High in the saddle

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 29, 2005

On Sept. 16, Selkeyvia Curtis prepared to ride against the best the state had to offer. At the 44th annual 4-H State Championships at the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington, over 550 participants gathered to go for Virginia’s top honors.

Sound intimidating? Not to someone who’d won eight local competitions and the Southside Equestrian Club title in the past three years.

“I thought it would be a piece of cake,” said the Forest Glen Middle School eighth-grader. “We’d just ride the way we always rode.”

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“We” was the team of Selkeyvia and her thoroughbred partner Riding Star, whom she met about two years ago while training at Beech Hill Stables in Dinwiddie.

“I learned how to control the horses,” said Selkeyvia, who started riding three years ago. “At first, my mindset was ‘He’s just an animal. He’s not going to protect me and take care of me!’”

That changed when she saw the Star.

“He refused to jump the first few times,” she said. “He was confused. My body language told him not to jump. Once I started trusting him, we made a pretty good team.”

Over the next few years, the pair competed in over 30 local events, finishing first or second in 17. They won the Southside title, and finished second at the nearby Hunter Lane Stables event. But Selkeyvia considered the Lexington show to be their biggest venture yet.

Taking on other 13-year-olds, Selkeyvia led her equine through a riding drill.

“It was a very relaxed ride,” she said. “You ride with the reins, and you show that you don’t have to pull or tug. You walk, trot, canter, stop and back up. It’s not as easy as it looks, but you just stay relaxed.”

It was enough n they won the Large Hunter/Pleasure Horse Junior Rider Division, and the ribbons and trophy that went along with it. She was far from finished n all the champions and second-place finishers from the event took place in a separate event, and Selkeyvia got ninth out of 15.

But the event was about more than riding n in the weeks leading up to it, she’d had to prepare a project about horse management. Selkeyvia’s work centered on tapeworms and other parasites that afflict horses. She got a medal.

Star’s temporary home was judged on its own form of management; ribbons were handed out based on stall care.

“They checked to see if your water buckets were topped off,” Selkeyvia said. “They checked if the stall was clean, and the horses were happy.” Hers was judged among the best, and she got another blue ribbon.

Now that she’s home, Selkeyvia still travels two hours once a week to practice with Star; in August, they’ll head down to Raleigh for Southern Regional competition, in which they’ll take on the best from 13 states.

“Once you get hooked and love the sport,” Selkeyvia said, “you form a bond. Falling does hurt, but it comes with the territory, and you just get up and dust yourself off.”