Shannon Venezia is the quintessential Recreational Habits woman. She is a mom of three, an accomplished horseback rider, trainer, and fox chaser based in Middleburg, Virginia. From a young age Shannon became enthralled with horses and all things equestrian life. After graduating high school she launched her own training program and attends fox chases through the countryside, competes in horse shows, trains other riders, and raises her three young kids. She truly does it all, and we were lucky enough to catch up with Shannon to discuss all things riding, race, and being an entrepreneur.
Can you share how you came to Middleburg, VA?
What brought me to Middleburg, VA, was my love of horses! My family was middle class growing up, we were very much not a part of the elite, but I was always enamored with horses and my parents saved up money to buy me my first riding package when I was 10. From then on, I was homeschooled and was able to finish my schoolwork early in the day and would spend the rest of my time at the barn working and riding; I actually worked off my riding lessons all the way until I was 18.
It is no secret that Middleburg, VA, isn’t very diverse, what was your experience growing up mixed race in such a white community?
I was always aware that I was almost always the only girl in the barn that looked different from the other kids. To the people of color, I wasn’t Black enough, I wasn’t Asian enough, I wasn’t White enough, so I was just me and focused on being the best version of myself as possible. For the most part people were accepting but I remember going into a tack shop when I was maybe 12 years old and feeling like everyone was staring at me and I felt very awkward.
Can you remember a moment where your ethnicity affected your experience as a rider?
A time I felt out of place was when I was buying helmets. I had big curly hair, and nobody really knew exactly how to get my hair under the helmet or a helmet that could accommodate my natural curls.
What happened after you graduated from high school?
My parents presented me with two options, one was to attend college and the second was to start a business. They made it clear that if I were to start a business that it would have to be done correctly, that there would be a business plan in place and a clear plan of action. That was when I opened my first riding school and I have been fortunate to be working in this field ever since from training, competing in shows and most recently attends regular fox chases.
How did you get involved with fox chasing?
I was approached by a farm to manage their fox chasing program six years ago and my goal was to expose junior riders to an alternate yet parallel world of riding. I wanted to promote the love of the countryside and how important it is to preserve the countryside and expose a new generation to the sport.
Fox chasing has been described as romantic in nature; can you please expand on that notion?
When you fox chase, you are connected to the animals. You are collaborating with the horses, the hounds, the foxes and the landscape. I have an appreciation for tradition and love Downton Abbey and Pride and Prejudice, so waking up the day of a chase and getting dressed in our ‘colors’, which are specific awards given out to members of note, is very exciting. There is a freedom and an adrenaline rush with fox chasing that is unlike anything else; something about galloping across stunning countryside with the huntsman's horn and hounds full cry makes my heart happy.
How does the fox chasing season affect what you wear to a chase?
In the Fall we want to blend into nature a bit so there are a lot of browns, oranges and greens, and then we enter formal season where we wear the more traditional colors such as navy, black, and red. As the season progresses from Fall into Winter so does the length of the chase. Typically chases last around 2 hours in the beginning of the season and by the time we enter Formal season, the chases can last anywhere from two to six hours.
Do you have to be an experienced rider in order to participate?
It is always ideal to have some riding experience before you join a chase, but we do offer chases that are catered to beginners that move at a much slower pace. There are barns that offer fox chasing training, so I would definitely recommend taking a few lessons first with a trainer before joining in on the chase so you can have the best experience possible.
What has riding taught you?
There is so much you can learn from working with and riding horses from patience, to responsibility, and always thinking about and caring for someone and something else aside from yourself. Of course, as the saying goes, ‘If you fall off, you get right back on’, and that is a great lesson in life.
Quickly before we leave you, can you share with us your favorite boots and breeches brands?
My favorite breeches brand is The Tailored Sportsman and my favorite boot brand is Sergio Grasso. Tredstep also makes a beautiful boot if you are looking for a more affordable option!
All images courtesy of Shannon Venezia, Erin Gilmore and Middleburg Photo.