To say that 18-year-old Kennedy Crisp loves horses would be an understatement. One of her first memories with horses is her birthday party that included a petting zoo. There was a horse named Red Rider doing trail rides, and Kennedy said she just kept going back to the horse — while she was decked out head-to-toe in a My Little Pony jumpsuit.
Kennedy’s parents, Julie and Brad Crisp, signed her up for recreational riding in sixth grade and she learned the basics of horse riding, but it wasn’t enough training for Kennedy. After three years, her then-trainer said she needed to visit Meadowbriar Stables in Newburgh, Ind.
She met with Kim Gundry, the owner of the stables and began riding there the next week.
“She watched my first lesson and offered me a spot on the Interscholastic Equestrian Association team,” Kennedy said.
The Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) is an organization students can join from fourth grade up to 12th grade. Riders compete regionally in five regular season shows to qualify for the regionals, zones and finally nationals.
“You do not ride your own horse, however, because you draw a horse from a hat and that’s the horse you ride for your class,” Kennedy said.
Riders compete in two classes — flat, which requires the rider to control the horse and is judged on accuracy, smoothness and overall position of the rider while the horse walks, trots or cantors and jumping, where judges evaluate the rider’s position, consistency, smoothness, and flow between 2-foot or 2 and a half foot jumps.
“Once you qualify for regionals, you must place in the top three of your class to move on to zones,” Kennedy said. “There are a total of 11 zones. I compete in Zone 5, which includes Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Michigan with over 80 high school teams altogether. In Zones, you also have to place in the top 3 to move on to Nationals.”
Riders also have the opportunity to become a “team rider,” who represents the team in all post-season shows in team classes as opposed to individual classes.
Now a senior at Daviess County High School, Kennedy said it was during her freshman year when she placed first in regionals that she knew riding was what she was meant to do.
“This is what she wants to do for the rest of her life,” Julie said. “It makes her happy and she is beautiful to watch.”
Her father said that there is just something about her when she rides that makes them so proud.
“I guess it’s because we know how much effort goes into her riding, so watching her put it all together and do so well is amazing,” Brad said.
Julie said that she wishes that people unfamiliar with the sport realized that these riders and their horses are amazing athletes.
“Just because it’s pretty to watch doesn’t make it easy,” she said. “They have no idea how hard the riders are working to make it look that way. It has to look beautiful and smooth, but there are a million things going on while they are in the arena.”
She said that Kennedy has competed in Hunters, Equestrian and Jumping, all three different and require different styles of riding, which means that her horse has to move differently for each as well.
“Kennedy is responsible for making sure her horse is in frame [body position], that she controls the speed, that she gets the correct number of strides between jumps, that she jumps at the right place so she doesn’t take a big spot,” Julie said. “She has to make sure her horse gets the correct lead off the jumps or fly the lead if necessary or do a simple change if the horse doesn’t have a flying lead. There’s a lot to understand and so much going on when Equestrians compete.”
In 2017, a horse came to Meadowbriar Stables that Kennedy said was not in shape or very friendly. Kennedy said it took time for the horse to trust anyone, but, with time, she began opening up. For Kennedy’s birthday later that year, her parents present Epona, the horse, as Kennedy’s gift.
Both parents said that horse showing is not cheap, but it is worth it to see how far Kennedy has come and how she will use all of her experiences as she pursues a career in the horse industry.
“Kennedy is involved in year-round training and practice. She can’t just take a break or let a show horse go without being ridden,” her father said. “These are 1000-pound animals with minds of their own. They need exercise just like their riders to do well. If for some reason she can’t ride, she has to find someone else to exercise her horse. In this sport you have to make sure your partner is cared for, fed, turned out, cleaned up after and groomed. I don’t know many athletes that have to clip their teammate’s hair, trim their ears and clean their feet.”
This year, Kennedy qualified for Nationals, which will be held April 26-28 in Harrisburg, Penn. Kennedy said that her trainer has had two other riders qualify in past years, but this is the first year where she will bring two to the same show. The other is Gundry’s son Karston.
“I’m very excited to share the experience with him since it is both of our first times at Nationals,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy said there are a couple of other riders on her team from Daviess County, but most live in Evansville or close to the stables.
“I love going to the barn every Saturday for practice and seeing my teammates,” Kennedy said. “They are the nicest, funniest and most talented people I have ever met and I love them all. The ‘barn family’ is unlike any other. We take care of the younger kids when their parents can’t make shows and parents take us under their wing as if we were their own. I am lucky that my family and I have met these amazing people throughout the years.”
After Kennedy graduates from Daviess County High School, she will attend William Woods University in Fulton, Mo. to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Equine Science. She will also compete with the Hunter and Jumper Club in professional national competitions.
“After college, I plan to intern with a professional at their barn and ride under them to further my riding abilities and, hopefully, become a professional myself,” Kennedy said.