For Bella Smith, Fairweather Equitation Center is a home away from home. The 11-year-old spends three-plus hours a day there, happily cleaning the stall that belongs to her 1,500-pound best friend Tyia.
It is a labor of love, and Smith puts all those hours in for a purpose.
“I really want to be able to jump well,” she said, watching other riders from outside the ring on Saturday.
On Saturday and Sunday, the equitation center hosted the Fireweed Classic Horse Show after a 10-year break. A lack of community interest and funding caused the decade-long hiatus, but this weekend, it was as if it had never stopped at all.
Around 40 riders — ages 10 to 73 — gathered Saturday morning at the facility on Crazy Horse Drive to participate in English style riding. Riders donned formal white button ups and shiny leather boots with black show coats. To the uninformed spectator, one would think a foxhunt were about to ensue. Western style horse riding took the show on Sunday.
Horse shows are all about setting and achieving goals, and although every rider may not receive a ribbon, they can still feel proud about their efforts and accomplishments, show organizer Melanie Melvin said.
“Kids here in the Juneau horse community are not exposed to the same opportunities kids down south have with horse shows,” she said. “We are trying to become formalized like down south events.”.
Many riding styles have developed throughout the world and throughout time periods. Depending on what types of tasks were attempted, as well as the actual tack used to help accomplish the task has fallen into either an English or a western category. Within each of the basic styles however, there are subsets of disciplines.
Neurologist Susan Hunter-Joerns, 73 — a local horse community member of 24 years — participated in seven classes across English and Western styles over the weekend. She placed in all with her horse Dante, an 18-year-old Arabian. Hunter-Joerns and Dante held an air of sophistication and command during their time in the ring.
“English style emphasizes precision, while Western is all about relaxation,” she said, adding she enjoys doing both kinds of riding.
For the Fireweed Classic Horse Show, Lisa Gardener, a well-respected horse show judge from Roy, Washington, donated her time to judge the event.
“My favorite part is giving feedback and pointers to riders so they can improve and learn,” she said.
Mom Wendy Smiths, 40, and sons Andrew,13, and Alexander, 10, took to the ring in both English and Western style classes. This was the first show, they said, that was hosted like a show down south for Andrew and Alexander, which meant they could not be late to the gate.
Horse shows are family affairs — and not just for the humans.
Shadowfax, a Freshian/quarter horse, ridden by Aiden Pieten, 12, competed in both English and Western styles of riding and was accompanied by his mother Jetta, a 22-year-old quarter, ridden by Sonja Hendricksen, 31, Sunday during the Western style riding classes
Hendricksen has been riding for 20 years, all with Jetta which she describes as a “wonder horse.”
“She is my best friend,” Hendricksen said. “She has taught me a ton, she never says no, and she always tries her best. I am so happy that they have started to do shows again.”
Bella Smith competed in both days of the horse show in English and Western styles, placing in almost all her classes. Tyia the quarter horse, it turned out, could not compete due to an injury, but thankfully fellow rider and mentor Katina Holmberg, 41, let Bella compete on her horse Lexi, another quarter.
“I want the kids to be able to have all the opportunities they can to compete,” Holmberg said.
More chances to ride
The Fairweather Equitation Center will host another horse show on Sept. 16 and 17 and invites the Juneau community to join in for raffles and possible drawing for a free riding lesson. There will also be an open house for community members to interact with the horses and play games in September. For more information, contact Melanie Melvin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Erin Laughlin is a student journalist at the University of Alaska Southeast and can be reached at email@example.com.