Horseback rider gallops through adversity

Anya Eydelman and Megan Fahrney, Editor-at-Large and Sports Editor

After a lesson in June 2017, junior Emily Erickson spends time with a horse near the stable where she practices. Erickson has ridden English-style horseback since her freshman year. Photo courtesy of Emily Erickson.

Unlike most tourists, junior Emily Erickson has left hoofprints across the globe from Iceland to Wisconsin while riding on horseback. Sprouting from a childhood infatuation with ponies, Erickson has pursued her love of horses by participating in weekly lessons at her training stable.

“I love horseback riding because I feel so free,” said Erickson. “I feel unique and absolutely lucky to be able to have the opportunity to ride horses. I love the feeling of this freedom, especially on trail rides.”

According to Erickson, going to a horseback riding camp at Grassy Creek Ranch in Wisconsin inspired her to learn English-style horseback riding.

English-style horseback riding involves jumping, using a small, light saddle and taking more direct control of the reins. Western-style does not include as much jumping.

Erickson was permitted by her mother, Judy Erickson, to begin learning English-style horseback riding after she underwent a kidney transplant in eighth grade.

Sonny Wuestenhagen, owner of Grassy Creek Ranch, said in a phone interview that he has seen Emily every summer since she was 10 years old during her annual visits to Wisconsin. He has watched her horseback riding talents develop because of her commitment.

The key word is confidence.

“Put all that confidence, not only in your ability, but in trusting a four-legged animal that weighs 1,200 lbs., and the only way you have confidence in that animal is to spend time with it,” Wuestenhagen said.

Emily takes after her grandmother and mother, who both ride horses, according to Judy. She started riding horses at age 10 whenever she got the chance and began taking lessons in the fall of her freshman year. She now trains at Jump 4it Equestrian in Mundelein, Ill.

According to Judy, Emily does not participate in horseback riding shows. To participate in shows, one must either own a horse or rent one for the day of the show, which can be costly.

“We just sign up for the lesson and then whichever horse is available, Emily rides,” said Judy. “Sometimes it’s the same horse every week, sometimes they switch it up.”

Junior Joie Rabishaw, Emily’s friend from horseback riding, said training initially connected her and Emily through their love of horses. Eventually they began to devote their free time to watching horse movies, attending horse races and venturing to various shops to find new horseback riding gear.

“[We both] get, like, a sense of freedom [from horseback riding], and a sense of calmness because … [we] connect with the horse one-on-one,” Rabishaw said.

Emily said she is able to get to know the different horses at her stable and recognizes the horses’ different attitudes.

“Some of [the horses] are cranky because they like to be lazy, so obviously they’re not going to be as fast,” said Emily. “And then some of them are easygoing, … like they’ll focus in on you. And then some of them are athletic, so they obviously want to be faster.”

According to Wuestenhagen, Emily has an innate talent with horses that cannot be taught by a coach.

“It’s a combination of being physically in shape and mentally [in shape],” said Wuestenhagen. “Emily had a big challenge physically. I don’t think many people would have overcome what she did, just to grow out of her challenge and get strong.”