MOUNT VERNON — Karly Connolly finally arrived in Kansas City, nervous for the weekend but excited about what was to come.
And rightly so.
A junior at Mount Vernon, Connolly and her mother made the trip to Kansas City last month for the 2018 National Horse Show Competition. She placed third in the national competition.
When Connolly and her mother arrived at Hale Arena, where the competition was located, Connolly’s trainer was waiting for her with her horse, Zoe.
Zoe, who lives in Pella, is a 5-year-old American Saddlebred horse.
“She is very sweet and willing to do everything,” Connolly said.
Tyson is Connolly’s other horse. He lives in Denver, so the two don’t get a lot of time together.
“He has a very sweet and funny personality,” she said of the Arabian dark bay bred with three white socks.
Connolly first started riding horses at the age of 3. She travels around the country for horse shows to show off skills she has learned over the years. Her mother was the one who introduced Connolly to the idea of riding. Her mother also showed horses when she was younger.
Connolly thought she would give riding a try, and she has loved it ever since.
At the national horse Show, Connolly rides either Zoe or Tyson. She will, however, occasionally ride a horse provided by the venue. The judges score her based on how well she presented her horse.
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When Connolly goes to a horse show, she usually recognizes some of the other girls. She has become friends with a lot of them over the years and now talks to them every day on social media.
“It doesn’t matter if I see them three times a week or once a year, I always stay in contact with them,” she said.
Connolly starts all of her competitions by cleaning her saddle and bridle. She also always wears stage makeup, but doesn’t do it herself. Connolly wears a performance costume that consists of a hat, blazer, dress pants, a tie and black riding boots. She doesn’t wear the same one every time she preforms, but they all look very similar to each other.
Connolly warms up for all the performances by running through her routine a couple of times.
“During a horse show performance, you do basic walking techniques, trot, canter, and an individual pattern,” she said.
She practices all of these techniques before performing.
Connolly has 15 shows every year before nationals. Connolly has won two national championships and gotten runner-up six times at other horse show events.
“My hard work paid off, and it was relieving as the pressure was gone,” she said.
Connolly practices once or twice a week — once a week in Pella with Zoe and once a month in Denver to spend the weekend with Tyson.
Tyson is Connolly’s favorite horse.
It hasn’t always been good for Tyson and Connolly. Tyson hurt his back and would run away when she tried showing him. Connolly had to learn how to ride him so he would feel comfortable performing, and she had to teach him not to run away in front of the judges. Tyson had to get a lot of medical help, as well, so he could keep performing. It took him two years to recover, but now he is in the best shape and ready to be ridden.
Overcoming obstacles like that is why she loves it so much.
“It’s so gratifying ...,” she said.
It gives her comfort knowing if there is something in her way, she is strong enough to keep on going forward.
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When Connolly started riding horses as a little girl, she didn’t realize how much of an impact it would have in her life. Even though she cannot see herself coaching in the future, she does plan to keep riding throughout her life. She wants to introduce the idea of doing horse shows to her children some day, and also is considering being a judge at horse shows.
Connolly has learned so much throughout her riding career, mainly how to be patient. Animals are unpredictable, so Connolly has to trust her horse is going to do what she has taught them to do.
She also learned about hard work, training hard to get the results she wants.
“Working with an animal that can’t understand me, has made me learn how to overcome obstacles and work hard in life,” she said.