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Excellent equestrians

Jennifer Jacobs

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Photograph by Shelby Keck Brittany Craker, a junior pre-veterinary student, jumps her horse, Dexter, over an obstacle Sunday during the 2013 Hunter Jumper Series competition held at Camelot Equestrian Park in Oroville.

Photograph by Shelby Keck
Brittany Craker, a junior pre-veterinary student, jumps her horse, Dexter, over an obstacle Sunday during the 2013 Hunter Jumper Series competition held at Camelot Equestrian Park in Oroville.

The wind rushes through their hair. They feel a rushing sensation as adrenaline courses through their veins. And they nurture a trusting partnership with the horses carrying them on their backs. These moments define the experiences of equestrian sport riders Brittany Craker and Alysen Folkens.

Craker, a junior animal science major, and Folkens, a junior graphic design major, both grew up around horses and have participated in equestrian sports since childhood.

They specialize in hunter jumper and hunter ring events, two distinct competitions that each have their own specific rules.

Hunter jumpers meticulously maneuver through jumps in a closed course, whereas hunter ring riders focus on style, gait and showmanship.

Craker, a 20-year-old petite woman with two-toned hair and punk-rock attire, doesn’t look like the average horse rider, but she started riding when she was eight years old.

“My mom wanted me to be a girly girl,” Craker said. “She put me in every sport — gymnastics, cheer, dance — but I found horses. I wanted to be in the dirt.”

Craker is a hunter jumper. She and her horse jump over fences of various sizes during competition.

“It requires speed, time, height and precision,” Craker said.

“The two to three seconds of flying in the air is the best feeling ever,” she added.

Hunter jumper competitions span three days of events. Day one is dressage, day two is cross-country and day three is stadium.

“Dressage includes patterns in a small ring,” Craker said. “Cross-country is when we jump over banks and logs and there is a stadium jumper portion,”

Folkens, a 20-year-old slender woman in blue flannel, began riding at age three.

“I started when I was three, but I quit for 12 years, which I regret, but started riding again two years ago,” she said.

Folkens competes in the hunter ring. In the ring, contestants are properly dressed in a navy blue coat, shirt, tie, choker, breeches, boots and a helmet. It’s about presentation.

“Being in the hunter ring focuses all on how I look and how the horse looks,” she said.

Craker and Folkens have competed in numerous horse shows for a chance to showcase their talent and passion.

Craker competed in the U.S. Pony Clubs Western Regional Championship, placing with the silver medal team. She was in the top 10 out of 300 competitors.

“I have been in 100 to 200 competitions,” Craker said. “I have three walls filled with ribbons, but going pro was a huge step for me. A lot of people don’t know this sport is in the Olympics, so that could be a possible opportunity,”

Since Folkens began riding again, she has gained more confidence and has begun to increase her skill level, she said.

“I was in a beginner’s competition and placed with the horse trainers, which is pretty advanced,” she said.

However, there are some challenges these riders face in equestrian sport riding, including expenses, confidence and healthy horses.

“It’s very expensive,” Folkens said. “I borrow a horse. He’s an Oldenburg thoroughbred and measures in at 16.2 hands. The hardest thing for me is being confident, but I’ve gotten a lot better. You have to trust the horse and vice versa. It’s a partnership.”

Craker had an unfortunate experience when her quarter horse broke his leg. She was unsure if she could continue to ride.

“He had three years of rehab but when he recovered, it was a miracle,” Craker said. “He’s a little guy but has a huge jump.”

Riding will always be in the future for both Craker and Folkens, and they show no signs of slowing down. Last Sunday, they competed in the Camelot Equestrian Park Foundation hunter jumper schooling show.

“Once you’re involved with the horses, it’s a part of your life forever,” Craker said.

 

Jennifer Jacobs can be reached at [email protected] or @theorion_news on Twitter.

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Excellent equestrians