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Love of horses leads to competitive riding

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By John Barnhart

    Gabrielle Clauser, a Bedford County homeschooler who recently turned 15, loves horses.

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    She’s been riding since she was 7 and is planing on becoming a veterinarian specializing in horses.
    The love of horses started with a summer camp. Clauser said that her mother asked her if she wanted to go to summer camp. Summer camps were not exactly her cup of tea, but this one involved horses. That got her attention and she decided to try it.
    “I’ve loved [riding] ever since,” she said.
    She also rides competitively.
    Clauser originally started riding saddle seat, a style designed primarily to show off certain horse breeds. That style, however, is not popular in this area so Clauser switched late last year to a new style called hunt seat. This style includes jumping horses over obstacles.
    She started competitively with Mane Top Stables on Nov. 20 and rode in her first competition on Nov. 23. The style was so new for her that she even had to borrow the outfit she wore.
    In spite of the newness, Clauser won her first show. She was hooked on the new style.
    “I kind of like the hunter discipline better,” she said.
    Kristen Nelson, Mane Top’s owner, is Clauser’s instructor. According to Clauser’s mother, Rebecca Sturm-Clauser, Nelson has 40 students and adapts her instruction to each student’s needs.
    “Gabby is really coachable,” said Nelson. “She has a good amount of natural talent and picks up on new things quickly.”
    According to Nelson, much of the hunt seat style derived from cavalry. Cavalrymen had to be able to jump horses over ditches and obstacles. Nelson said judges look at both horse and rider in these competitions. Horses that do well in these competitions tend to be calm horses that have flowing movements that are conducive for covering a lot of distance.
    Clauser has hopes of using her equestrian abilities to get a riding team scholarship to college.  She said a number of colleges in this area have equestrian teams and she’s most likely to get a scholarship in the hunt saddle style.
    Where does she want to go?
    “Randolph would be nice,” she said.
    That’s where Nelson went to college. It was Randolph-Macon Woman’s College back then. It’s now Randolph College and admits men as well as women.
    Clauser is also considering Virginia Tech for its veterinary program.
    Her mother is excited about the opportunity Mane Top provides for area youth.
    “There is something great for kids to get into,” said Rebecca Sturm-Clauser. “You don't have to own a horse to ride.”
    Clauser leases Indy, the horse she trains on and rides in