“I would have to tell you that Escobar and I have the closest bond. He was my first horse and I’ve had him the longest. He introduced me to the national circuit and was the sweetest horse for me to learn on,” Gabrielle Peterson said of her horse Escobar.
Peterson, a senior in high school, has been show jumping for six years.
“I loved doing the tourist trail rides while on vacation and I knew I wanted to do more. Moving around takes a lot and it causes you to sacrifice some things you like,” Peterson related about how she started riding.
“My mom always made a point to make sure everyone in our family had a ‘good’. She meant that in any new environment, there had to be one thing that was better than at our last home. When we moved to Texas my ‘good’ was being able to take riding lessons,” she added.
In show jumping, the athletes ride their horses through a course that they have to memorize beforehand. There are jumpers and hunters. Peterson is a hunter, meaning that her courses generally consist of eight to 10 jumps and the main goal is to make the ride through “effortless and pretty.” Peterson also has to manage the technical aspects such as having a certain number of strides in between the jumps and having a specific leg travel out further to lead the horse.
There is also a flat phase the hunters do which has all the participants gather in the ring, where a judge will call out and ask for a walk, trot and canter.
Peterson travels to many different shows throughout the season, notably to regionals and nationals.
“I really like the national shows though because they are decorated and run so nicely; plus the competition is always excellent at those shows,” Peterson explained.
“The regional shows are also fun but after a while you start to know everyone on the circuit so it is nice to widen the field and show against other people at national shows,” she added.
So far, Peterson’s favourite show to compete in is the Country Heir in Kentucky because “the show grounds are beautiful and there is always really strong competition.”
Unlike soccer or hockey, show jumping requires the athlete to form a bond with their horse.
“Having a good relationship with your horse is everything. We ask so much of our horses and they listen out of choice. If a horse doesn’t like you or doesn’t respect you as a rider, then he’s not going to listen. You need your horse to trust that you will give them a good ride and that when you’re in the ring the two of you are working as partners,” Peterson said.
“Horses will perform differently for certain people and they will be at their best when they really love their rider. Just like how people want to do well, horses also want to please their riders and show off,” she added.
The bond between a horse and a rider is very special and you can tell how much a horse trusts their owner by how clean the ride looks.
“Horses have their own brains and opinions. If your horse really cares for you, they will truly jump their heart out for you. Many times, you can tell how strong of a bond a horse and rider have based off of how much effort the horse gives their rider,” Peterson explained.
Throughout her showing career, Peterson has shown on three separate horses: Escobar, Aiden and Tino.
Peterson has bonded with all three horses, but she says Escobar is the horse she has the closest bond with.
“When you’re dating someone you never forget your first love, and it is like that when buying horses. Your first childhood horse always holds a special place in your heart. Escobar and I have such a close bond because I cared for him so much and, as a result, he trusted me more than anyone else,” Peterson said.
Since Peterson is still in high school, her training and riding usually occur mostly in the summer and on the weekends during the school year.
“Most of my lessons are flat lessons, meaning we don’t jump. All of your riding comes from the flat and you need to have good control over your horse before jumping. The jumps are only obstacles in the ring, and doing the flat work is how you get around,” Peterson said.
Like many athletes, Peterson has grown as an athlete and as a person throughout her time of showing.
“I have learned so many lessons through riding, and one of those would be the value of hard work. Riding takes a lot of practice and there is always more to learn,” Peterson said.
“You also need to be flexible and know that you’ll have to try something many different times or ways before you get it. But if you work hard and persevere, the reward and outcome is always worth it,” she added.
Peterson’s main motivations are her horses and her trainers.
“My horses are my main motivators. I so badly want to do right by them and give them good rides. My horses always give me their best efforts and I want to be able to return the courtesy,” Peterson said.
“My trainers also motivate me because they are so encouraging and such good trainers. I want to ride well for them and make them proud,” she added.
Peterson is currently riding Aiden.
“Aiden is so much fun to ride. He has a huge step and jump. He can jump over anything. Aiden is the least lovey out of the horses I ride, he’s more business. But I love spending time with him regardless and I know he’ll always jump his very best for me,” Peterson said about her bond with him.
In between Escobar and Aiden, Peterson rode Tino.
“Tino is a total puppy dog. He is the sweetest horse I have ever met. I care about him so much and he definitely knows it. He is a silly horse with so much personality. Whenever you scratch him, he’ll take his lip and lightly scratch you back. Tino knows that I am his kid and if given the chance he’d follow me around where ever I go,” Peterson described of her bond.
Peterson’s plans for the future in showing are unclear as she will be graduating soon. For now, she’ll be staying in Texas and finishing the showing year.
“More than anything I’d like to take a horse with me to college and keep riding,” Peterson said.