Jessica Zoskey is one of Virginia’s top horseback riders

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 5, 2002

Christie Cherry is a veteran at training horses and their riders.

&uot;I’ve been doing this since I was about 18,&uot; she says, watching a rider and Arabian horse canter around the dirt circle of the Cherry Point Stables. &uot;The most important thing is to help the horses become responsive to the riders. The horse has to be disciplined enough to understand the rider’s cues.&uot;

A great deal of the communication between the horse and rider comes from the human’s natural ability, she continues. &uot;It doesn’t always matter how much you can learn from watching riding horses; it takes a lot of natural ability to read the horse’s body language.&uot;

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One of these years, Cherry will call it quits in the training circles. But she’s already got a backup plan: Jessica Zoskey.

A resident of Chesapeake, the 12-year-old has been riding horses for five years. &uot;When I was in first-grade, one of my friends was riding, and she got me into it,&uot; explains the Stonebridge School honor student.

She’s glad for the intervention; Jessica has been riding to one victory after another ever since. At the Fall Classic in early October, she won first place in eight out of 12 events. In 2001 and 2002, she was the U.S.A. Equestrian Half Arab Hunter Pleasure Junior Champion, and is the 2002 Virginia Arabian Horse Association Champion.

One of the first things that a new rider learns is called ‘equitation,’ says Cherry.

&uot;That’s when you learn where to place your body in the saddle, and where to place your ankles, legs, and even your chin, to communicate with the horse. Until a rider’s body is correct, they can’t use it properly. Jessica picked that up very quickly.&uot;

After learning how to speak to the horse with their body, riders take the next step with a drill entitled, &uot;Hunter Pleasure,&uot; in which they ride the horse around the circle. The horse walks at first, then moves to trotting, cantering, and full-blown galloping. Looks can be deceiving during this activity, Jessica asserts. &uot;The judges look for a horse that’s having fun,&uot; she said, &uot;but it’s a whole lot of work. I have to maneuver with my hands and legs, and help him follow my verbal and physical commands to change speed.&uot;

By the time the rider begins competing in Dressage drill, the horse is starting to take center stage. &uot;As a horse gets more educated, he’s able to utilize all of his forms and functions,&uot; said Cherry. &uot;Some horses really want to succeed, so you always try to pet them and tell them they’ve done a good job. When you walk into an arena, you can see their ears perk up. You can tell that they want to learn.&uot;

Three years ago, Cherry and Jessica were lucky enough to find a horse that was anxious to advance Jessica (and himself) through the ranks of showmanship: a half-Arabian, Half-Saddlebred named Frankly Supreme (Frank for short).

The story of how Frank and Jessica met rivals divine intervention. &uot;When my father Tony used to live in Pennsylvania, his mother used to baby-sit for the daughter of the neighbors across the street.&uot;

In 1999, Cherry learned of a horse that just might be a match for her young protg.

As it turned out, Frank was owned by the very people that lived across the street from Mr. Zoskey so many years ago.

&uot;Christie called me and said that she’d found an awesome horse,&uot; said Jessica. &uot;It was just the right match for me. People were asking if I really wanted him, and I was saying ‘I love this horse! I definitely want him!’&uot;

Just before the Lexington event, Frank let her know that he was ready to perform.

&uot;When I was riding him, it felt like we were floating. Everything was together; it felt like we could win a national championship.&uot;

They still might. But there’s a reason that Cherry jokingly refers to Jessica as her &uot;little retirement plan.&uot;

&uot;I’d really like to be a trainer,&uot; said Jessica. &uot;It’s so much fun to ride, but it’s just as much fun to teach a horse and rider.&uot;