Love for Riding Lasts Forever

By Anna Yee

July 24, 2011 Updated Jul 24, 2011 at 10:51 PM CDT

Michelle Mercier is one of the area's top horse trial competitors. At 18 years old, she's already riding at the intermediate level.

That's one step below Olympic standards.

"It's a lot harder than it sounds," said Mercier, of Carlock. "I mean, there's not a whole lot of horse shows in this area. Really we all travel to Indiana or Kentucky."

Most riders compete in about six shows each year, hoping to qualify for the American Eventing Championships.

For Mercier, the trials' obstacles are nothing compared to the ones that come with the lifestyle.

"Working, school and finding time to keep a good training schedule," said Mercier, "it's doable. It's just you have to be really dedicated."

Dedication that translates to hours of training, grooming and feeding.

Ryan Kullman spends about three hours almost every day with his horse, Ty.

"I don't know how to explain it," said Kullman. "It's like a connection with the horse."

That connection can last for decades.

"Just knowing that there's not necessarily a shelf-life," said Kullman, "It's whatever I want it to be. As long as I'm healthy, I'll be able to continue riding, and that's kind of my game plan."

Although riders can compete well into their 50s, it's not the age that adds up, it's the budget to take care of these guys.

"It's about $700 a month," continued Kullman, "and then there's vet bills that get mixed in."

A lot more gets mixed into the sport, like taking into account the weather.

Sunday's downpour kept horses in their stalls for almost three hours.

The show finally moved indoors, but for these champs, nothing will stop them from doing what they love.

"I'm going to do it forever," said Mercier. "As long as I can walk, I should be able to ride. So, that's the plan."

For competition results, visit http://www.hunteroaksfarm.com/shows.html and click on Live Scoring.

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