Morrison and her staff work with Sofia, a fifth-grader at Sacred Heart Grade School, two or three times a week. Successful riders must balance the need to strictly control both their body carriage and the horse's movements. In training, Sofia learned to control her horse without using her hands and at others with her hands only and her feet out of the stirrups.
Morrison knew Sofia had the stuff for the big-time competition ring and tried to instill confidence, but also keep the unflappable little girl humble.
"The other trainers have told me that she had a good shot and to keep doing what we were doing," Morrison said.
"She's mature for her age as a rider. She has braveness and an ability usually seen in older riders to handle more difficult horses," she said.
Tall for her age, Sofia's lean frame and long arms make her a more graceful rider. "She's judged on the control she has of her body -- steady arms, feet and legs." Her carriage must remain as erect as possible as she controls the bounce in her saddle as the mare trots around the ring.
Although the horse is not judged in the equitation class, judges scrutinize the rider's ability to control the horse and have it perform a regimen of gaits (walks and trots). Sweetie, a 16-year-old mare, competed in a different division until five months ago, so Sofia had to prevent her from retreating into her more familiar paces.
"It was a transition for the horse as well," Morrison said in reference to Sofia's inexperience in equitation competition.
"We work all year for Louisville. This is the Super Bowl of everything. Riders can do well all year, qualify and not even place. Sofia had something special. Everything clicked," Morrison said.
Reach Julie Robinson at jul...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.