BILLINGS – Thirteen-year-old Alexa Williams has known she would be a show-jumper for 13 years.
“I’ve kind of been born into it – my grandma, my aunt, my mom, they all rode,” said Williams. “But I got into it, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop.”
This is the biggest week of Williams’ equestrian life. She and nine others from the White Aspen Ranch riding center in Billings are in Auburn, Washington at the Pony Club National Championships, competing in the arena for the first time in the team’s history.
“We’re really excited. We’ve all wanted to do this for a very long time,” said Williams.
“It’s kind of nerve-racking, too,” said Kate Campbell. “We’re going to a new place we’ve never been, with our horses, too, so it’ll be quite the experience.”
Head coach Emily Brester says the nerves don’t just come from the riders.
“You’re dealing with a horse with its own mind, and it doesn’t know what’s going to happen all the time,” said Brester.
That can be especially tough for a rider on a new horse. Campbell has been on Alec for about a year but has loved the challenge.
“I love how you can communicate with a 1,300-pound animal, and you’re going over jumps on a whole course with him,” Campbell said. “Just how you can have this connection and this bond.”
Williams doesn’t have to worry about communication with her horse, Huey.
“My mom has had him since before I was born,” she said. “He’s 20 years old this year. I have ridden him my whole life. I started out with little lead-line classes, where my mom led me around the arena. He knows what he’s doing, and it definitely builds your confidence knowing that your horse is confident, too.”
That starts with a good trip out west, which logistically isn’t easy.
“Lots of hay,” laughed Brester. “Also, making sure the horses have electrolytes for the haul. Lots of snacks for the girls, as well.”
But it’s all worth it for the feeling in the arena.
“The thrill of it, and the experience of it,” said Campbell. “I get to be doing this with my friends, and it’s just going to be a lot of fun.”
The Pony Club Championships West run through Sunday.