KERSEY – To the untrained observer at a horse show, it may not seem like it takes much to maneuver horse and rider gracefully around the ring-- but competitive rider Tia Meredith of Kersey knows differently.
"Preparing for a show is a lot of work. Not only you, but the horse, has to practice and know what to do," Meredith said.
Meredith, who has been riding for 35 years and showing competitively for 27 years, became interested in competition while attending Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
"I got started showing in college when I rode with IUP’s Equestrian team," Meredith said. "During the summers, I showed locally because I wanted to continue competing."
She competes in both English and Western riding, which differ in a number of ways.
"Western and English are very different. The saddles, bridles and the way the horse moves are different," Meredith said. "Western is a more relaxed, slower type of riding. I show Saddleseat, which is a type of English where the horse is faster-moving and has a more animated way of moving. The tack for each type of riding is different and the technique of riding is different also."
Meredith said she prefers Saddleseat because she has been showing that style longer. She also competes in Trail Classes, in which obstacles are set up for the horse to go around or over. She shows with her two Morgan horses, Unique and Copper.
"Each horse has their own personality. It gives me a sense of accomplishment when I can get them to do the things I am asking them to do," Meredith said.
She has been training Unique, now 25, since he was just two years old.
"Working with him and making him the great horse that he is today is one of my major accomplishments. We have had many accomplishments together through the years. He is still my favorite trail horse and the horse I choose to ride," Meredith said.
She and her husband, Ken, stable the horses at their home, allowing her the opportunity to spend as much time with them as possible and just enjoy being around them.
"It is very relaxing for me to go to the barn and just brush a horse," Meredith said.
Meredith has attended several clinics and taken lessons through the years to improve her equitation skills, but said the best method is to learn by doing.
"I have lots of hands-on training. Spending time with horses and people who know about them is the best education you can get," Meredith said.
"Ideally, you need a ring to practice in and it really helps if someone is there to watch you and tell you what to improve on. The day before a show, the horse needs bathed and clipped to make sure he looks his best. Your tack should be clean and look like new before each show."
Through the years, Meredith has won many awards, including High Point English Pleasure and all-around high-point rider for Foothills Horse and Pony Club; Grand Championship Classic Pleasure Riding and Driving at the Penn Ohio Morgan Show, which qualified her for the Morgan Horse National Show; and Grand Champion English Pleasure Award in the Open Competition through the American Morgan Association.
"At some of the larger shows there is prize money for championship classes, but mostly the prizes are ribbons or year-end trophies," Meredith said. "I also compete to get points through the American Morgan Association. There is a national competition where you get points for classes won and at the end of the show season; the horse with the most points wins that division."
Meredith said looking for mentors in competitive showing is not that difficult; she just looks to the ring. "Anyone who competes and wins has been a role model. I have learned a lot by watching others ride," Meredith said. "I have learned a lot from Buzz Schlimm, who got me interested in the Morgan breed. I also trained under Dave Scanlon and Jeff Bessey, both very successful Morgan trainers."
Meredith teaches seventh grade at St. Marys Catholic Middle School. She is the daughter of Joann and the late Bill Johnson of St. Marys, and her mother travels with her to all of the shows in which she competes. She said this is something they enjoy doing together and that it is very helpful in an atmosphere where timing is tight and judges are looking for even the smallest flaw in the actions or appearance of both horse and rider.
Meredith said although she has had many favorite moments on horseback, there is one in particular that stands out.
"I can remember I had been practicing to beat another competitor who always got first while I came in second. It was at the Elk County Fair Show that I finally was able to beat her and take the first-place ribbon," Meredith said.
"When you practice for something and get it, it means a lot."