DeMott and Freddie ride at Sugar Run Farms in Plain City.

As competitive riding culture increases at UAHS, two students explore their fascination with the growing sport

By Victoria Slater, ’12

Her heart racing in time with the echoing hoof beats, junior Caroline Robinson directs her horse, Wittle, through precise Western reining movements. He glides into a sliding stop, a signature—yet difficult—reining motion and the surrounding crowd erupts in cheer. As horse and rider canter to the finish line, Robinson beams in both relief and elation. Wittle’s patterned movements were flawless, and they were sure to bring home the win.

Robinson and senior Megan DeMott are competitive horseback riders at UAHS. Both contribute extensive time, money and skill to their passion. The riders’ recent victories at local competitions, such as Robinson’s at the Central Ohio Reining Horse Association this past summer, are a result of many years worth of riding experience.

“I’ve been riding for about 11 years,” Robinson said. “I started riding after my oldest sister did an after-school enrichment program offered by Barrington Elementary. She rode and fell in love with it, then I tried it too and also fell in love.”

After six years of learning the art of Western equestrianism, Robinson began competing in various reining contests throughout Ohio. According to Robinson, Western riders must guide their horses through a series of rigorous patterns during reining competitions, including circles, spins and stops.

“At horse shows I’m required to go into the arena by myself and perform a pattern with different maneuvers to show off my riding abilities and my horse’s abilities, as well,” she said.

While DeMott also participates in competitive riding with her horse, Freddie, she prefers the classic English riding style, which includes show jumping, over Western reining.

“I fell in love with my first horse named Cash; he was a small paint horse that did both Western and English disciplines,” she said. “Yet, I preferred the English jumper discipline, because I wanted to jump over fences.”

While Demott’s style of riding differs from Robinson’s, her goal at competitions is the same: to demonstrate her horsemanship skills, which she has acquired from intense weekly training and comprehensive lessons.

“I go to the barn five-to-six times a week and have three lessons within the week,” she said. “A lesson consists of a 15 minute flat (without-jumps) portion and then 15 minutes of jumping courses and doing what you need to work on. My lessons can be hard; we have to work on my leg strength and core control so the horse stays balanced and so he responds to the slightest movements.”

While some may question if competitive horseback riding qualifies as a sport, Robinson elaborated on the substantial amount of time and athleticism the activity requires.

“In my opinion it’s definitely a sport,” she said. “People go to horse shows every weekend and dedicate their lives to horses and competing,” she said. “I spend at least five days a week riding my horse and working on different things to try and make all the maneuvers I do in competitions perfect.”

Photo courtesy Caroline Robinson

In addition to difficult skills, the sport of riding requires many other challenging factors, such as time and expense.

“The biggest challenge with riding is definitely how time consuming it is and how much it costs,” Robinson said. “It’s very expensive to maintain a horse. If you don’t have your own barn to keep your horse, you have to pay for boarding and buy grain and hay for them. You must devote a lot of time to caring for your horse.”

DeMott agreed that the process of maintaining her horse’s health and fitness is a significant aspect of her riding responsibilities. However, she explained that the journey to become a talented rider, itself, presents the most challenges. Falling off a horse is the leading cause of riding injuries, according to the American Medical Equestrian Association. DeMott explained that falling is a hurdle amateur riders must inevitably face.

“The saying in the horse world is that you have to fall off 100 times to be a great rider,” she said. “I have been bucked off, and my first horse fell at a show… I have had numerous falls, but I am lucky and have had no serious injuries and most of the time if a horse is sassy I just stay on and ride it out.”

While horses demand extensive time, money and attention, and can prove dangerous, Robinson admitted that the bond she shares with her horse, is one of the most rewarding parts of the sport.

“My favorite part of riding is being able to connect with my horse,” she said. “It’s really cool to have a horse recognize you by your voice and respond to you.”

DeMott also elaborated on how her relationship with her horse, enhances her riding.

“The best part about riding is my relationship with my horse, [and] the trust and understanding that you each must have to become one in a balancing act of trot, canter and moving through a course of jumps,” she said. “[Freddie] is brave and he can jump anything you put in front of him—big, small or scary.”

Senior Megan DeMott and her horse, Freddie, jump a fence during a lesson. DeMott practices with Freddie five to six times a week.

Robinson added that Wittle’s ability to comply with her direction and control plays one of the most important roles in her success as a rider.

“It’s especially important to establish control with a horse otherwise they may not listen and do whatever they want,” she said. “If your horse is doing something wrong or maybe refusing to do something, you need to know how to get the horse to understand what you need it to do.”

Robinson hopes that she will be able to rely on her success with Wittle in the future and pursue her passion for riding in college.

“Riding is definitely a lifelong sport,” she said. “Once you get into it you’ll never want to stop. I plan on doing it in college. Specifically I’m looking at Texas Christian University, Texas A&M and Auburn because they have great equestrian teams and I think it would be a great way to better my riding skills.”

DeMott, however, is unsure whether or not she will ride competitively once she graduates.

“I haven’t really thought about college and horse-riding,” she said. “ It’s a tough decision, financially [as well as] the amount of commitment needed for the equestrian sport.”

In the meantime, Robinson and DeMott plan to display their riding abilities at local riding competitions with hopes of victory. After all, Robinson said, winning gives the trials and tribulations of riding much more worth.

“When I win… it feels like all the hard work and time that I’ve put into riding has finally paid off,” she said.

Demott added her successes make every aspect of riding—no matter how challenging—fall into place.

“When you’re jumping your horse, it is the closest you will ever be to flying,” she said. “It is the best feeling after you just put down a perfect trip—everything comes together and you win a class, it’s the reward for all the hard work.”