Jennifer Chapin’s dream came to reality when she and her husband, Deacon, bought their Wenham farm.
Known affectionately as “Jeffie,” she spent her life with this vision: to be surrounded by her horses, a home with animals, Deacon recalled.
She spent her childhood mesmerized by horses. An amateur rider, she continued to compete in horse shows as an adult.
“She was someone first and foremost who knew exactly what she wanted from life and didn’t really make any decisions that weren’t directly in pursuit of that goal,” Deacon told Boston.com recently.
When the couple moved to their farm about a year-and-a-half ago, it all came to a head.
“She was just like in absolute euphoria,” Deacon said.
In June, Jeffie began chasing another goal.
She left her job as a fourth-grade math teacher at Salem’s Bentley Charter School with the hope of finding a way to marry her passion for teaching and love of horses, according to Deacon.
“She was sort of in flux there, but as always she was on message and on brand with the decision she made,” he said.
That’s the path Jeffie was on, heading toward her future, when she suffered fatal injuries from a rotational fall at a South Woodstock, Vermont, equestrian competition in August.
She was 32.
Still, her family and friends may have found a way to bring another dream of hers to fruition.
Together, they have launched the Jennifer Wilkins Chapin Foundation — a fitting tribute they hope will give young riders with that same passion that burned in Jeffie a chance to succeed in a sport filled with significant financial barriers.
“I feel that it’s definitely something that is going to turn into quite a great opportunity for kids because there’s nothing like this really in the whole country,” said Babette Lenna-Gonyea, Jeffie’s former coach and close friend.
“We have nothing that develops riders that wouldn’t necessarily have the opportunity,” she added.
Owner of B Eventing, based out of Gathering Farm in Hamilton, Lenna-Gonyea met Jeffie about five years ago when the Chapin couple, married in 2014, moved to the North Shore from Sudbury.
Jeffie boarded her horses there at the farm before eventually moving them to one she could call her own.
Describing her as “a teacher through and through,” Lenna-Gonyea said Jeffie ultimately became a mentor to the young riders who took lessons there, displaying a fierce dedication to the sport.
“She was an adult amateur rider, but she had the sort of confidence and the competitive confidence of a professional,” Lenna-Gonyea said. “And so even for some of my adult amateurs, you know, she was a great role model.”
Jeffie, born in Baltimore April 27, 1987, was captain of the intercollegiate riding team during her senior year at Skidmore College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience, her obituary says. She was the Horse Show Association national champion in the Open Equitation Flat Class Team Competition in 2009.
With her horses, Ivan and Jack, Jeffie competed in about a dozen big horse shows per year, according to Deacon, who said the pair was “pretty much the light of her life.”
“She adored them,” he said.
Jeffie had competed in Vermont about a half dozen times — sometimes twice in a year — before competing in the Green Mountain Horse Association’s Festival of Eventing in August, according to Deacon.
Our family is feeling the loss very significantly … it’s this giant hole because of her personality, who she was, and what she wanted to give to everybody.
She completed the dressage and horse jumping phases of the competition ahead of the third one: a cross-country course with immoveable obstacles, he said.
It was while warming up for the feat while riding Joinem (Jack’s show name), a 12-year-old Thoroughbred gelding, that she suffered a rotational fall. Jeffie was brought to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center where she later succumbed to her injuries.
Jack was uninjured.
For years, Jeffie was a constant presence, an encouraging voice for Lenna-Gonyea’s students, including those Jeffie taught herself, she said.
She misses her everyday.
“Our family is feeling the loss very significantly,” Lenna-Gonyea said. “Everybody is, but it’s this giant hole because of her personality, who she was, and what she wanted to give to everybody.”
The dangers of the sport had always been in back of mind for the couple, Deacon said. But pointing to how news of her death ricocheted around the equestrian world with some coverage using the story as a means to question the sport’s existence, given its inherit risks, he said Jeffie would have other ideas.
“What she would want everyone to do in the wake of this is just go eventing,” he said. “Go eventing today, go eventing tomorrow: keep doing what you love.”
In fact, finding a way to grow the sport in a new generation was part of that last dream Jeffie had, he said.
The foundation in her name will work to do just that, according to Deacon. The initiative envisions supporting young riders between 12 and 25 years old in New England and New York “who want to sort of take their riding to the next area but find it financially prohibitive,” he said.
“It’s an incredibly capital intensive sport,” Deacon said. “The barrier of entry is extremely high and then on top of that even if you have the money for a horse and all of the equipment, then there are more barriers to the shows you can travel to.”
The foundation seeks to cover those kinds of expenses, from travel accommodations for horses and their riders to boarding fees — just a few examples Deacon outlined in an interview.
“Really what it is, is to take kids that have the potential and who are the right kind of kid, you know, hardworking, really love the animals and the horsemanship aspect of it, and put them on a path where they aren’t pinching pennies to try to improve their riding,” he said.
The foundation has a pending application to become a recognized nonprofit, which will allow donations to be tax-deductible once its approved by the IRS, according to a flyer Deacon provided to Boston.com. A website is still in the works, although there is an email address to reach organizers ([email protected]).
Within just a few weeks, the initiative garnered nearly $100,000 from between 250 and 300 donors, Deacon said.
“The response has been pretty outstanding,” he said.
Calling from her farm on a recent, sunny Friday morning, Lenna-Gonyea said Jeffie’s death still feels unimaginable.
But returning to Jeffie’s upbeat, determined spirit for inspiration, she’s working to move forward, she said.
Part of that path onward has come with accompaniment from Ivan, one of Jeffie’s beloved horses who Lenna-Gonyea is now personally competing.
“It’s a big honor. It’s very personal,” she said. “It’s something that makes me feel very close to (Jeffie). It makes me feel like I still get to be very, very connected to her.”
There’s other plans being discussed for Jack, Jeffie’s second horse, she said.
Like his owner, he has the makings of being a school master horse: a teacher for young riders, eager to learn, with passions of their own.