Kendyl Tracy admits she got into grooming a little by default, but after several years as an eventing groom and multiple trips around the world with Lynn Symansky and her four-star horse Donner, Tracy wouldn’t have it any other way.
Growing up in Parker, Colo., Tracy got her equestrian start riding Saddlebreds with her sister Anisa, but they soon discovered Pony Club and the thrill of eventing and never looked back.
For her birthday one year, Kendyl received a week at Karen and David O’Connor’s O’Connor Equestrian Eventing Camp in Virginia, which led to a summer riding with them.
Both sisters competed at the FEI North American Junior and Young Rider Championships multiple times, with Anisa winning individual gold in the CCI* on Tigger VIII in 2007 and Kendyl earning bronze on Mr. Incredible.
Kendyl went on to compete at Young Riders four more times.
During her last two years of high school, she moved to Virginia when Anisa went to college at James Madison University and became her legal guardian. She worked for Jan Byyny at her Surefire Eventing and got into grooming by helping head groom Lizzy Olmstead.
“I worked under her and took everything in that I could from her. She eventually moved on and it was an open slot. My friend Meghan O’Donoghue also played the same role. We didn’t necessarily have ‘head groom’ written on us, but we filled that spot,” she said.
Kendyl learned the ins and outs of grooming at major three-day events and started competing a new horse, RF Cameron Velvet. When she was ready to find a new place to board the gelding, she went to Symansky’s Handlen Farm in Middleburg, Va., in 2013. Symansky was looking for an extra set of hands for the Florida season, so Kendyl started working for her part-time, which eventually turned into a full-time job.
Kendyl, 25, competed RF Cameron Velvet to the two-star level but has recently decided to sell him as a dressage horse since he wasn’t going to be competitive at the upper levels. She has a 5-year-old off-the-track Thoroughbred that she’s bringing along, and appreciates being able to work towards her riding goals while working for Symansky.
“Lynn is awesome to accommodate that for me. We just have to be careful how we plan our horses’ competition schedules. We have an amazing team back home too, so if Donner has a big competition and has to be gone for a month, I 100 percent trust the girls back home. Kelty [O’Donoghue] is amazing, and the horses always feel amazing when I come home,” she said.
Between herself and Kelty, they keep Symansky’s barn in good working order. Kendyl said she does everything feeding to mucking to pulling weeds, and enjoys it all.
“[Lynn is] great to work for. She’s really fair to us and very accommodating in letting me ride and groom. We all work together. We have an amazing facility. It’s a very good team,” she said. “I appreciate a small program. It definitely fits my personality better. I feel like every horse can get taken care of the way we all want them to and everyone knows what’s going on with all the horses.”
While Kendyl loves every horse she cares for, Donner has a special place in her heart. “I adore Donner as my own. He’s like my child. I would do anything for him,” she said.
Together, she and the 14-year-old Thoroughbred (Gorky Park—Smart Jane, Smarten) have traveled to the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (France), the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials CCI**** (England), the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials CCI**** (England), the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** and the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in Brazil, where Symansky was an alternate.
“He’s taken me so many places I never would have guessed—the WEG, the Olympics. My favorite event was Burghley just because he really liked it there, and he was such a good boy. It was such a cool venue. He’s just really shown me the world,” she said.
Kendyl gets to ride Donner on his easy days, hacking or doing light flatwork.
“I always joke that he likes it when I ride him because I kind of let him do what he wants!” she said with a laugh. “I do everything with him on the ground. He can be a bit quirky but that’s kind of what I like about him. He’s not always easy to deal with. You just have to laugh a little bit at him but not let him do something stupid to himself. He’s not a horse that gets turn-out, so we do a lot of grazing with him. He’s very sensitive to everything, and he’s always allergic to everything—it’s all intensive, but I love his personality and his quirks and everything about him.”
In 2016, Kendyl was honored to receive the Professional Riders Organization’s Groom of the Year award, as well as the U.S. Eventing Association Christine E. Stafford Eventing Groom Award at the USEA’s Annual Meeting and Convention in Florida.
She’s not sure what the future holds but is hoping to continue furthering her riding while grooming. “I like to take something from everybody and every situation and every program to try to better yourself. You can never know everything with horses. It’s always something new every day. Everyone has something to offer and every situation has something to offer, so I appreciate that about the job,” she said.