Next was Moose, a more patient and competitive horse, though Ms. Ward resisted the idea of infidelity. “Happy is the love of my life,” she remembered telling her parents. “I’m cheating on him. How dare I?” Eventually, she came around to Moose, and the horse excelled at her early shows; Ms. Ward was a nationally ranked junior hunter jumper less than two years after beginning riding.
There were more horses — Bling, Voltaire, Onassis, Ludwig Storgaard — and spills leading to a torn anterior cruciate ligament, a neck brace, too many concussions to count. Along with that came more ribbons, more prizes, more rankings. By 2008, when she and Onassis traveled to the Pennsylvania National Horse Show, she finished at the top of her class, taking home grand junior hunter honors.
“It was an incredible experience. I’ve never felt so proud of my horse,” she said. “I mean, I don’t really remember it because I was concussed, but I’ve seen video. People always focus on football and the concussions suffered there, but it has really affected my memory.”
Years later, in October 2013, there was one more horse, a miniature pony that Ms. Ward, 27, spent the afternoon trying and failing to catch in the pastures of her family’s farm on the outskirts of Atlanta. Ms. Ward had graduated from the University of South Carolina (where she was a member of the equestrian team for one year), working to become a riding teacher, but she could not catch this little wily beast. At the end of the day, tired and wearing what she describes as a tattered pair of riding breeches, a dirty outfit covered in “horse slime,” she met her sister, Mallory, at Laseter’s Tavern for a drink and some trivia games.
Laseter’s is a casual place in Vinings, Ga. On that night, it was full of regulars, including Mr….