There’s nothing like sitting on the back of a big, beautiful animal, feeling its muscles move in rhythm as you race as one in a cloud of dust. Kirsten Pape of Waterford knows that feeling well. She’s been riding horses since she was 4 years old and started competing three years later.
Now, at 10 years old, Kirsten and her horse, Slapshot, have won a number of racing honors. They competed together at the Walworth County Fair in Elkhorn, Wis., at the end of August in both the Tiny Tot (ages 10 years and under), Junior (ages 11-16) and Open classes of Walenton’s Rocking “B” Ranch Speed Show.
The two-day event consisted of flag and sand races, barrel races, pole bending, speed and action and other speed events during which horse and rider compete together against the clock. All events were timed and the fastest rider and horse won trophies and prize money.
Kirsten set a record, according to Barbara Walenton, owner of Walenton’s Rocking “B” Ranch. “Kirsten is the youngest participant to win the all-Around High Point trophy,” she said, noting that 10-year-old Kirsten outscored a 17-year-old competitor to earn the trophy.
In the Tiny Tot and Junior classes, Kirsten and Slapshot placed first in all events, setting a new personal record of 16.2 seconds in barrel racing and 25.558 seconds in pole bending.
“The best part was beating kids a lot older than me,” Kirsten said.
More recently, Kirsten earned the 2K Ranch Horse and Cattle Company (Helenville) 2008 Youth Reserve Champion title in the 18 and under Junior Class for this season.
Kirsten trains with professional barrel racer Colleen Barry of Winner Sircle Stables in Union Grove. Slapshot, a 6-year-old Appaloosa, has spent time training with Barry as well.
Girl and horse are quite the team – just like in any team or individual sport, they have a practice schedule, do warm up and conditioning exercises and have a coach to give them direction.
Kirsten’s commitment to her horse and riding carry though in the rest of her life as well. She enjoys studying math and science at Woodfield School in Waterford, and wants to go to college to be a veterinarian someday.
Along the way, Kirsten has become a champion for people who have special needs, sharing her time and love for horses with others.
Kirsten and Slapshot volunteer at Willow Creek Ranch, a therapeutic riding program for children and adults with dis-abilities that is owned by her mom, Jennifer Pape.
At Willow Creek, Kirsten leads therapy pony, Mr. Chubs, for participants ranging from ages 3 to 6 years old. Kirsten enjoys working with the children on cognitive skills, eye-hand coordination and riding skills during their 45-minute riding sessions.
Willow Creek is a member of the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA).
“It’s more than just putting a child on a horse,” Jennifer Pape said.
Therapeutic riding helps children and adults with a variety of disabilities and conditions such as Attention Deficit Disorder, Autism, Traumatic Brain Injuries, Cerebral Palsy, Muscular Dystrophy and others. The games and activities riders do on a horse help them improve motor skills, self-esteem, concentration and problem-solving abilities.
The rhythmic movement of the horse stimulates the riders’ bodies, helping improve their muscle tone, strength, balance and head and trunk control.
“Sometimes we have the kids sitting on the horse backwards,” Pape said.
Willow Creek Ranch Therapeutic Riding Center is located just east of Waterford on Highway 20. Participants range from ages 3 to 85 and have a variety of special needs.
Volunteers are always needed for the program, from horse leaders and side walkers to marketing and grant writing. The ranch currently operates on property owned by Richard Beere.