Sabrina Wilson finding success on horesback

By Gregory Ball

Sabrina Wilson played soccer at various times during her high school career at La Jolla Country Day, but no sport ever interested her as much as being in the saddle on horseback.

A lifelong horsewoman, as she described herself, the 2007 graduate of La Jolla Country Day showed horses in the all-around competition for the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) for many years, and has recently made the switch to the unique sport of reining. So far, the new discipline is proving to suit her well.

Earlier this year, Wilson was named National Horse Reining Association (NHRA) Rookie of the Year by Performance Horse magazine.

"I'm really excited to have done what I've done," Wilson said. "It's been an amazing experience."

According to the NHRA Web site, reining is a judged event designed to show the athletic ability of a ranch-type horse within the confines of a show arena. In NRHA competition, contestants are required to run one of 10 approved patterns.

Each pattern includes small slow circles, large fast circles, flying lead changes, roll backs over the hocks, 360-degree spins done in place and exciting sliding stops that are the hallmark of the reining horse.

The NRHA judging system is recognized as the leading format for judging an equine event that combines technical and stylistic elements coupled with consideration of degree of difficulty. Many segments of the equine judging discipline have openly embraced the NRHA judging system.

"The idea is to have total control of the horse at all times," Wilson said. "You're not supposed to make any noise or look like you're giving the horse any audible commands.

"There are 10 patterns, and if you're off by more than six feet from where the maneuver is supposed to happen, there is a penalty."

Judging is based on a 70-point base score, with points added or deductions taken for each pattern throughout the performance. A top score might be 73. Wilson likened it to figure skating.

In November, Wilson won a national championship in her division at the NHRA Futurity in Oklahoma City.

During her freshman season at Stanford last year, she placed second in the intercollegiate AQHA open reining competition and second in the individual open western horsemanship competition.

Wilson grew up in Rancho Santa Fe, and her mother bought the family's first horse when Wilson was just 3 years old. She was showing horses on her own by the time she was 7. Both of her older sisters rode when they were younger and eventually gave it up, but Wilson enjoyed it enough to stick with it.

"I just love the horses and their personalities," she said.

Wilson decided to make the switch to reining in June of 2006 and quickly took to the new discipline. She said she was somewhat surprised by her early success, but attributed a lot of it to the athlete under the saddle.

"I walked into a really great horse," Wilson said. "Each time I show him, he gives me everything - it's really, really fun."

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