School and riding compete for teen’s time

By PATRICIA MORSE/Montana State News

At first glance, Jennifer Hobbs appears to be an average high school sophomore worrying about passing her drivers’ test and the impending threat of the SATs. However, hidden beneath her dark braid and jeans, lies a passion for not only riding but also loving horses.

Jennifer Hobbs and her quarter horse Rodney.
Jennifer Hobbs and her quarter horse Rodney.

Currently, 15, Hobbs has spent her entire life surrounded by horses and has been competing both the amateur level and professionally for the past several years.

On an average day, Hobbs gets up early before school to check on the horses and complete some of her chores before leaving for school.  After school she gets a ride from her mother either to the Belgrade Circle L arena or to a friend’s arena in Butte, both of which are over an hour drive from her house, so that she can practice her riding and showmanship skills.

Warming up the horses and preparing them for the exercises, takes about an hour before she can actually begin riding.  Usually she is done around 7 p.m. but occasionally she does not get home until after nine in the evening when she still has chores and homework to finish before repeating it all the next day.

Along with spending, “three to four hours or more with horses, more if Rodney is at home,” per day according to Hobbs, she is also an active member of her local 4-H organization and enjoys attending sporting events to provide support for her friends and classmates.

One of her hardest challenges is finding a balance between school and her horse activities.  As Hobbs said, “your grades slip and parents have to threaten to take away stuff.”  However, Hobbs says she has received these threats but so far has managed to bring her grades up before it gets serious.

Hobbs, however, understands the importance of her school work, knowing that it will help her gain admission into a university where she can join an equestrian team and major in a related field.  Her dream is to always work around and with horses, wanting to do a little of everything, citing training, boarding, and an interest in equine veterinary work.

However, it has not always been easy, according to her mother Rhonda Hobbs, “the school basically will not recognize her horse show events as an actual activity that is excused, unlike basketball and football.”  Here Mrs. Hobbs is referring to the school’s attendance policy that if a student misses more than 10 class days per semester, their grades will be automatically be lowered.

Mrs. Hobbs goes on to say that she has tried in vain to petition the school board to increase the number of horse activities under the Rodeo program of which absences are excused.  However, she says the school has refused to allow this, even though, according to Mrs. Hobbs, they currently only have one student in the rodeo program.  Additionally, according to the school’s website, rodeo is not listed under the sports or activities.

According to Mrs. Hobbs, the school has a corruption issue in which the program is controlled by an individual from a, “powerful family who can do what they want,” without facing the consequences.   She believes that her daughter, “works harder than the football, basketball, and volleyball teams work.  Jennifer has to work 365 days a year, she does not have off seasons.”

Mrs. Hobbs also cites a letter from a fellow mother that she discovered online by Angie Mitchell entitled, “An Open Letter to my Daughter’s teacher.”  In the brief essay, Mitchell makes the claim that, “while I know school is important, I also know there is more to life than what can be learned in a classroom.”  Mrs. Hobbs fully agrees with this as her daughter has learned and developed numerous life skills that she could not learn in the classroom.

At the beginning of her freshman year, Hobbs was also part of the school basketball and volleyball teams and pep band, in addition to her outside horse events.  However, she was unable to give 100 percent to all of these activities and maintain her grades due to the large number of class days she was unable to attend.

Mrs. Hobbs reflects, “she had to choose her passion and she chose Rodney.”

Last year, 2015, Hobbs placed 15 in the American Quarter Horse Association West Championships competition in Las Vegas.  She considers this her biggest accomplishment, as she had to undergo rigorous training and advance in several competitions to qualify for the championship, where she competed against 44 other highly qualified individuals from the western section of the United States.

According to the American Quarter Horse Association, the competition is based on points awarded during American Quarter Horse events.  The points vary based on the number of competitors in the event and then the total points are calculated to determine the rider’s ranking.

In the 2015 competition, Hobbs was ranked as a rookie; however, this past year she has accumulated enough points to move into the level 1 bracket.  This means that she will be competing with even more skilled riders than last year.

Of this experience, Hobbs said that all of her competition had been doing the same “hard work and skill level.”  Because of this, Hobbs had to work hard to hone her skills to perform at her very best, because her competition was some of the top ranking teenagers in the Western half of the United States.  Looking back she says, “I was nervous but excited.”

In the past three years, Hobbs has competed almost exclusively on her horse Rodney, whom she affectionately refers to as Rod, a Quarter Horse gelding.  However, several weeks ago Rodney developed an injury on his hock, the back of his knee.  Because of this, Hobbs is unable to show Rodney until the swelling goes down and he can be better examined and have surgery this Wednesday.

Because of this, Jennifer Hobbs will complete without her best friend and partner in the first event of the year, this weekend at the Belgrade Circle L arena on Saturday.  Hobbs says that she is disappointed and sad that she will be unable to ride Rodney this weekend, however, her first priority is Rodney’s well-being.

She has the added pressure of currently looking for a younger horse to take some of the pressure off Rodney.  Furthermore, as Rodney just celebrated his 17th birthday, they have to face the possibility that he will probably like to retire from the high pressure lifestyle to a more relaxing one.

However, if Rodney is unable to recover, then Jennifer will have to find a new horse and begin training, all over.  Setting her progress back several months, if not years.  At the moment, she has two family friends who have offered her their horses to use this weekend and for the immediate future but that is only a temporary fix.

During this time, Hobbs has leaned extensively on the support of her friends and family, learning how helpful it is to have supportive and understanding individuals around her.  Some of these supporters are obvious like her parents, Devon and Rhonda Hobbs, who plan their schedules around Hobbs’s competitions and events.

In particular, her mother drives Hobbs and Rodney to all of their competitions which span across Montana, South Dakota and Washington.  Furthermore, while at the shows Mrs. Hobbs acts as Hobbs’s ground support, meaning that she not only cheers but also goes back to the trailer to get any items that were accidently left and other tasks.

This is a lot to manage as Mrs. Hobbs also runs her own business and maintains an active presence in the community.  However, when asked if it is all worth it, her response is immediate.  “Yes, without any hesitation.  It has made our relationship a lot stronger,”  as they now spend hours together traveling to events and training for competitions.

She goes on to say the improvements that it has made on Jennifer Hobbs as well.

“It instills a lot of responsibility,” Mrs. Hobbs says. “She has to have the skills to manage her time.”  She believes that her relationship with horses has provided Jennifer Hobbs with invaluable life skills.

However, Jennifer Hobbs also cites her friend and mentor Jody Kissock and various classmates as some of her largest supporters.  Kissock is one of the individuals allowing Hobbs to continue practicing her skills on one of her horses while Rodney heals.

When asked how Rodney would describe her, Jennifer Hobbs immediately states, “talkative” with a sigh.  During their exercises and rides, she said that she maintains an almost never ending stream of conversation with Rodney, giving him pep talks, as well as, constructive criticism.

Although Hobbs competes in both English and Western style events, she gets much more enjoyment from the English style.  According to her, “English is like floating on the horse … like on a cloud.” This, she explains, is due to the smaller and thinner style of saddle that is required for English compared to the larger style that predominates Western riding.

Additionally, in English riding Hobbs feels more connected to the horse, due to the increased levels of communication and concentration for both the rider and the horse.  The best part of showing according to Hobbs is, “I like showing, more competition, and you have to work harder.”

Part of Hobbs’ reasoning behind this, she states like a mantra, “always be better, I want to be better.”

Thinking of her past and future riders, Hobbs believes that it is important to “get people around

you who are into it and passionate and will help you through rough times, like Rod and me.  You do not need all the big shiny stuff like saddles and awards.”

Hobbs thinks that the material possessions and gains cannot compare to the relationships that are created and forged, not only with the riders, but also with the horses.

– Edited by Tyler Worthen

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