Spring Gehring-Lowery has been thrown, bucked and trampled by horses all her life. She says this is typical after a lifetime of horseback riding and training. Gehring-Lowry has always made herself get back on the horse. Except for the time she was knocked unconscious after falling underneath the hooves of her own horse, she couldn’t climb back onto the saddle.
“All I’ve ever wanted was to be with horses,” Gehring-Lowry said.
At the age of nine, Gehring-Lowry entered in her first competition. It was a 4-H club, which is a local event with different levels for kids. That year, Gehring-Lowry entered Ms. Kitty, her pony, and Patty Puff Special, her buckskin quarter horse.
Since Ms. Kitty and Patty Puff, she’s owned Shelly, Ahle, Allocate, Twister, and now, Aoife. Aoife is an Oldenburg, and Gehring-Lowry trained her herself.
Aoife is kept at Willow Creek Stables, where Gehring-Lowry visits at least five times a week. This allows Gehring-Lowry to be in touch with her “quiet” side.
“When I’m with horses, it’s like my moment of zen, and at risk of being sacrilegious , it’s my church,” Gehring-Lowry said. “It’s my moment when I feel completely quiet and I feel in tune with the world.”
Although the horses fulfill Gehring-Lowry’s sense of peace, it’s also been difficult. In addition to a horse lover, she’s an Honors English teacher, a wife and a mother. All four of these things are important to her, but finding time for them is hard.
“It’s caused arguments,” Gehring-Lowry said. “I know there are times where my daughter or my husband get frustrated because I’ve spent so much time with my horse. I love it, but at times riding does make me feel selfish.”
Gehring-Lowry’s had to do some “creative thinking” in order to please her family and herself. Because, to Gehring-Lowery, “riding horses is like music for a musician and art for an artist.”
“You can’t ask them to stop painting or stop making music,” Gehring-Lowry said.
Gehring-Lowery’s daughter, Kaela, started taking lessons when she was 10, but recently dropped out at the age of 12. Gehring-Lowery was disappointed, but didn’t push her daughter to continue on with something she doesn’t like.
That doesn’t stop Gehring-Lowery from asking Kaela to come to the barn with her. Sometimes she bribes Kaela with a trip to Culver’s.
“It’s probably one of the stupidest hobbies you can do because it’s terribly expensive, dangerous, you can get very badly hurt and even die,” Gehring-Lowery said. “It takes a ton of time…but yet, I love it. I absolutely love it. And I can’t imagine my life without horses.”
Sophomore Kathryn Sackett has a feeling that her dad is going to get her a horse for Christmas. She’s been taking lessons since she was eight and hopes to one day compete in a show. But first, she would love to have a horse of her own.
“I would be so happy and thankful if I were to get a horse,” Sackett said.
Since she was eight, Sackett has been riding horses at Kirin Stables. Usually, she rides Leo, who is very sweet, Sackett explains, but can sometimes be stubborn.
“[I’ve] always loved horses,” Sackett said. “Taking lessons was the only way I could think to get close to them.”
When Sackett was 13, she started mentioning to her dad, Troy Sackett, that she wanted to start competing. His initial reaction was doubt. He thought she was going through a phase and would grow out of it. Although she has yet to compete in her first show, Sackett has attended the American Royal and the White Fox Manor competitions and would like to compete in show jumping and possibly cross country.
Sackett also believes that competing will look good on her resumé. She hopes to join the equestrian team in college, maybe at Minnesota State and Kansas State.
“I want to continue [riding] because it’s fun and I love the bond you form with the animal,” Sackett said. “The way you and the horse work together to achieve something.”
Dressage translates directly to English from French, meaning “to train.” It’s a type of style that horses compete in when they show. It’s “very complicated,” explained sophomore Lauren Weinrich, and there are multiple levels with different patterns of groundwork for each level. This is what Weinrich has been training horses to do in addition to groundwork with fouls.
“Horses make me happy,” Weinrich said. “I understand them.”
Ever since she can remember, horses have played a part in Weinrich’s life. Her mother, who grew up with horses, got her started at the age of four. She’s been riding ever since.
Five years ago, Weinrich and her family had a stallion named Dierderik imported from Holland. Throughout the years, they acquired mares along the way. When Dierderik and the mares produced fouls, the Weinrich family needed someone to train them.
“I figured I could do it myself,” Weinrich said. “Because I’m a decent enough rider.”
She has no set schedule, but she tries to get out to Pendragon Farms, which is in Liberty, Missouri, at least three times a week.
In her career, Weinrich has successfully trained six horses. She considers a horse to be fully trained when a horse is able to “do the basics,” which includes being able to go at a walk, trot and canter, which is a slow gallop. Weinrich usually starts training them when they’re about four years old. Usually, depending on the horse, training takes around a year to be complete.
When Weinrich is having trouble with a horse, her mom or other more experienced trainers are there to help. Each horse trained is a success for Weinrich.
“I feel proud,” Weinrich said. “I feel very proud of myself and the horse.”
Every year, junior Anne Recker travels to Estes Park, Colorado with her family to trail ride. This tradition started when Recker was six. It’s where she first fell in love with horseback riding.
Recker began taking horse lessons from Tara Passmore, a horse trainer, when she was an 11-year-old. She rides at Passmore’s house near Hillside Lake.
“She taught me how to actually ride,” Recker said. “Not just hang on.”
Recker and her family own three horses: Aurora, Star and Bambi and a mule named Rudy. Aurora, who is an American Paint Horse, belongs to Recker.
“[Aurora] has been a really good friend to me,” Recker said.
This fall, Recker competed in a series of rides called Competitive Trail Rides. There are simple obstacles like walking over a log, Recker explained, but there are also obstacles designed to frighten the horse. Ten points are judged for the horse, and 10 for the rider.
Recker won the competition. Her prize was called a Belt Buckle Award, which was “very cool,” according to Recker.
This past summer, Recker also worked at Jackson Stables, Inc. This is the same place she and her family ride every year in Estes Park.
“It’s my favorite thing ever,” Recker said. “Being out there, with all the horses.”
With her hair twisted into a tight bun at the base of her head and her black riding suit buttoned, freshman Katy Young trots into the Kemper Arena on her American Saddlebred, Scooter. Fearless, she trots around the arena a few times, letting each of the three judges observe how “animated and accurate” he is.
November 15-19 was Young’s second time competing in the American Royal. On Tuesday morning and Thursday afternoon, she competed in Pleasure – a division open to mares and geldings shown by amateurs. Young finished fourth on Tuesday, winning $50. On Thursday, there were a total of 14 riders in Young’s division. She didn’t place.
Young has been taking horseback riding lessons since she was six, after two years of begging for her parents’ permission. Her trainer, Annalisa Hall, gives lessons every Thursday and sometimes Sunday at R&R Stables.
“I don’t feel like I’m good with school,” Young said. “But I do feel like I’m good at horse riding.”
Young’s hopes for the future include going to a college and studying to be a veterinarian for horses. So far, she’s looked at William Woods University, Kansas State University and the University of Missouri. She’s also interested in becoming a trainer and giving horseback riding lessons.
“When I’m near horses or in the barn, I feel whole,” Young said. “I feel like I can forget all of the problems I’m having in my life. I just ride.”