Teen Is High On Horses

July 12, 1994|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Sun Staff Writer

Tricia Smith, a ballerina with a Philadelphia ballet company, was forced to abandon dancing when her father was transferred and the nearest ballet school was five hours away.

But she may have found something she loves even more.

After arriving in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., Tricia, 12, traded her ballet slippers for riding boots and became a competitive athlete in eventing, an equestrian sport that combines cross-country racing, stadium jumping and dressage.

Now 15 years old and living at Fort Meade, Tricia has qualified for the November championships at her level in Area 2, the six mid-Atlantic states, of the U.S. Combined Training Association.

"I love the speed, and I love running and jumping," she said.

"She is a very devoted rider, for her age a very serious rider," said her dressage teacher, Ingrid Gentry of Dayton. "I think she has been doing very nicely, in comparison with the tools she had."

Tricia rides Sir Louis, a gray 10-year-old Irish thoroughbred/Irish warmblood cross she found, undernourished, when she was working in a riding stable near Fort Ord, Calif., where her father was stationed.

"They called him Pokey," Tricia said.

Tricia fed him vitamins and taught him jumping and the delicate movements of dressage.

"It's like ballet for horses," she said. The slow, controlled movements test the animal's suppleness and obedience.

Tricia is now working on lengthening the stride of Sir Louis' trot, to give the impression the animal floats on air.

Dressage is the event that requires the most training, she said, but she enjoys the adrenalin rush produced in cross-country, a race of about 2,000 meters that takes horse and rider over a series of obstacles in about 5 1/2 minutes.

"Ditches are the biggest challenge," Tricia said. Sir Louis fell in one once, and now "he has a phobia."

To work on the problem, Tricia's father, Brian Smith, built a ditch behind the Fort Meade stables, and Tricia jumps Sir Louis over it every day.

Because of his earlier neglect, Tricia fears Sir Louis' legs may not stand up to higher levels of competition. For the future, she is schooling a 3-year-old thoroughbred mare called Frequent Flyer. This horse also is her 4-H project.

During the summer, Tricia spends three hours at the barn in the morning and five hours in the evening. Even during the winter, she rides daily at an indoor arena.

"It takes a lot of people to make it work," Tricia said. "My family's been supportive of everything."

Her parents bought Sir Louis for her eighth-grade graduation present. They have also had to pay for a trailer, a truck to pull it, saddles, show fees and lessons.

Tricia's mother, Patricia Smith, teaches riding to 4-H students at the Fort Meade stables in the evenings, and Mr. Smith teaches math evenings at Anne Arundel Community College to help pay for his children's activities. The family also helps with barn chores.

"It's well worth it from a responsibility standpoint," Mr. Smith said, because riding has helped Tricia learn discipline and how to deal with failure. It also has helped provide some continuity in a military lifestyle that has resulted in Tricia attending six schools in nine years.

She also is a varsity cheerleader, vice president of the student body at Archbishop Spalding High School and a member of the National Honor Society.

Tricia plans to study veterinary science -- at a school, she hopes, where she and Sir Louis can compete on an equestrian team.

"He'll be in the family forever," she said.

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