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Life of a horse girl

Hannah Gustafson tightens the girth, strapping her saddle securely to her horse Eva's back. They were getting ready for the St. Jude Medal jumping class at Win-A-Gin Farm in Oxford, Mi. (click for larger version)
August 21, 2013 - By Meg Peters

Review Staff Writer

The girl and the horse already have quite the intuitive relationship.

"When you put the bridle on she yawns, and does everything so she doesn't have to be ridden," 16-year old Lake Orion rider, Hanna Gustafson laughed. "Usually she doesn't do this, but today she is just deciding that she has to sneeze a lot."

Today was a big day for the duo, the last day at the Win-A-Gin Farm horse show in Oxford. For three days riders compete in two rings, jumping a variety of fences, while being tested for accuracy, efficiency and presentation of the ride.

Snot blew everywhere as Eva attempted to relieve an itch in her nostrils, blowing gusts of breath all over Hannah's navy jacket while tacking her up.

It was only Hannah and her oldenburg-thoroubred mare's fourth horse show ever at Win-A-Gin Farm in Oxford, which is little compared to some of the riders who have been competing with their horses for years.

For Hannah, it wasn't about the ribbons anymore.

"She had a horse she did very well on. She won championships with everything and now she said "no, I want something else, it's not all about winning,'" Anne Gustafson said, Hannah's mom and co-pilot through the horse world. So they took a trip down to Virginia four months ago, a horse-girl's dream, to hop on horse after horse and make a pick.

"I was looking for a hunter (style of riding) that was smooth, and knew how to move and work for herself, and the second I started trotting and cantering."

It only took a twenty-minute ride and Hannah knew Eva was the one.

But there is more to horseback riding than hopping on, spurring and riding off into the sunset. It is sharing a language that is communicated through body movements, pressure and eyesight.

This is what the judge's look for in the ring, how well the rider and horse communicates.

Hannah and Eva—show name Acapella—entered the St. Jude's Medal Class Sunday morning, as both practice for the mare and as a way to share the joy of horseback riding.

"This is a great opportunity for the kids to give back to the kids, kids helping kids," Anne said. The forty-dollar entrance fee of every participant went 100 percent to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, TN.

Sally King, owner of Win-A-Gin farm, offers the St. Jude Medal class every show, after the Saddle-Up division of the hospital called her farm and asked if she was interested.

"Most people do Saddle-Up trail rides to raise money," she said, but began offering classes at her horseshows instead because it was easier for everybody.

King has raised $1,000-$2,000 for every Win-A-Gin horse show over the past 16 years.

Riding has been therapeutic for Hannah—like most riders—too.

"She used to be a little wallflower, and she has come out of her shell. I think this, they get a sense of worth, for this," Anne said. "I think the horse community is so small they just have camaraderie, they have respect for each other because they have respect for their horses."

With ten fences set up, a jumping course full of slow and quick turns, Hannah guided Eva from fence to fence, 2 foot 6 inches high, and jumped each, if not flawlessly, beautifully.

Although Hannah and Eva didn't get a ribbon, they had an experience.

"I thought my course was very nice, considering I have a young horse, but, there's obviously stuff that I could have improved on myself, but I was happy with it," Hannah said.

The thing is, when you first start riding, you never stop. Even without a horse, you dream about it, feel it in nature, see it in open fields.

"I think it's been a part of me for so long, it's just of like there," Hannah said.

Even Anna couldn't exactly pinpoint it.

"This is not her life. It's her passion."

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