DOVER — Lily Turner, 13, understands what’s most important in a competitive riding career.
“I have to take care of me, but it’s imperative that I take care of my ponies because they do every thing for me,” she said.
“I have to be thinking of what they need and not overwhelm them with what I’m trying to accomplish. I want them to love me and for us to have a strong connection.”
The Dover resident, a seventh-grader with a straight-A average at Central Middle School, began riding as a 7-year-old and cherishes “the thrill of it. I love to jump and come every day to learn something. In riding there’s always ways to grow.”
Now comes the great unknown of competing in the Interscholastic Equestrian Association national championships less than a month from now.
The competition from April 21 to 23 in Lexington, Virginia has a unique format — a live, random draw determines which pony the athletes will ride. Competitors receive a one-line description of their new equine partner before a quick training session that includes just two warmup jumps.
The eight-jump course is plotted just a couple hours before, and proper instinct for finding a way in unfamiliar territory is at a premium.
Saddles, bridles and reins are provided for each horse, and can’t be adjusted or switched.
“I’m extremely excited because it’s one of the biggest accomplishments of my horse riding career,” Lily said. “I can’t predict what’s going to happen when I get there so it keeps me excited.”
With each big event comes trepidation, and next month’s trip south will be no different.
“I’m always a nervous wreck, but I can count on my ponies and the people around me for love and support,” Lily said. “When I get in the ring, that gives me confidence to do the best I can.”
The results have been good, including a Reserve Champion for Large Pony Hunters award in 2016 and Combined Eastern Shore Horse Shows title the same year.
Her introduction to an eventual passion was a bumpy one.
“I was thrown and almost had a concussion my first time on a horse,” Lily said. “My mom put me back on the next day and I haven’t stopped riding since.”
Lily stables her two mares at Fox Den Farm in Dover, and trains with Beth Steele. Prada is a 7-year-old Connemara/Welsh breed, and Touch of Blue (show name) Diamond (barn name) is a 16-year-old Paint Quarterhorse.
“My horses have a different personality every day, so I never know what to expect,” said Lily, who also found time to earn a second-degree karate black belt.
Each day after school, Lily heads to the farm to ride and train ponies for Ms. Steele. It’s not all a smooth ride — the
teen is responsible for mopping stalls, cleaning ponies and tacks, feeding and watering them, smoothing them over with a curry comb and more.
Mother Stephanie Preece sounds just as proud of the work ethic compared to her daughter’s competitive awards, maybe more.
“There’s never a time when she says ‘I’m not going to the farm,’” Ms. Preece said. “When she works in the stable or prepares everything, I stand and cross my arms and leave it all up to her.
“She eats, sleeps and breathes riding and taking care of the horses.”
At the urging of her daughter, Ms. Preece took her first horse riding lesson this week and was “unbelievably sore” for days afterward.
“It makes you gain an absolute respect for riders,” she said of taking to the saddle.
“You have to have a certain communication with an animal that can stop when it wants to. Even the slightest shift of weight or direction on the horse’s back matters and affects how the ride will go.”
Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org