Don’t horse around with me

These 1,200 pound horses have minds, bodies and souls of their own. Your objective: to learn how to trust, listen to and understand these animals, a skill not most commonly found in other sports. But over the years, equestrian freshman Natalie LaFantasie has built a strong foundation of communication with her horse, Celina, allowing her to win more than twenty competitions.

“Having my horse is kind of having a friend you can say. You really need them to work with them as your partner. You can’t just tell them to do something and expect they’re going to do it. They’re not going to listen to you if you don’t have any respect for them,” Lafantasie said. “If you respect your horse, it’ll give back the respect you deserve.”

LaFantasie’s love for horseback riding first started seven years ago, at a local ranch near her house. Her parents proposed that she should participate in more activities, and after several lessons, she decided to pursue the sport competitively.

“I remember the time my parent asked me to ‘Do you want to try that?’ I was like sure. Then I tried it. It was spur of the moment,” LaFantasie said. “I’d admit it was pretty cool trying to get to know my horse for the first time.”

With a short time of training, LaFantasie has excelled in local horse shows. For example, she took first in the 2012 McCoy Horse Show, receiving a title of Reserve Champion.

For horse shows, LaFantasie jumps hurdles at 2 feet and 6 inches off the ground and faces disqualification if the jumps are done incorrectly. Judges rate her based on two main areas: equitation, or her steadiness as she rides her horse, and under saddle, or the appearance of the horse.

“It’s kind of nerve wracking, because you can never really know what’s going to go wrong, for example, you can break equipment. It’s like all other sports, but it’s kind of really stressful because everyone else is like ‘they’re so good’ and I’m not going to get that. Then when you get it, you’ll feel really good,” Lafantasie said. “After competitions, it’s really about how I did. If I had a bad day, I’ll be okay and I won’t be a bad sport. [Most likely] I’ll be disappointed because I wasn’t able to do better.”

Lafantasie dedicates an hour, four times a week to practice with her trainer and horse. On a regular basis she must do certain exercises, which range from flat work, a simple walk where she directs the horse around the arena in a certain gate, to cantering, a two-beat action that exercises the horse’s legs.

“A few years ago I moved to this new training facility and [the trainers] have been a lot better. They’re really detailed. If I do one thing wrong, they’ll tell me and I would have to fix it right away. They have really high standards, so I to try to meet those the best I can,” LaFantasie said.

Along the way, LaFantasie’s parents have been consistent supporters, funding her to pursue this sport. Besides driving LaFantasie to and from practices and horse shows, her parents film everything so she has a source to look at for improvement.

“My parents have been really supportive. Because they’re spending so much money, I kind of really want to push myself so I can not put it into waste,” LaFantasie said. “I could look at myself now and see how much I progressed, or a few months ago I improved a little and see myself doing better.”

LaFantasie has been taking a break from horse shows, but she hopes to start again in 2016. In the future, she does not see horseback riding as a profession, but as a hobby.

LaFantasie has taken her experience to give herself an outlook to different aspects in life, like communication with people.

“This sport is something you can’t really get bored of because there’s always something new you can find to improve on. Sometimes you can just have a bad day and the horse will misbehave, but you’ll have something to strive forward to next time,” LaFantasie said.

By Jeffrey Tran, Staff writer

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