Champions gathered in the home of Veritas Mission Films in Franklin, Tennessee. Barn owners and crew gathered with the Gregory family. These have been the support behind miracles surrounding Grace Gregory.
STORY OF GRACE
Where Autism and Dressage Meet
Grace Gregory’s birth was very problematic, the umbilical cord was knotted and wrapped tightly around her neck three times. As Susan and Barry learned, she also had several issues including severe reflux, numerous tactile sensitivities, significant speech/language delays, and eventually she was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. Parents of any special needs child will often face a long and difficult road in life. In this case, her parents saw this beautiful girl growing up facing many challenges. This multiplicity of issues created challenges for both Grace and the family. These would require professional services. Some families might have given up, but not Barry and Susan and especially not Grace. They all had a strong faith in God’s perfect plan for their imperfect lives and they persevered. This was key to having a belief for the future. Her parents were concerned how they could find a way and a place where she could flourish. Little did they know how many incredible people, special places, and unique events God would combine to write the Story of Grace. By the time Grace was seven years old she still had not voiced many words and her communication was not always understandable. Susan heard of a therapeutic horseback riding program called Saddle Up! from a fellow church member who had taken their special needs child to this same program. Saddle Up! works with the special needs community focusing on children. It was a long drive, but they began to take Grace weekly. She soon asked to go every day. She fell in love with the ponies, and she loved every minute she was there.
SADDLE UP! This is an amazing place of equine therapy where special needs children and horses meet together. The volunteers, the staff, and founder Lynne Evans were committed to helping others. For over thirty years, people in the Middle Tennessee community have risen to support this wonderful program by giving money, horses, time and beyond. So many special needs children have found equine therapy to help them overcome all kinds of physical and emotional challenges in life. This program is a perfect place to encourage children with certified disabilities whether physical, cognitive or a combination of both. When Grace met the horses, she began to open to a whole new world. Lynne Evans started training her and found she had a natural way with the horses.
Someone said, "The horses taught her to speak, and Grace taught them to listen," so there were miracles from the start. The combination was equally beneficial.
Saddle Up! services children through the age of 19 when they graduate from the program. At the age of 12 Grace had mastered the program and became the first participant to also be asked to volunteer. After winning the Volunteer of the Year award she was subsequently offered a position on the staff of Saddle Up! This was a groundbreaking moment for Grace and Saddle Up! It brought Grace further out of her shell, gave her a purpose and a mission while at the same time inspiring everyone around her.
SPONSORS Over time, God sent a very engaged army of generous friends and mentors to come alongside Grace. This is the real Story. It is impossible to adequately convey the level of unsolicited help and genuine care the Gregory’s were given. These were caring people who could see that she was excelling, and they voluntarily offered the help she needed to continue on this journey.
Horses in general and the sport of dressage in particular is complex and expensive. Without sponsors and support people, children like Grace would not be given the privilege to participate at anywhere near the professional level that she has. A number of long-term mentors also took Grace under their wings. Lynne Evans, the founder of Saddle Up! was there for Grace at every turn. Year after year she freely gave Grace the kind of expert tutelage and personal involvement that money cannot buy. She taught her lessons regularly, advised her on horses and equipment, encouraged her to keep trying, rejoiced in her successes, and consoled her when things didn’t go according to plan. In a very real sense much of Graces growth and achievement she owes to the gift of herself that Lynne gave her. Lynne is a real friend in every aspect of the word. Drea Groeschel was also a key person in this journey. She was a young woman who came to believe in Grace after they met at Pony Club. She took a special interest in really motivating Grace to do more than she thought possible. She helped Grace understand the drive and dedication necessary to compete in higher level mainstream dressage contests. Drea was an eye-opening trainer and a door opening advocate. Grace trained hard with Drea and started to see opportunities that she had not considered possible before.
Thanks to families across Middle Tennessee, people were donating, loaning horses and helping this family do something they would never be able to do by themselves. The Gregory family were the recipients of all sorts of support from many others as well. People such as Brent and Janel Maher, Sarah Ingram, Grace Johnson and Linda Albertalli played very key roles during this phase of Grace’s development. In fact, so many of the people who had helped Grace in the past have reengaged and again become involved with the production of this documentary and film about her life.
WALNUT TRACE Once Grace had invaluable experiences at Saddle Up!, and grounding with her own horse at the Maher’s barn, she moved on to the next challenge with Drea. Grace Johnson invited Drea and Grace to come work at Walnut Trace. Her facility is located on 200 beautiful acres containing a surreal combination of rolling hills, wildlife, and breathtaking views. This is just outside of Nashville, Tennessee in a picturesque setting which, ironically, is almost perfectly designed for movie production as well as horseback riding options. It is an eventing venue where Grace would continue working in and around the barns and arenas on the property. She was learning more about every aspect of the horse world and watching how barns were managed and horse events were held. All the while she continued honing her skills as a rider. By now Grace was fourteen and had the kind of hands-on experience that couldn’t be taught in a classroom. Clearly, with the basics being covered by Saddle Up! and Walnut Trace, Grace needed a perfect place to begin formal riding training and Lynne Evans knew just the place and the trainer.
Lynne Evans knew Grace needed to go to the next level with a world class trainer. She referred her to another barn where a world class trainer who was short listed for the Olympics and was 25th in the world in Dressage, Tami Crawford. She remains Grace's trainer to this very day. You can find Grace still working with horses from Traveler's Rest every week and their lifelong relationship with Drea Groeschel further blossomed. It was from this diligent training that Grace Gregory won her bronze and silver medals in dressage. She is now half way to her gold medal and is now focusing on finishing in this arena.
Grace has always been somewhat short in stature and doesn't have the normal body make up of a dressage rider, but she carries the regal elegance of one of the finest riders anywhere. At Traveler's, the barn manager said, "There are people who ride horses and there are real horse people and this is what Grace is." Even more amazing, is the perseverance and fortitude Grace has to simply be the best she can be. She pushes herself every day as she is in fitness training, waking up before the sun rises and with Susan alongside of her, the mother daughter team is a winning combination. This is the magic and secret sauce of living in a special needs family. Ryan, her brother and Barry are in the shadows and have always been supportive. Without the entire team, STORY OF GRACE would never have happened.
THE JAECKLE CENTER - EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
The EQUINE PERFORMAX center is unique and a brand the Jaeckle Center carries in Middle Tennessee. It is one of the finest organizations and world class facilities in the south. The founder, Teresa Jaeckle is a champion for equine healing, fitness, wellness and much more. Her Equine Performax standards enhance the horse's performance through state-of-the-art technology, therapy and rehabilitation. These veterinarian services and facilities are designed to improve the overall health and wellness of the horse.
Having seen Grace’s talent and success at the New York Dressage4Kids festival, Drea approached Teresa about taking the next step. This would entail finding and buying a much more talented horse for Grace. Teresa happily concurred and sent Drea and Grace to Florida to search for an appropriate horse. There they found the 6-year-old Oldenburg chestnut mare named “Latatiana.” This amazing horse, aka Bella, became Grace's "heart horse". They started their training together at the lowest levels of dressage and steadily moved all the way to training the Grand Prix, the highest attainable level in the sport of dressage. Teresa’s gift of Bella was another defining and life changing moment for Grace. It resulted in her being chosen to spend 4 seasons in Wellington, FL training with Dressage Olympian Lendon Gray, trainer Tami Crawford, and many other well-known and accomplished dressage riders.
Red headed mares can be a challenge at best and spicy opinionated Bella was no different! It took a joint effort of Drea Gunness, Linda Albertalli, Lynne Evans and Tami Crawford to keep Grace safe on the back of such an athletic and energetic mount. It didn’t take long to see that Bella loved and trusted Grace completely. Though this phrase is often overused, in this case, it was truly “a match made in heaven.” Once again Teresa Jaeckle has championed Grace’s cause. She now serves alongside of the Gregory and the McAfee families funding this endeavor with our sponsors and Co-Executive Producers.
LENDON GRAY - OLYMPIC CHAMPION
At the time, Grace could not see all the doors that the next step in her journey would eventually open. She was just shy of her 16th birthday when Grace and her mom went to the Dressage4Kids Youth Dressage Festival in New York. It was a trip orchestrated and accompanied by Drea and graciously funded by Teresa Jaeckle. While there, Grace met two-time Olympic medalist Lendon Gray. She is an international leader in the sport of dressage and founder of the non-profit Dressage4Kids organization. Her clients have included Olympians, celebrities like Glenn Close, and many stars in and throughout the New York area. Since Grace was the first ever special needs participant, and rode on a borrowed horse to boot, all of them were just thrilled to be there no matter how she placed in the competition. However, to their shock, amazement, and utter joy, Grace won the grand prize in her division of 120 competitors! It was a defining moment for all of them.
Lendon and Grace connected again when 19-year-old Grace was selected to be one of 14 riders across the nation accepted into Lendon Gray’s inaugural Winter Intensive Training (WIT) program in Wellington, Florida. For three months each participant was given dressage lessons and mentored by Lendon herself. It was “intense” and Lendon agreed that Grace’s mare Bella was quite a handful. However, she also saw all the talent they both possessed and was encouraged by their progress.
Grace and Bella were again awarded a spot in the WIT program the following year and worked hard to move up the levels. Lendon was so impressed with Grace that later she and Fern Feldman invited her back to take the position of barn manager for the WIT program. As a direct result, Grace was voted the "Best Barn Manager" of the winter season in Wellington, a great honor indeed.
Every family has a story and for the Gregory family the STORY OF GRACE is only beginning. They believe God is in control, life is not random, and sometimes miracles hide. He makes no mistakes. They believe this is the secret to purposeful living in a special needs family. Ryan, her brother, and Barry, her dad are often in the shadows, but they have always been fully supportive.
Without God and the entire team, the STORY OF GRACE would never have happened. There are Olympians who have competed in dressage at seventy years of age. Knowing this, Lendon encourages Grace to never give up, to never quit or stop believing in her dream. This is a huge challenge from Lendon, but no matter what the chapters are for Grace Gregory, we know Grace will overcome, just like she always has. Her character, her belief in God, and her desire to share the gospel with people around the world provides a solid foundation for her success.
If you would like to help financially by donating to STORY OF GRACE on the DONATE page, it would be a huge blessing to the special needs community in general and Grace in particular. Our hope is that VERITAS MISSION FILM ASSOCIATION can invest in Grace with a small monthly salary and help support the boarding of her horse for the next many years. You can sign up and with a credit card contribute monthly. You can designate monies directly to Grace to help offset her costs and you can also help to get this first production financed.
Our goal is to find 5 people who will give $150, $500 or $1,000 per month for a minimum of five years.
God bless you for giving. We also have openings for SPONSORS for Grace, so email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will get back with you. You can also schedule a call and ask for Lynn McAfee at 615-406-0539 today. It's time to begin and thank you.
Recently a group of friends and supporters of Grace all came together with Lynne Evans from Saddle Up to watch Grace ride with her trainer Tami Crawford. Enough cannot be said about these visionary women who have come alongside of this girl and have continued to have presence all her life. Colifa is the horse Grace is riding now since Bella passed. This was taken at Traveler's Rest Barn and is a glimpse into the daily world of Grace.
Grace is seen at Traveler's Rest each week working with horses in their training, rehab and riding areas.
Grace Gregory She carries a smile on her face every day as she inspires all who are around her. She is a quiet person, but once you know her, she has great humor and a fun personality. Serious minded in her equestrian activities she has become one of the finest judges in the Southeast and is being selected to judge in many areas of her life.
Executive Producer Teresa Jaeckle Teresa and her daughter Evie are an amazing force in Middle Tennessee and a voice for the horses. The Jaeckle center is a world class equestrian fitness, rehab and wellness center. Evie is finishing up her school in veterinary medicine where she will be providing services inside the Jaeckle Center. . .
Often after a long day of filming, our team will stop at Chuy's in Cool Springs and have great Mexican food. Grace is in the center and on the far right is make up artist Rebecca Buchholtz, Susan Gregory is pictured behind Grace along with Lynn McAfee, Executive Producer. Jim Gromer takes many of the pictures for us as he is hard working on every set.
Olympian Lynden Gray & Fern Feldman - Dressage4Kids Dressage4Kids founders pictured above with Olympic champion Lendon Gray and longtime friend Fern Feldman working with their non-profit to help young people everywhere. These are two of the finest champions of this industry who are vested in the life of Grace Gregory. Grace often says, that Lendon is the top of the leaders in this industry and she grows when they are together.
STORY OF GRACE BOOK Written by Susan Gregory and Dr. Kevin McAfee
In the tradition of our Omnimedia partner, a book is currently underway by Susan and Dr. McAfee. They will be working on the first draft of a manuscript over this next season while the documentary feature is under way. From a mother's view, Susan begins to unravel a remarkable story of miracles. Her faith, her love of family and the entire family devotion to Grace makes them a standard bearer. We are honored to bring this story to life and look forward to sharing it with a publishing partner, to take us into the future. Below Kevin and Susan are pictured at Saddle Up! to do more interviews where this story began.
Authors Dr. Kevin McAfee & Susan Gregory - Saddle Up! in Franklin, TN.