• Young equestrian finds comfort in sport

    • email print
  • Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
    “At 5, she wouldn’t leave my side and then the first time I took her (to the horse farm), she hadn’t even touched her first horse and she was already saying ‘bye mom,’ as soon as she looked at them,” Michelle Gwin said of her daughter Mackenzie’s first visit to a horse farm. “I signed Mackenzie up from 9 (a.m.) to noon and by the end of the week she was going 9 (a.m.) to 5 (p.m.) and was still crying. She didn’t want to leave.”
    Gwin originally took Mackenzie to the horse farm to help her deal with her father’s 15-month deployment, but it turned into a lifelong love for Mackenzie.
    “For me it’s just comforting and relaxing when you’re here,” said Mackenzie, now 17. “You don’t have the school drama, you don’t have to deal with the people drama or anything. It’s just you and the horse.”
    The sense of comfort that came with riding became even more apparent when her younger sister Ashleigh died in 2007 at age 5.
    “(Mackenzie’s father) was deployed, Ashleigh was terminally ill and horses were her calm place,” Michelle said. “Even on the anniversary of her sister’s death, Mackenzie comes out and rides and that’s how she deals with her sister’s death.”
    Riding has not only been a hobby and a sense of comfort for Mackenzie, but also a sport. She is a member of the U.S. Equestrian Foundation and the Arabian Horse Association. Since the age of 7, she has competed in several equestrian competitions including schooling shows and rated 4-H competitions at the regional, state and national levels.
    “You need a certain amount of points to go on to competitions and you get a point every time you beat someone,” Mackenzie explained. “It depends on the class how many points you need.”
    The last two years, Mackenzie earned enough points to compete as a Green Working Class — the horse has been showing less than two years — with her 6-year-old Arabian horse, Dacota Bey, at the Arabian Sport Horse National Competition. The course consisted of a series of eight jumps and one is judged on how the horse looks, how the rider looks and how smooth everything goes. Both years, Mackenzie was awarded the Top 10 National Champion award for her class. In September , her overall placement was sixth out of 30 in her class.
    Though she placed in the top 10, the competition ended on a scary note when she fell during one of the jumps on the last day of the competition in Raleigh, N.C.
    Page 2 of 3 - “Basically, (my horse) slipped for takeoff and then he tried to stop, but the jump was solid and he couldn’t because he would’ve gone into (the log fence). He jumped it and he landed on my back with his back end,” Mackenzie said.
    Michelle said that Mackenzie was prepared to move forward when the horse slipped and that’s what caused her to fall off.
    “It hit me when she couldn’t move and get up,” said Mackenzie’s father, Maj. Howard Gwin, who works at Global Simulation Capability. “That’s not her. She always gets back up.”
    Michelle said she had fallen in the past, but this was clearly different.
    “This was her worst fall (and the) first time requiring medical care immediately,” she said. “I think it first hit me that it could be serious when she was in the ambulance. Seeing her in a neck brace, backboard and with IV, I started to think of the possibilities, how much therapy she will need, her senior year, (and) college.”
    However, for Mackenzie, her concern was for her horse.
    “She was on meds and laying in the ambulance with the back and neck brace and I’m pretty sure the EMT was confused that she was more worried about the horse than what was going on with her,” Michelle said.
    Thankfully, besides a few hours in the hospital and multiple tests — a CAT scan of her head and neck, a MRI of her spine, an ultrasound of all her internal organs — everything came back normal. Mackenzie said it was how the horse landed on her that ended up being the key to her being unharmed.
    “I very well could have been paralyzed if it was his front that had landed on me. Their front, all his weight would have come down where as his back end, he felt himself on me so he never put all his weight on me,” she said.
    Within two weeks Mackenzie was back riding and jumping fences. Now a senior at Leavenworth High School, she is planning for college hoping to study at either Henry and Emory College in Emory, Va., or the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Ky.
    “I want to major in business and minor in equine sciences and then I hope to eventually own a stable and train horses and riders,” she said.
    She has had a lot of practice already for her resumé.
    “The last place that we lived, she would have adults coming and asking her for advice,” Michelle said. “Here, she’s had at least two retired lieutenant colonels approach her about riding and training their horses for them.”
    Page 3 of 3 - “I’m currently retraining an off-the-track thoroughbred for fox hunting,” Mackenzie said.
    Michelle said she has a lot of pride for all her daughter does and credits that to the horses, but Mackenzie credits her parents.
    “Without (their support), I wouldn’t be able to go to especially the really big far out shows like nationals,” she said. “So, it definitely helps to have their support.”
  • Comment or view comments