Cindy Leahey Foster G.O. ’76 has ridden horses since she was practically young enough to walk. Her grandfather bought Foster her first pony when she was a young girl. And the alum started showing horses nationally when she was just 12.
Fast forward to July 2013, when Foster, now a horse trainer, made an impressive showing at the Chagrin Valley Hunter/Jumper Classic in Chagrin Falls. Five of her clients walked away champions.
“The Hunter/Jumper Classic has a lot of history to it, and I’m on the board of trustees for that show, so it’s very important to me,” says Foster, who herself competed at the show as a junior rider. “It’s the oldest grand prix in the country. That’s a significant historical landmark in our equestrian world, and it’s wonderful to have it in our backyard and have competitors who can be so successful at it.”
Foster has worked as a horse trainer for 30 years. She and Sergio Jimenez, her business partner of 20 years, started Foster Jimenez Show Stables in Newbury, Ohio, with the purchase of a farm in 2001. There, they train horses and teach kids, teens and adults how to ride. Foster gives nearly 40 lessons a week.
Buying the farm that’s home to their operation “was the best thing we ever did,” Foster says. “It’s difficult when you don’t have full control of your operation to be able to run things the way you want to. Now the buck stops with us. We’re the owners, trainers and managers, and we can service our customers to our full potential. It enables us to give them what they need when they need it.”
Creating the perfect horse and rider combination is a challenge, and rewarding when it’s achieved, Foster says. Depending on the horse and rider, it can take days, months or even years to prepare a rider for competition. “I can tell they’re ready when they let me know,” Foster says. “And when they do well, I can attribute their success to so many things. I don’t even know where to begin.”
Foster attributes her own success to being taught young by renowned horse trainer Howard Lewis of the Chagrin Valley Hunt Club. “He was among the most prominent horse trainers in the country,” Foster says. “He’s definitely a legend, and he was very encouraging.”
As a Glen Oak student, Foster took her passion to the school and started a riding club. Foster’s teachers recognized how important riding was to her and gave her the freedom to make it a large part of her life as a student.
“Glen Oak understood at what level I competed and the worth it brought me as an individual, so they gave me the freedom to travel,” Foster says. The school also allowed her to fox hunt with her mom every Tuesday and Thursday morning, even though it meant she wouldn’t arrive at school until 11 a.m.
“Glen Oak gave you the freedom and the encouragement to express yourself and pursue your goals,” Foster says. “You know, being in the equestrian world is not your normal life, and I think Glen Oak gave you the open space to find yourself and encouraged you to follow your dreams.”
Foster’s Glen Oak riding club was short-lived, but Foster says if interest in a Gilmour equestrian team were generated from this article, she would be willing to help launch it.
“With this world being so stressful, equestrian is a great release for grade school and high school kids as a sport,” Foster says. “Some kids have difficulty with group sports. As an individual sport, it’s a wonderful area for anyone.”