A riding champ

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 27, 2005

On July 29, Kathryn Babineau met Moe, a large black thoroughbred horse, for the first time.

A few moments later, the two were on their way to the top of a national competition.

It was the Summer College Bound Invitational Horse Show in Newberry, Fla., and the King’s Fork High School student, a six-year veteran of riding, was looking for recognition.

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&uot;I wanted to get seen by some colleges,&uot; she said. &uot;I’m interested in riding when I get to college.&uot; Currently, 14 Division One NCAA schools offer riding scholarships.

The event started off with a flat competition, in which competitors take their equines through walking, trotting and cantering exercises.

&uot;You’re judged on equitation,&uot; she said. &uot;You’re trying to keep your legs steady and your heels down. You want your back flat, not leaning on the horse’s neck. You try to look relaxed, like you’re not trying very hard.&uot;

Teamed with a brand new partner, that wasn’t easy. Contestants drew their horse’s names, then met them.

Babineau brought up a horse called Lyric, and he was also a thoroughbred.

&uot;I’d never done that before – ridden a horse I’d never met,&uot; she said. &uot;I was a little thrown off – not literally – but I did well.&uot;

In a field of 18 teams, she and Lyric finished fourth.

&uot;I thought I could have done better,&uot; she said. &uot;I was happy for my first time (competing at the College event).&uot;

A few hours later came the Over the Fences event, in which riders lead their horses through a small equestrian course of jumps.

That’s when Babineau met Moe.

&uot;He was so beautiful,&uot; she said. &uot;He was very big, which was nice for me. If I got on a small pony, I’d look ridiculous.&uot; (She’s 5’10&uot;)

Stepping up to the track, however, Moe didn’t seem to share his colleague’s enthusiasm.

&uot;He was walking slowly,&uot; she said. &uot;He was tired from running all day. I was asking him very subtly to pick up the canter (so we could jump). I was like ‘Please, buddy!’&uot;

Fortunately, he got the message, and took her smoothly through the nine-jump, two-minute event.

&uot;It was a lot of fun,&uot; she said. &uot;You just have to pay attention. (Going over a jump), you have to lean forward and not pull on the reins.&uot;

After thy finished, she said, &uot;I felt incredible. I kept hugging Moe; I wanted to take him home with me. I didn’t even care if I won, I’d had so much fun.&uot;

She and the rest of the competitors – there were 15 in this event – went to the bleachers. Right away came the announcement: &uot;First place, Kathryn Babineau of Suffolk, Virginia!&uot;

&uot;I was in shock,&uot; she said. &uot;My mom came up behind me and hugged me, and my friends were hugging me. I was really excited. I would have been hugging Moe, but he was already back at the stables.&uot;

Later on, she saw some comments that the judge had written about the riders. One judge wrote that Babineau was the best they had seen at the show.

&uot;It opened up a lot of new doors for me,&uot; she said of the competition. &uot;I’ve already gotten a few letters from schools.&uot;

Between Fork field hockey games, she still rides a few times a week at the mini-equestrian course at her Crittenden Road home.

In November, she plans to take her fourth annual trip to the Virginia Horse Show Association Finals in Lexington, where she placed second in the jumping event last year.