She and her horse, Stuart, galloped across the arena at the American Royal. Junior Kate Higgins flashed a smile to her parents as she clutched his harness, quivering with anticipation for her placement. Squeezing hard, she listened to the announcer call out the names of ribbon winners. Her mind jumped from thought to thought. Had she ridden well enough?
When she was six, Kate begged her parents to let her take riding lessons. Every time she would get the chance, she would ask them over and over until her parents finally gave in. They knew she was serious and they also knew she wasn’t going to stop asking. There was no looking back after that. That was 11 years ago, and she’s been riding ever since. Now, Kate rides in the top youth age division in Kansas.
She started taking lessons once a week, and two years later she received her first horse, a brown and white spotted and “sweet as can be,” Kate recollects. It was with this horse that Kate first started to compete. She began only showing the horse by walking alongside it, as she was too young to compete while actually riding the horse.
Her mom, Christy, remembers Kate sitting on her horse at her first American Royal when she was only 10-years-old. She had been placed in the top 15 riders. Only 10 received a ribbon. Kate sat in the middle of the arena on her horse smiling and clapping as every single ribbon winner was announced while the other riders just listened for their name.
“You don’t see many riders do that,” Christy said. “She still does that to this day.”
She sat in the middle of the arena listening to hear if her name would be called. Her eyes lit up and her cheeks reddened as her name was announced for third place in her English class, or when you ride around in circles on an English saddle, bridle and clothes. She also won the overall high point winner in the novice division at the same competition. Kate has come from just walking in circles with her horse to riding in the highest youth competition group. Since she has been involved in the riding so heavily for so long, it has lead her to becoming vice president of the 4-H Silver Spurs Club, where she coordinates events such as stalling at the state fair.
With this responsibility and her riding experience, Kate has not only become a better rider, she has become a better person. The morals she has learned through riding early on have helped her apply this selflessness to every other aspect of her life.
“The fact that Kate learned how to win and lose gracefully at an early age has helped her become the person she is today,” Christy said.
Riding a horse is different than any other sport; it takes the patience to create a bond with a horse before winning any ribbons. The ability to understand this is the difference between becoming a great rider and becoming a mediocre rider.
Three years after getting her horse, it went blind in one eye and was unable to compete. The family had to give her away to a small rescue farm.
By the time she got Lovett, her third horse, Kate had become more experienced with riding. She was winning more ribbons and she had gained more control of her performance. Although, Kate admits it wasn’t easy.
“Honestly that horse was a nightmare to work with,” said Kate. “He had serious ADHD.”
Lovett’s behavior got to be too much and Kate had to find a new horse, one that was easier to work with. That’s when she found Elmer, a horse they rescued from a man who named him after glue. Elmer was a sweet horse and much easier to ride according to Kate. She enjoyed him so much and they were finally connecting after a year of having him. Unexpectedly, he fell to the ground in pain while he was alone in his stall.
With a severely injured leg, Kate knew things didn’t look good. She pulled out folding chairs and her and her dad sat quietly all night watching and caring for Elmer. There was the occasional neigh from a horse in a neighboring stall, but other than that, it was quiet. Elmer laid there miserably; they both knew Elmer would have to be put down.
It wasn’t long after that she found Stuart and he has been riding with Kate for nearly a year. He has a great temperament, and Kate knew they would be compatible to ride from the beginning. While she hasn’t won any blue ribbons with Stuart, Kate knows they will get to that point. Until then, third place is enough, especially when it’s out of 60 competitors.
Seven years and four horses later, Kate still competes. She wins ribbons frequently and has improved significantly since her first lesson 11 years ago. The most important thing she has gained from riding, however, is her personality. She is seen by her peers as hardworking, responsible and selfless. At this point in her career, Kate has accomplished more than most at her age.