Riding Her Way to Nationals: Gabrielle Petersen

Gabrielle Petersen trains for her upcoming competition at her barn. She has been working with her trainer since she the age of six.

Photo courtesy of Gabrielle Petersen, © 2013 Aubree Wanning.

Gabrielle Petersen trains for her upcoming competition at her barn. She has been working with her trainer since she the age of six.

Kelleigh Hogan, Columnist

While Horizon Honors’ students were enjoying prom, senior Gabrielle Petersen had something else on her mind. Petersen was competing in the regionals’ horseback riding competition with hopes of making it to the highest level of competition: Nationals. She placed third in the competition, ensuring her chance to compete. Petersen was shocked by her success, for good reason, as the Interscholastic Equestrian Association only qualifies select students to proceed to Nationals, the highest level of competition in the IEA. In fact, to make it this far, Petersen had to compete with 180 students in zone eight. Out of those 180, only two made it to Nationals for over-fences riding. Petersen will be the only person from Arizona represented in this section of the competition. “I couldn’t be happier! I started crying when I found out that I had made it,” said Petersen in regard to her success.

No one deserves this as much as Petersen, considering the years of dedication she has placed into this sport. Petersen, coming from a “horse crazy” family, has been immersed in this world of competition and sports since a young age. Both she and her sister have been riding since they were young due to their mother’s influence. Petersen’s mother is a riding instructor and has been helping her manage school with this time-consuming sport. Petersen has been with the same trainer since she was six years old. She also credits her success to being homeschooled for most of her childhood, which allowed her to spend more time outdoors with her horses. Despite all of this, Petersen admitted to finding the sport “more work than it was fun.” With her mother’s insistence of continuing with the sport, Petersen persevered and fell in the love with it over time, especially when she bought her first horse Bogie. Still, she does admit that horseback riding continues to have its challenges; however, she is dedicated to and appreciative of the sport.

“There have been physical challenges as well as time constraints,” stated the high school student. According to her, the sport is physically and mentally demanding. What makes a rider better than other riders is their ability to control their balance and communicate with their horse through gestures. To perform her best, Petersen rides at least five times a week. She has participated in other sports, such as cross-country and soccer, but ultimately gave up both to focus on riding. In addition, she must be versatile as an equestrian because the horse she rides varies at each competition. As a competitor with IEA, riders must draw for horses and learn to communicate and work with their horses only hours before the competition.

Petersen’s favorite part of horseback riding is the jumping aspect for its consistent challenge despite years of practice. In fact, she qualified for Nationals in over-fences, which is riding a track with jumps. “Jumping a course takes a lot of thought, and it’s the perfect combination of a physical and mental challenge. Sometimes I ride in the mornings before school, and it is the perfect way to wake up!” said Petersen. Petersen enjoys many other aspects of the sport, such as the thrill of competition and excitement of being on a horse.

As for her future, Petersen has decided to attend Arizona State University to major in International Business. Although she was offered an equestrian scholarship to New Mexico State, a Division 1 NCAA team, she turned it down due to concerns about their academic program. She is uncertain about her future as an equestrian on ASU’s team but hopes to continue training with her current trainer.

Petersen will be competing at Nationals from May 14 to 18 in Massachusetts. “I feel honored to be one of the two members from our region. That achievement for me is beyond what words can describe,” shared Petersen.