Grier School introduces new head of riding department

Emily Zientek is the new head of the riding department at Grier School, along with assistant riding instructor Connie Brown.
“The biggest thing I’m trying to reinstate is a horse show atmosphere,” said Zientek of her goal as head riding instructor.
Grier School has always had a strong riding program, but Zientek plans to make it better.
Born in Texas, Zientek lived out of the U.S. on and off until attending college at Meredith Manor International Equestrian Center. The school has approximately 250 horses and focuses extensively in courses of study in riding, teaching, and horse and barn care.
“They get a lot of young horses there that can’t be trained for whatever reason,” said Zientek. “You go on the first day, and there’s a schedule and your training horse that’s never been worked with, and you have to get it there.”
She also completed her graduate training at Meredith Manor, and the level of difficulty increased in dealing with the horses.
“Instead of getting a two-year-old horse, you might get a 14 year-old who was involved in a trailer accident, and your job is to take them 15 miles down the road in a trailer,” explained Zientek.
She took a sabbatical from her graduate studies to move back to Texas and work for Colonel John Russell. He is a two time Olympic medalist and is in the International Show Jumping Hall of Fame.
Russell also has ties to the late, Jimmy LaRosa of Birmingham. LaRosa worked as the riding instructor at Grier for many years and is considered by many as a local legend. Colonel Russell taught LaRosa how to ride in the equestrian section of the military.
Zientek aided Russell while he coached the riding team for the world championships and Olympics. The Olympic modern pentathlon team which consists of running, swimming, shooting, fencing, and show jumping also trained there. Zientek showed horses all around the U.S., Mexico, and Canada and coached students for Russell.
With this experience, Zientek is ready to focus on the riding department at Grier School.
“Once I got here, I really loved it, and the people were really great,” she said.
Zientek has many goals. She is leading the renovation of the stables, focusing on the care and health of the horses, and trying to get the students more motivated and involved in the riding program.
“There’s always going to be the diehard riders… I’m trying to make the program broader, so there’s something for everybody.”
During the day, Zientek trains between three to four horses, takes care of the shoeing and veterinarian needs, and oversees the building of new jumps and barn renovation. The barn staff, local businesses and local trainers have helped her immensely in the transition into her new position.
Zientek is in the process of preparing the program so that someday soon Grier School can have horse shows again. She is also getting ready for the riding camp that starts in the summer.
“It doesn’t just have to be for Grier. It’s a big part of the community. It’s people’s backyards. I want to see people be proud of it,” she said.