National championships aren’t rare around Tuscaloosa, but one local teenager is adding one to the pile after she won the Interscholastic Equestrian Association’s Hunt Seat National Final in Lexington, Virginia.
Abbey Whitmer first took to the saddle when she was 8 years old, but ever since she’s been training for competition.
“I wasn’t expecting to go in there and do amazing,” she said. “I was just trying to do my best.”
Turns out, Abbey’s best was more than enough to secure her the title of Varsity Open Champion.
“There’s so many factors that play into you winning a national championship, and everything just lined up so nicely,” said Tuscaloosa Equestrian Team coach Reid Rickett. “She rode so well. Everything came together, and we won, and I still can’t really believe it. I’m still on cloud nine.”
Westminster Farm in Northport highlights a different kind of teamwork, as human and animal work together toward the same goals.
“As you get to know your horse, you learn how they like you to ride, and they learn how you ask them for different things,” Abbey said. “Eventually, you start to click and can get to know the horse more. You don’t have to ask as hard because they get to know you and what you’re really wanting them to do.”
However, in the competition Abbey won, riders don’t ride their own horses. When they enter the ring, it’s the first time horse and rider have ever worked together.
“She won because she knew the fundamentals of how to ask a horse what to do,” Rickett said.
This kind of competition isn’t easy for riders, but Abbey’s spent years training for her moment in the spotlight.
“She did a good job of handling something that maybe would have been a little more difficult for someone else,” Rickett said. “She comes by that because she’s out here riding two or three horses a day, even after school. So she’s got a really good understanding and a good feel, and a quick response time to anything that happens underneath her.”
Rickett said Abbey has a bright future ahead of her. Now, she’s getting invitations to elite competitions — along with the potential for college scholarships. But her first big win is sticking with her.