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MEET THE JUNIOR

Morgan Loomis (and mom Shannon)

Morgan Loomis, a Northeast junior who resides in West Virginia, has accumulated 100 endurance and 475 limited distance miles since 2005. The just-turned-8-year-old is usually sponsored by her mother, Shannon, who has 1770 endurance and 765 LD miles since joining AERC in 2001.

Q: How long have you been horseback riding?

A: According to my mom, I got my first pony, Frisky, at 15 months old, was showing leadline at 18 months, and riding without a leading rein at 3 years. I started riding my current horse, Star, when I was 4.

Q: When did you start doing endurance?

A: I rode in my first novice CTR at 4½ years old, my first LD at age 5, and did my first 50 last year at age 7.

Q: Tell us about your endurance horse, Quail Meadow Star.

A: He is a Morgan and the reason why my name is Morgan -- my parents couldn't agree on a name, so they named me after the horse! He is 26 years old. He likes to be ridden in shows and on trail rides -- he especially looks forward to trail rides.

Star never gets lost! He always knows where the trail goes, even if the ribbons are gone. My mom says she feels really safe with me on Star because she knows that no matter what happens, he will take me back to camp. His pulse comes down pretty easily even though he is getting old. He is very picky at rides. He loves carrots and beet pulp at home, but at the vet check he just wants his favorite Mrs. Pastures cookies (no other kind!) and sweet feed. He hates when my mom gives him electrolytes. He is very easy to camp with because he stays in a corral without any electric and doesn't jump out like Mom's horse, Quest. He always trots out for me at vet checks and is always willing to go back out on trail. He is easy to control because he listens pretty well, although he does sometimes get excited first thing in the morning because he really, really wants to start!

Q: Are you responsible for training your horse?

A: Yes. Although he has been a distance horse for 20 years with my mother, now I am the only one who rides him.

Q: Do you ever get nervous before a ride?

A: No, because I know Star will take care of me. And I have been doing this for so long that I don't get nervous -- I just have fun!

Q: What's the scariest thing to happen to you on a ride?

A: We were riding in Michigan at the Shore to Shore with my mom and two of her friends and the bees were really bad. The horses all took off and I lost my balance. I hung on the side of Star, like Spiderman! I had one foot still in a stirrup and was hanging under Star's neck with both hands holding on to the strap under Star's hackamore. Star didn't run off, even though I was under him instead of in the saddle! He stopped and my mom was able to help me get off and back where I belong -- on top of the horse. All the adults with me were really nervous but very glad that Star stopped. When we got into the vet check we found out that he had been stung several times. Star is a really good horse and takes care of me, even when he is getting stung by bees.

Q: Do you feel safer riding with a body protection vest?

A: I've never ridden without one! My mom started me out with one when I was little. It makes me hot sometimes in the summer but I don't mind it much because I am used to it. . . . And as long as I am having fun, I am happy just be on the trail!

Q: What are your favorite things about going to endurance rides?

A: I like tromping through the mud on my horse and I like trotting -- Star has a really fast big trot that really tosses me high in the air. I like to take care of my horse in camp and show him off for the vet. I like to sing and talk to him as we ride. And I like to go fast!

Q: What are your goals for riding in the future?

A: To keep riding! I also jump and like to compete in events. I am riding in the Intro level right now but hope to move up. I would like to do a 100 sometime. I really like the Shore to Shore ride (I have done the five-day LD twice already) and hope to do it again this year. I especially like going through the rivers and streams on our horses and so much camping. Star doesn't like the water as much as I do, though!

Safety considerations come first for Morgan's mom

by Shannon Loomis, DVM

My goal in riding with juniors is to make it as safe as I can without making them feel afraid to be on the horse. I do not spend thousands of dollars on fancy equipment, but I do spend where it is needed for safety.

Helmet. For instance, I ordered a helmet for Morgan last spring but after looking at photos from a couple rides, I realized that it was too big and listed to one side. Instead of adding padding to make do, my husband and I decided the safest thing was to take her to a large trade show and try on helmets until we found one that fit perfectly. The way she is growing, it won't take her long until she is in the larger helmet anyway!

Safety vest, boots, half chaps. Both Morgan and her little brother, Christopher, ride in safety vests. They have Ariat Terrain boots (hard to find in kid's sizes but I lucked out and found them at a clearance sale -- I bought this year's size and the next year's as well!) and lightweight half chaps.

Saddle. Morgan used to ride in a cheap Western saddle that we tweaked and adjusted for endurance. She pretty much outgrew it last year, so Christopher is riding in it now. Now she has an Australian stock saddle that was fitted for her and Star. My only problem is that it is too heavy for her to untack herself, though she can carry it to the tack room once it is off.

Stirrups. Both saddles have peacock safety stirrups. I carry an extra set of rubber bands in my pack, as every once in a while one decides to “ping!” off to who-knows-where.

Water storage. We attach small Camelbaks to their saddles cantles. Water bottles are difficult for young juniors to manage while on a moving horse (and I am the one who has to get off and pick them up) and the backpacks can get very heavy. But youngsters can get dehydrated easily, so I feel better knowing the water is easily accessible without weighing them down.

Horse. Finally, and to me the most important, Morgan is on the most experienced horse possible -- Star is in his 21st year of distance riding. If he hasn't seen it, chances are, it isn't out there. And even though he is very very willing and listens to his rider, he will occasionally put his foot down and refuse to go through something. When he does that, we know that the trail isn't safe and we need to find another way.

Star always has one eye on the trail and is very careful about where he puts his feet. Once at a competitive ride, Quest and I were leading the way around a guard rail at the side of a road crossing. At the base of the last post was a large hole that the ride manager was kind enough to mark extensively with orange spray paint. Quest and I walked around it. Morgan was singing and watching the road instead of the ground. The ride manager, who was watching the scene, said just before the hole Star paused, tilted his head so he could look at the ground and he very carefully rounded the hole and continued across the road behind his buddy.

I also try to make the competitions as fun as possible. We sing and talk. Morgan is usually in the lead and enjoys the trail, making up games and stories as she goes. Since she is still so young, I am in charge of her ride card and map, and keep track of time. That way we avoid the panic and problems that can ensue when small children are left in charge of water-soluble pieces of paper! She cools down and vets in her own horse.

While she can be stubborn and head-strong at times on the trail, Morgan is truly a joy to ride with. She doesn't argue about pace, though she does occasionally chime in with requests. She doesn't complain about long hours in the saddle in the rain or hot sun, though I have had to occasionally donate my rain jacket to the cause. She has enough miles under her belt to know what to expect on a ride and is very tolerant of my idiot horse, Quest, even when it means she gets foisted off on another sponsor (thank you, Mary and Kim). Morgan truly is the best trail buddy ever.

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