Maisie Rowley took up equestrian when she was 4 years old, has owned her horse Libby since she was 12 years old and qualified for state in both her freshman and sophomore high school seasons.
Now a junior, Rowley says her combination of mental preparation, care for her horses and increased diligence led to her best Oregon high school equestrian season ever.
Unlike many other high school equestrian athletes, Rowley actually trained Libby rather than relying on a professional trainer. It's been an onerous but rewarding process.
"It's way more challenging because you have to do everything yourself. I'm not a pro so I've done a lot of research on different methods. Patience. That's one of the hardest things you have to learn because Libby is so sensitive. There's no shortcuts at all," Rowley said.
She says she has grown closer to Libby, as well as her other horse Dixie, because of it.
"They have respect for me and I feel like we have a better relationship because I spend so much time with them," Rowley said.
Rowley says mental preparation is an underrated aspect of equestrian competitions. Though she often feels anxious, she tries to remain as calm as possible before performing. To keep herself tranquil, she works out at the gym as much as possible – even late at night and before meets.
"I started doing it more recently and I think it works. That's one of the reason why I did better this year," Rowley said.
And Rowley accomplished a couple first place performances in showmanship and hunt seat equitation at the OHSET state championships in May.
"State was one of the best showmanship rounds I've ever had because I had the mental preparation, studied really hard; my horse was finished. I really went in there looking like I was going to win it. I smiled and had confidence," she said.
Though she won two reserve championships in showmanship and hunt seat equitation at the Pacific Northwest Invitational Championship, against athletes from Oregon and Washington, she wasn't as happy with her performance. She says she felt exhausted and that the judges likely noticed.
"Those three points make a huge difference. You have to show the judges that you're in there to be serious or they knock off points," she said.
Rowley excels in many events but her favorite is hunt seat equitation. She enjoys standing tall, smiling and trotting around with her horse across the arena. Again, she says her facial and postural projections made the difference in her state championship victory in that event.
"I just projected confidence and I just rode as best I could," she said.
Similar to traditional team sports, Rowley must rely on another being to attain her goals. Except horses can be more erratic and elusive than humans. However, Rowley trusts her horses.
And before performances, she gives Libby words of appreciation.
"It makes me emotional to think about this. I feel like she's always ready. It's me that has to ride well. I tell her I love her and how thankful I am. She's basically my sister. We fight like sisters. I just try to be thankful regardless of my performance," Rowley said.
Canby wins team titles at regionals
Along with Rowley's reserve championships, Canby won the freestyle five-plus and the in hand obstacle relay competitions while Kira Tipikin earned a bronze medal in driving at the regional competition.
"I think she's performed pretty consistently all season. She's always placed pretty well. She performed with a normal high level of precision," Canby coach Samantha Steinke said of Tipikin.
"I think we had the best performances of the entire season. We all fought through dreadful practices, the tears, sweat, it was absolutely wonderful to hear our names announced," Rowley said of the team titles.
Rowley says friendship was a key to individuals coalescing together in the team events. And she feels more pressure to live up to expectations in team events than individual events.
"Coach Sam says you're only as strong as your weakest link. I try to be strong and be an inspiration for my teammates," she said.
Steinke was proud of her team's performance not only at state and regionals but throughout the entire season.
"I think they had an amazing season. It was one of our better ones .We won most of our meets by a greater point spread than normal and our athletes' dedication was higher than usual," she said.