MEYERSDALE, Pa. — Many young girls have a fascination for horses, but often that interest fades with time. However, for one area teen, the passion has only grown.
Kaitlyn Crissinger, now 19 years old, discovered her love of horses when she was just 9, during a visit to a stable in Garrett County.
Crissinger has always been small in stature, but she felt invincible atop an “old lesson pony” named Blaze, igniting an interest and passion that has led down many trails and to many adventures.
“I was a little scared at first, but excited and I loved it,” she said.
She quickly mastered riding, and during an outing with her trainer, she said she discovered barrel racing.
Barrel racing is a rodeo competition in which a rider and horse race against the clock through a clover-leaf pattern course, maneuvering around three barrels in the center of the arena.
The sport requires the horse and rider to be in sync as they move through the challenging course.
Eager to improve and expand her range of skills, Crissinger began learning the techniques of the sport.
So enthused by their daughter’s excitement, Jeff and Roxann Crissinger bought Kaitlyn her own horse just six months later. Rocky, a quarter horse, towered over young Kaitlyn, who at the time was just over 3 feet tall.
“Rocky was a roping horse, but his owner sold him because he was ‘too much horse.’ Too much horse, here I was 70 pounds and I had no trouble with this 1,200-pound horse, over 15 hands tall,” she said with a laugh. “His old owner couldn’t believe it when he saw me with Rocky.”
Both faced the task of learning new skills and techniques. Less than a year after she first climbed atop the lesson pony, Kaitlyn and Rocky entered their first barrel race and have been charging forward ever since.
Kaitlyn continues to compete in more than 20 events each year as a member of the National Barrel Horse Association and the Western Pennsylvania Youth Rodeo Association. She is ranked in the top five of her age division in the rodeo association.
These competitions have led Kaitlyn, her dad and Rocky on many adventures, but Kaitlyn faces each with the same level of excitement she felt the first time she sat in the saddle.
“Every race is exciting to me; the thrill is always there,” she said. “I have a real need for speed, but only behind the reins, not behind the wheel.”
The average retirement age for barrel racing horses is 24, but Kaitlyn is confident that Rocky, now 19, has many more years of competition ahead of him. Barrel racing can be physically demanding for the horses, and Jeff and Kaitlyn provide Rocky with the best possible care to minimize the possibility of injury.
Kaitlyn and Rocky consistently post scores in the range of 17 seconds, scores that are comparable with those of championship riders.
Earlier this year, the Crissingers’ stable welcomed a new addition, a 2-year-old quarter horse named Azzie. Azzie has quickly adjusted to her new life, far from her South Dakota home.
Kaitlyn has been busy working with Azzie, training her for riding and plans to eventually train her to barrel race.
“She is really smart and is learning quickly,” Kaitlyn said. “She is a little mischievous, though; she loves peppermints and will only take them from me and she likes to nip at people, everyone but me.”
Like Azzie, Rocky has some unusual preferences.
“He loves pancakes. Each year, when we go to the fairs, I have my pancake breakfast and so does he,” she said.
Watching Kaitlyn preparing to ride Rocky, Jeff said, “To think this all started with a pony ride. She was comfortable from the first moment. This is something she can do for the rest of her life.”
The Crissingers’ journey has not been without some bumps and bruises, but all agree that the benefits far outweigh the hazards.
“We have had some injuries, but she loves riding,” Jeff said.
“I have had three sets of crutches and last year I had a pretty bad fall. Horses can be unpredictable and you have to be careful. I always wear a helmet when I am riding,” Kaitlyn added.
Jeff said he has enjoyed watching Kaitlyn’s confidence grow and her skills improve, proud of the young woman she has become both in the saddle and out.
Kaitlyn is enrolled at Frostburg State University in the pre-med program. She plans to pursue a career as a pediatrician. She said she knows horses will always be an important aspect of her life, but said, “I might have to take some time off for medical school.”
Kaitlyn remains small in stature — just 4 feet, 8 inches tall — but has found that horses and barrel racing is one area of her life that is completely unaffected by her height. Once she settles in the saddle she is a fearless and determined competitor.
“This is one sport where height doesn't matter. If anything, my size gives me an advantage,” she explained. “And I have a real competitive streak. I like to win.”
Contact Angie Brant at email@example.com.