HILLSBOROUGH - Faith Gardner, 12, has been riding horses for only three years, not long for a grand champion.
But it hasn’t been easy on Faith and her family to keep up with the cost of competing.
Faith and her mom, Adrienne, have mucked stalls and fed the horses at Pleasant Hill Farm in Hillsborough to help pay expenses. Her dad, Jimmy, took a construction job six hours away in Maryland, where he works four days a week.
It costs $100 to $200 just to transport a horse to a show, Adrienne Gardner said, plus the expense of renting a stall. Some weekends, they use her husband’s pickup with a second-hand trailer to tow other horses to shows to make extra money.
“It’s her passion,” said Gardner, who also rode as a child. “As her parents, we want to do everything we can to support her.”
Faith and Rocky, the quarter-pony she rode the past three years, competed in English-style shows for the N.C. Hunter/Jumper Association at the Class C level for riders up to 18 years old.
They earned grand championship honors at four NCHJA jumping competitions last year, which led to NCHJA awards in Pinehurst in January that included Short Stirrup Hunter Grand Champion, Short Stirrup Equitation Grand Champion, and winner of the Constance B. Parker High Score Junior Equitation Trophy, among others.
Of all the awards, Faith said she was most proud of the Constance B. Parker Trophy because she was up against riders of all ages, most of whom were much older and had been riding more years.
Altogether, Faith has more than 500 ribbons from horse shows. She keeps her championship ribbons in her room, and a spare bedroom has been devoted to others. There are so many she has had to put some in containers for lack of another place to keep them.
About the competitions, Faith said: “When starting out, it’s nerve-wracking having to do the courses … (and) to remember the different ways to do them. You have to learn the patterns of courses, and to keep things straight. … It’s exciting to jump.”
Faith has taught Rocky, 12, how to kiss, open gates, and to lie down with the first half of his body. In preparation for competition, she worked with him in Parelli Training, leading him through steps without a halter or bridle.
Originally, Rocky was trained in the Western tradition, making him known as “heavy on the forehand.” So, Faith had to compensate in order to steer Rocky, whose show name is, “Spice It Up,” toward the English way of riding.
Western-style riding involves a slow gate and no jumping, whereas English-style riding includes jumping, English saddles and different dress.
This year, Rocky is being leased to another girl and Faith has a new horse, Baron, whose show name is, “Exclusive Proof.” Baron, 19, is also leased, and is an off-the-track thoroughbred with seven years of racing experience.
She plans to enter Baron into Class A competition. However, Gardner said classes and competition at the “A” level cost two to three times as much as at the “C” level.
Baron handles differently from Rocky, Faith said. So this year, she will be concentrating on gaining familiarity with Baron instead of competing in so many events. She also wants to start dressage, a form of “horse ballet.”
Faith usually rides five times a week during the week, reserving one day for a lesson and the weekends for competition.
Cammie Fielding, Faith’s trainer at Pleasant Hill Farm, said: “Faith is great with horses and good around the barn. She came to us as a beginner with a beginner pony and has won very high awards.”
Faith’s first experience riding was at age 9, at an after-school program.
She recently recovered from a broken collar bone she suffered after being thrown from a different pony during a riding camp over Christmas vacation.
She is a seventh-grader at C.W. Stanford Middle School in Hillsborough, where her favorite subject is science. She also is a member of the Hilltoppers 4-H Club, with which she won a state award for horse poetry.
She also plays the flute, but most of her activities are centered on horses, and include collection of Breyer model horses.
At home, Faith keeps a miniature horse, “Charlie,” whom she has taught to back up. Charlie is a Pinto with blue eyes, and is 10 hands tall, at four inches a hand.
Faith wants to make riding her profession and already is looking into colleges with riding programs.