While other 10-year-olds were kicking around a soccer ball, Emmaus High School sophomore Jai McGlaun was kicking her feet over the back of a horse.
McGlaun first sparked an interest in equestrianism in elementary school, when she and her cousin took their first journey on horseback. Since then, she has progressed to more competitive aspects of the sport and has even earned a first place prize.
“It’s more difficult than ball sports because you have to control a heavy animal with just your body,” McGlaun says.
Over the course of three days, competitive equestrianism includes three main events: show jumping, dressing, and a combination of the two. Show jumping is the most action packed and visually engaging. In this event, riders attempt to jump over obstacles in the quickest time while avoiding penalties along the way.
Although show jumping is exciting, dressing holds the same value. Riders elegantly present themselves and their horses while performing predetermined skills. Seven judges rate the performance on a scale from one to 10, with the highest score winning.
After the dressing portion of the competition, the horses go racing through obstacles at high speeds in the woods. The final challenge of the event is jumping. At the end, the points from the three events are added up before a winner is crowned.
Despite proud memories like winning awards, McGlaun’s favorite moment was not her peak performance.
“My best moment was falling for the first time,” McGlaun says. “It gives you drive to do more. You aren’t officially an equestrian until you fall.”
Sophomore Loren Schoch has experienced her share of falls and injuries, including a few broken fingers from dropping saddles on them. Even more serious, Schoch cracked her tailbone when she was thrown over her pony’s head, landing on her back. Schoch now takes some precautions to prevent future injuries.
“I wear a helmet that I replace every time I fall, I keep my arms and legs covered, and I always wear glasses,” Schoch says.
Injuries will not stop Schoch from loving horses.
She leases two horses, one fat pony and one full grown horse. Leasing a horse allows her to ride them any time, but avoid vet or food expenses. Although she loves her pony, she enjoys her time with her horse, Sunny, more than anything. Schoch recognizes the strong love and connection required between the rider and horse.
“If you are scared, then the horse will be. If you are nervous, then the horse will be,” Schoch says. “The horse feeds off your emotion.”