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Sturzl strides to success at English riding competition

WINNING RIBBONS: Sophomore Emily Sturzl shows off her ribbons after a competition, winning second place in one of her events and fourth in two others. Sturzl plans to continue show jumping with her horse Sir through the current season. PHOTO COURTESY OF Emily Sturzl

Reigns in hand, the wind blowing past her face, sophomore Emily Sturzl and her horse Sir leap over the nearest rail, eyes already set on the next.

Sturzl was introduced to horse riding from a very early age and quickly picked up the family hobby. Shortly after learning the basics, Sturzl began her journey as an equestrian.

“My parents got me my first horse when I was two months old,” Sturzl said. “When I was about seven I started riding in a barn and got introduced to English style. And so I went through equitation, dressage, then the hunter division, and then I moved barns and started show jumping.”

English riding consists of multiple categories of horse riding ranging from show jumping, dressage, hunting, and much more. Each differentiates depending on the complexity of that competition.

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“I’m fairly new to show jumping,” Sturzl said. “I did Hunter division for close to 10 years. It is still jumping, but less focused on speed and height and more focused on if you use proper techniques and if you can make the jump look nice.”

Sturzl’s passion for this complex sport does not go unnoticed as her skills in the show jumping field continue to grow.

“She has been talking recently about some upcoming shows and how excited she is for them,” agricultural teacher Kaitlyn Platt said. “She is always telling me stories about her rides each week and her time spent training horses. She has a real passion for the equine industry and her horses.”

Show season is almost year-round, with the spring season just starting to pick up. According to Sturzl, one of her main goals is to get her show horse, Sir, more comfortable in the ring.

“I’m riding maybe four or five times a week, and I’m riding a bunch of different horses so that I’m very versatile,” Sturzl said. “Sir hears the bells and he just wants to go, I guess it’s something from being on the track. He’s very tense when we’re out so this season I’m less focused on placing and more on getting my horse adjusted.”

Along with training horses, Sturzl has also been practicing with three different trainers to meet her goals. According to Sturzl the dangers of the sport require the rider to learn horse mannerisms and how to maintain muscles for horse riding.

“Emily is determined with everything she does,” junior Meredith Lynch said. “She can decide on something and she’ll do anything to get to that goal. She’s determined and she’s incredibly patient. She will spend like hours just listening to the horse and it’s incredible.”

I think everyone should ride Horses. It brings you a good community. Once you find your people like they stick with you forever.

— Emily Sturzl, Sophomore

The environment of a competition can become rowdy with all the excitement, stress, and potential prizes at the end. To ensure riders’ and horses’ safety, trainers emphasize the importance of calculating the next steps.

“When I’m in the ring showing, I have two trainers on the sideline yelling at me telling me what’s next,” Sturzl said. ”A lot of it is me listening to them, but then also observing if the horse is showing any signs that he’s gonna act weird in this corner or towards this jump. There’s a million things going on.”

Despite the stress, Sturzl maintains  focus on the track and obstacles in front of her. According to Sturzl the mentality of horse riding is equally is the key factor in succeeding during competitions.

“Over the jump you have to be focused on every single part of your body and where it is in correlation to your horse,” Sturzl said. “I’m focusing on before the jump, over the jump, and after the jump 20 seconds before I’m actually doing it. As I’m going over the jump, I’m already thinking and looking towards the next one. It’s just it’s a lot.”

According to Sturzl, at times the dangers of the sport have put a weight on the mentality portion after the death of fellow riders. Despite this, Sturzl lives in their memory wearing their matching pins to many of her shows.

“I think the main challenge is just the unpredictability,” fellow horse rider senior Charles Earl said. “It’s just like walking with anything else. It’s an animal and animals are unpredictable, and at the end of the day they are they have a mind of their own. It’s it’s like trying to teach a baby to walk sometimes.”

As the competition season continues, Sturzl aims to succeed along side Sir, taking each show one at a time.

“I’ve been able to kind of figure out who I want to be,” Sturzl said. “I think this has brought me a great community. I’ve made so many friends, they don’t even have to be your age like I’m friends with like 30-year-olds at the shows. You find your people and it’s so worth it, being so connected to them is very calming.”

In addition to this new family, Sturzl’s talent with horses has provided experience for her future aspirations.

“I want to be a large animal veterinarian when I’m older,” Sturzl said. “I’ve fallen in love with racehorses, and I own a couple right now that have come off the track and I’ve trained into show jumping, and so I would love to go to Kentucky and be an equine vet for racehorses and work just specifically with racehorses.”

This story was originally published on The Dispatch on May 6, 2024.