It's almost impossible for Andrea Seefeldt Knight to deny the competitive urges that course through her veins.
At 52, the former world-class jockey from Sparks, who was the third woman ever to ride in the Kentucky Derby (1991) and the second female jockey in the Preakness (1994), has found something to slake her thirst to master yet another — and altogether different — sport at the highest level.
To that end, Seefeldt Knight has taken to wielding a shotgun to shoot sporting clays, which are clay discs propelled into the air as targets near a variety of shooting stations.
Each station is different, with the clays projected from different angles and heights. The layout of the shooting stations compare favorably to a golf course in that, just as each golf hole is different in length, shape and pin placement, so are the shooting stations and their trap placements.
The sport has become so popular with Seefeldt Knight and many of her friends and acquaintances that they are opening a Delmarva chapter of G.R.I.T.S, an acronym for Girls Really Into Shooting, that will hold its debut event July 26 at the 700-acre First Mine Run shooting club in White Hall. The group was founded by Elizabeth Lanier, who will be on hand along with members of her Virginia G.R.I.T.S. for the opening of the Delmarva chapter.
"It's going to be a lot of fun," Seefeldt Knight said. "There will be no competition and no pressure, just a lot of camaraderie."
And there will be no men there, either, at least until the women and their families mingle afterward.
Seefeldt Knight, who retired from racing in 1994 before making a brief comeback in the 2010, 2011 and 2014 Lady Legends for the Cure at Pimlico, won a whopping 604 races in a 13-year career while garnering nearly $8 million in purses and 37 stakes.
Included in her triumphs were seven stakes wins on Star Minister and the 1991 Pennsylvania Derby on Valley Crossing.
Seefeldt Knight also won her final race, the Lady Legends for the Cure at Pimlico V, which boasted renowned female jockeys such as Patti "PJ" Cooksey, a breast cancer survivor and the first woman to ride in the Preakness, and Cheryl White, the first black female rider.
"It was a real race on a real race horse,"Seefeldt Knight said. " It wasn't just show up and race. We had to get racing fit, and it wasn't easy."
Even that satisfying result for Seefeldt Knight could not lure the South River High grad back into racing, mainly because she knew that riding horses at that speed takes total dedication.
"After coming out of retirement for the first Old Ladies, or Retired Female Jockey's race, I was hooked and wanted to be a jockey again, but knew that was a ridiculous idea because of my age," said Seefeldt Knight, who suffered a variety of broken bones (collarbone, pelvis, vertebrae, sacrum) and a torn kidney while riding thoroughbreds. "I looked for and found a new addiction — sporting clays."
Besides, after moving to the North County area, she wanted to learn how to handle a shotgun for practical use on her rural Sparks land.
"There was a rabid raccoon on the property," she said. "I needed to find a way to protect myself and my pets if it came near the house."
It didn't take her long to pick up the basics of a new sport, mainly because she was used to such intense training regimens.
"Andrea has progressed very quickly as a shooter due to her understanding of how to effectively train and prepare," said her current instructor, Anthony Matarese Jr., of New Jersey.
Seefeldt Knight says she prefers blasting clay targets to actual hunting, meaning sporting clays participants are not necessarily looking to down birds or bag rabbits.
Regardless, she says, the sport is growing by leaps and bounds, so much so that she had no problem finding women similarly inclined toward firearms.
"I now teach and compete at tournaments and am only months away from becoming a master class shooter," said Seefeldt Knight, who originally started a women's shooting group called the Bangin' Bettys that met once a month.
With G.R.I.T.S., the hope is that it will expand into a national nonprofit with local chapters that could grow to be something as popular as Ducks Unlimited, she said.
"When the Nashville G.R.I.T.S. chapter had its inaugural shoot, 50 women attended, most of whom had never shot before," Seefeldt Knight said.
Laura Stees Pickett is one of the women who originally started shooting with Seefeldt Knight. She did so at the behest of Monkton resident Sheila Fisher, a friend of Seefeldt Knight's and the wife of famed steeplechase trainer Jack Fisher.
"Sheila's the one who got us started," Pickett said.
"Bill Pierce had a trap, and that's how the Bangin' Bettys began," Seefeldt Knight added.
Pickett, who takes lessons from Seefeldt Knight, will also be part of G.R.I.T.S.
During a recent lesson, Pickett showed off her shooting prowess by consistently blasting the orange clay discs from several different stations.
After her first hit, the Monkton resident said that her hands were shaking.
"There's a real adrenaline rush once you hit the target," she said.
When Pickett did miss one shot, she was quick to evaluate what went awry.
"I took my face off the gun," she said.
That, in turn, brought a smile to her instructor's face.
"I didn't have to tell her," Seefeldt Knight said. "She knew what she did wrong."
Seefeldt Knight said she wasn't always sure if teaching was for her, even though she completed a three-day National Sporting Clays Association course in South Carolina.
However, that notion has changed.
"I didn't know if I'd have the patience to teach someone else,"Seefeldt Knight said. "But I've found that it's more rewarding to help someone else hit a target than to do it yourself."
Pickett said that Seefeldt Knight's instructional manner is pitch perfect.
"She's very knowledgeable and patient," Pickett said. "She's a great shot herself and finds the right way to explain a situation."
Another Seefeldt Knight client and fellow G.R.I.T.S. member, Rachel Westerlund, said that, for her, shooting and relaxation go hand in hand.
"It's so easy to relax when all I have to do is concentrate on a floating orange disc," the Sparks veterinarian said. "Once I blow the target away, my blood pressure goes way down. It's just so much fun."
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