By Matt Wiley
Emma Shaw is a 14-year-old “hunter.” She and her animal companion travel around the state and country, combining their talents to win championships. But, these are not the kinds of championships one might think of when the term “hunter” is usually thrown around. Quite the opposite, in fact. Shaw is actually an equestrian.
Together with her horse, Farasi — a 13-year-old Hanoverian Warmblood — the duo traveled from Cory Lake Isles in New Tampa to Saugerties, NY, to compete in the 2012 Hits-on-the-Hudson Marshall & Sterling National Finals from September 12-16, where she was second in her division.
“It feels really good,” Emma says. “It was such a good experience. There are so many horses around, but you have to focus on you.”
Hunter is a term for a form of English horse riding, in which the rider and the horse have to jump a series of fences, as often seen in the Olympics. They are judged on their movement and form, rather than on speed.
The Marshall & Sterling league, which is sanctioned by the U.S. Equestrian Foundation, holds more than 2,000 competitions throughout the country each year to determine the nation’s top 60 riders, who qualify for the National competition. Shaw was ranked second going into the finals.
Once the finals begin, all previous slates are wiped clean and the top 60 in the country face off. From the 60 that make it into competition, only the top 12 make into the final round. Shaw and Farasi placed 5th in the first round, securing a spot in the second and final round of competition.
In her final round, Shaw scored better than all of her competitors, but, since the winner is determined by combining both round’s scores, the rider who ended up ranked ahead of her was able to squeeze by and win the competition by a 0.75-point margin, out of the 176 total points available.
“We were on pins and needles watching that last girl ride,” says Shaw’s mother Michele.
Despite not clinching the overall championship, Shaw was named Reserve Champion and was awarded a victory lap, as well as a large sash and ribbon, to commemorate her impressive performance.
Shaw, an eighth grade student at Terrace Community Middle School, a charter school on E. Fowler Ave., has been riding since she was five years old. She says her love of horseback riding can be traced back to watching “Spirit,” an animated horse film, when she was a child. She says her interest couldn’t be contained.
“When I was five, my parents put me on a horse because they thought I would be scared of it,” she recalls. “But I wasn’t.”
Just a year later, she was taking part in her first competition.
“When you’re that young, you’re basically just walking and trotting,” she explains. “You have to work your way up to jumping.”
But, considering she spends three to four days per week training after school at the Cheval Equestrian Center, located less than thirty minutes away in Lutz, it’s no wonder that she is now dominating the competition.
“It’s very time consuming,” says Michele of the after-school training and three weekends per month of traveling to competitions around the state.
Shaw says that balancing school with her riding schedule can be tough, and that she sometimes finds herself doing homework at the barn with Farasi, whom she calls “her giant teddy bear.” But, she doesn’t mind.
“I just love being with my horse,” she says. “It’s my hobby. I love it.”