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By Kendra Gravelle
After years of dedication to the sport, Karleigh Lamoureux, a sophomore at Smithfield High School, took her skills as an equestrian all the way to Virginia, where she competed for a blue ribbon on a national scale.
The Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) features a series of competitions, with equestrians competing locally to advance to regional competitions, then to zone competitions, and finally onto the national finals.
Karleigh qualified for this year’s nationals by placing second in both the regional and zone competitions.
“It was an incredible feeling,” Karleigh said. “As soon as I heard my name in second place and knew I was making it to nationals, I cried. I worked really hard—when I get in the ring, my concentration is just on winning the blue.”
At the national championship, held April 22 at Virginia Horse Center in Lexington, Virginia, Karleigh placed seventh out of 21 competitors. Although she didn’t take home the blue ribbon, just having made it to Virginia, she said, was a proud achievement.
“I never thought I would make it to nationals,” she added. “But, with the support of my team, my trainer and my parents I was able to make it, and it’s a really good feeling. It’s a great accomplishment.”
As a member of the Willow Brook Equestrian Team in Lincoln—Karleigh rides with fellow students from high schools throughout Rhode Island.
Karleigh speaks fondly of her teammates. “Our team spirit is amazing,” she says. “We’re always encouraging each other to do great.”
Even during their nearly 10-hour-long show days, each of the 12 team members makes sure to stick around until the last equestrian has finished her ride. And if the outcome of a show isn’t great, as long as they have done their best, Karleigh and her teammates are proud of each other.
“All of us are there from beginning to end,” she added, “cheering each other on. To have a supportive team means a lot.”
Karleigh was introduced to equestrianism as a sixth grader, after a friend invited her to join her horseback riding.
“At first I was very nervous,” she said of that first ride, “but I hopped on and I loved it. Controlling a 1,200-pound animal is very intense, but it’s also very exciting.”
Now, four years later, Karleigh has been riding at Willow Brook—where she’s taught by Dina Patnaud—for around two years.
The class Karleigh competed in for the national championship was the junior-varsity beginner walk/trot/canter, on the flat—meaning on the ground with no jumping.
“It’s just going around in a circle,” she explained, “walk, trot and canter.”
Karleigh was accompanied by her mother, Michelle Lamoureux, to the championship. The two drove to Virginia, chatting eagerly about the competition the entire way.
“Then, once we got there, it was a lot to take in.”
The young riders were greeted by several colleges, each there to recruit the talented riders.
Unable to bring Dina along, Karleigh was assigned a proctor trainer for the duration of the competition weekend. Karleigh added that the members and trainers of the IEA were incredibly supportive.
“Everyone there is a team,” she said. “They’re super welcoming and everyone will help you become a better rider.”
Horses were assigned to riders at random.
“You don’t know what to expect,” Karleigh explained. “You haven’t sat on that animal—you’re giving it your all on a horse you’ve never been on before. It’s a unique experience.”
Out of 21 equestrians, eight received callbacks—those riders also received ribbons.
“I rode Friday night,” Karleigh said, “and I got a callback, so I knew I was going home with a ribbon and that was really what mattered to me—I wanted to go home with a national ribbon.”
On Saturday, Karleigh was assigned large horses to compete with—that posed quite a challenge for the 5-foot-tall equestrian.
Regardless of the results, just seeing her daughter compete in a national championship was a proud moment for Karleigh’s mother.
“It’s amazing,” Michelle said. “All the effort, time and resources that we put into it really paid off.”
“She’s a well-rounded kid,” she continued, “and she worked hard for this—I’m very proud of her.”
Karleigh added that she wouldn’t have made it as far as she did if not for the unwavering support of her mother and her father, Marc Lamoureux.
“My parents are the ones who got me here,” she said. “They encourage me every time I step into that show ring to do my best. Even if I disappoint myself, I’ll never disappoint them.”
As for the future, Karleigh said she’s considering moving south for college, where the equestrian season is year-round.
She thinks she’d like to study education.
One thing is for certain, though—as she takes the reigns on her future, horses will certainly play a role.
“I definitely want to continue riding,” Karleigh said, adding that she hopes to one day own her own horse. “I want my kids to ride, someday.”
“There’s a great connection between a rider and her horse,” she continued, “and you can never take that away.”