Senior passionate about unconditional equestrian sport

By Morgan Steinbach — “My horse is smarter than your honor student.”

Senior Julie Pawson is currently in her ninth year of horse back riding. Of the nine years of riding, Pawson has been competing in timed races for six years.

After going to the Stark County Fair and riding a pony at age seven, Pawson knew she wanted to take riding lessons.

As a result, she was given a paint quarter horse. Her horse, Joey, is adorned with black, white and brown spots.

“Having a horse is like having a sibling. They live for 30 plus years and once you’ve had them for long enough you start to speak for them,” Pawson said.

Pawson began taking lessons and keeping Joey at a local stable called Creaking Willows located on Market Ave. During her lessons she was taught the basics of horseback riding including balance, how to control the horse and how to maintain him.

“The most important thing you learn during lessons is how to not fall off,” Pawson said.

The most recent and important lessons that Pawson has participated in are called contesting lessons. During this time she was training for pole-bending and barrel-racing.

Pole bending is one form of racing competition that entails six poles being lined up in a row and racers have to weave in and out of them.

Racers line up with the clocks and run as fast as they can up the lane to the sixth pole. Then, they turn around the last pole and weave in and out of the six. Next, they turn around the first pole, weave up and through again and finally race down the lane again through the clocks. A half-second penalty is added to the time of any racers that hit a pole during the race.

A time that is considered ‘good’ for this event is about 16 to 18 seconds. Pawson’s fastest time is 22 seconds.

Barrel racing is another race that Pawson is involved in. This race has three barrels set up that racers have to maneuver around. They are situated in a triangle formation. Competitors start outside of the triangle and race through the middle around the top barrel. They proceed to come down and around the left or right barrel, and cross over to the opposite barrel. Finally, they come up and around the top barrel once more, through the track and across the time clocks.

Some of the faster times in this are 14 to 16 seconds.

There are other ‘fun’ competitions that racers can compete in. One of them is called ‘Ball in the Barrel’. ‘Ball in the Barrel’ is when a racer has to hold the ball in one hand, steer with the other, go around a barrel and throw the ball in.

Pawson’s greatest accomplishment was winning a ribbon in this event with a time of 16.49 seconds. To Pawson, winning is not everything.

“I horseback ride mostly for fun. If you go out and your only intention is to win, it takes the fun out of competition,” Pawson said.

There are two general forms of riding horses; one is called ‘Western’ and the ‘English’. ‘Western’ riding includes more informal competitions and is Pawson’s form of choice.

‘English’ riding style is a formal competition where horses and riders are judged based on appearance and their precision while performing certain tasks such as dressage. Dressage is a choreographed dance for the horse to do with the assistance of their trainer. The dance could include the horse going in circles or cantering in place.

“I took a few dressage lessons [for English riding]; they were boring. Western riding has a lot more speed and excitement,” Pawson said.

With speed comes danger. One of the most important components to horse back riding is safety. An essential piece of riding gear is a helmet, although some competitors are equipped with knee pads and chest protectors as well. With the heads of riders being about eight feet off the ground, falling off the horse with no protection could result in serious injury. Pawson has reported that her friend from the stables fell off of her horse before a competition without a helmet. Her friend was diagnosed with a concussion and lost six hours worth of her memory. Pawson has also experienced the dangers personally.

“I decided to run with Joey, lost my balance and fell off head first on to the ground. It was like a light switch went off. I woke up six feet away from where I fell off. Luckily, I was wearing a helmet and did not get a concussion”, Pawson said.

Currently Pawson enjoys riding leisurely and has cut back on the amount of competitions she is involved in. With working at Wendy’s and being involved in the Fire Science career tech program, she has little time for training. Also, winter is not the season for horse back riding and competing. Riding in cold weather is hard on the horses muscles and joint and could result in sickness.

In the future, Pawson hopes to buy a horse trailer to be able to travel to nationwide shows with Joey. She also hopes to move out west to a more horse-friendly environment and continue riding for pleasure.

[Updated Aug. 7, 2017: This article has been reformatted for consistency.]