,” she said. “The foal Ceranova had before Ceralena really took to the hunters, so I brought him up through the AO hunters and then sold him to a wonderful lady who still has him.”
Connaway, 54, meets up with various professionals at the horse shows but does most of her training at home.
“My best friend Sandy Gregory is really tops at flatwork; she’s a fellow amateur, and she tries to get on them at least twice a year just to check in to see if they’re straight,” Connaway said. “And I have a wonderful friend Joyce Metzler who is my eyes on the ground and comes to the farm every time the horses jump.”
Looking toward the future, Connaway is excited about starting the next crop of young horses—her breeding program is now in its third generation with a foal out of Ceralena on the ground ready to start—and continuing to compete into their golden years with her current homebred string.
“One of my huge goals is to have a top horse that’s happy and sound and really happy to do their job when they’re 18; that’s got to be the ultimate goal,” Connaway said. “I have clients who have horses like that, and it’s such a testament to the horsemanship and horse care.”
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