MARQUETTE - When making plans to head off to college, most high school students make lists of items to pack - a mini fridge, bedding, laundry detergent, a computer. Allie Mestnik, 17, a junior at Marquette Senior High School, will have one more thing: her horse, Notable Grace, a 16-year-old thoroughbred mare.
"I've been riding since I was 4 years old," Mestnik said. "I've always really liked animals."
From first beginning in competitions when she was 11 to now helping children through therapeutic riding, Mestnik said the bond she shares with her horse and her experiences riding have made the activity something she wants to continue.
Competing in eventing — a combination of three types of competition — Allie Mestnik and her horse Grace share a bond both on the course and off. The pair routinely travels to competition throughout the summer. (Christine Garceau photo)
"What makes it great is the relationship you have with the horse. Their heart is the biggest thing," Mestnik said.
A competitor in what is called eventing, Mestnik rides four to five times a week after school.
"I ride English (style), but I do eventing. It's like a triathlon for the horse," she said.
In an eventing competition, a horse and rider must compete in dressage, cross country (jumping over natural obstacles) and show jumping. With the competition season typically starting in July, Mestnik said she usually travels to four competitions each year.
Although she started her riding career in Marquette, since the eighth grade she has also been a "working student" during the summer at training facilities in the southern United States, receiving coaching and training in exchange for working with other students. Last summer she began training at a facility in North Carolina, where she is planning to return this year.
During the school year, however, her horse is boarded at Willow Farms in Harvey. Although the staff there takes care of feeding the horse, Mestnik must balance her school work with the rest of the care Grace requires.
"I have to go out and brush her and tack her up," Mestnik said. "You really have to be on top of it and be very organized."
In Marquette, Mestnik takes dressage lessons with Karin Steffens for an hour at a time. Stadium jumping lessons focus on the horse's jumping ability and agility. Cross country jumping, which Mestnik said is her favorite part of training, focuses on endurance, while improving speed and jumping ability.
In addition to her own training, Mestnik also volunteers with the Willow Farm Therapeutic Riding program, which allows kids with special needs to ride.
"I absolutely love volunteering," she said. "At WFTR, I am a side-walker and a horse leader. It brings such joy to see these kids overcome obstacles in their lives and it makes me feel like anything is possible. If they can do it, so can I."
While she has another year left at MSHS, Mestnik said her goal is to be able to continue riding.
"I'm going to try and ride and compete through college," she said, adding that colleges in the South have riding teams.
"I stick with it because it's fun."
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.