Born to ride the ponies

September 1, 2009

By David Hayes

Lilia Habeman rides Dyna last month at the United States Pony Club West Coast Dressage Championships in Auburn, Wash. They helped their team place third at the event. By Tim O’Neal

Lilia Habeman rides Dyna last month at the United States Pony Club West Coast Dressage Championships in Auburn, Wash. They helped their team place third at the event. By Tim O’Neal

Even before Lilia Habeman could walk, she’s been sitting tall in a saddle. So, it was no surprise that the 13-year-old inherited her mother’s love for the ponies.

“I was born with it,” Lilia said.

Involved now in competitive riding for 10 years, Habeman’s bedroom is lined with a growing collection of event ribbons. Last month, she added her biggest one yet — a third place from the United States Pony Club West Coast Dressage Championships.

The challenging aspect of the competition was being assigned to a team of five, none of whom Lilia had ridden with before. Her squad of five, The All American Catch Team, had three people from Idaho and another one from California. So, Habeman was actually the local girl at the competition, held in Auburn.

Lilia admits her good fortune came at the expense of another rider’s bad luck.

“I was actually an alternate,” she explained. “Another rider broke her leg.”A veteran of “falling a billion times, too many to count,” Lilia found the right competition to give her best performance to date — even if it got off to a rocky start.

The teammates were tested on two training-level dressage events (training is a precursor level to the four competitive levels), plus a musical freestyle. To make the finale even more challenging, the technicians false-started her music, throwing off her timing.

“Four seconds were lost with the music restart,” she explained. “It threw us off a little, but hopefully the judges took that into consideration.”

Her pony Dyna, a 24-year-old Arabian Welsh Cob, took the musical hiccup in stride, helping give Lilia her best ride yet. The judges provided a list of requirements to accomplish for the ride.

The United States Pony Club describes dressage as a combination of the strength and agility of gymnastics with the elegance and beauty of ballet. Dressage tests all movements and transitions from one gait to another. Even with the hiccup start, Lilia and Dyna scored a 64 out of a possible 100.

Dyna is the Habeman’s second pony. Lilia actually learned to ride atop mother Nancy’s pony Ty, who lived to a ripe old age of 32.

Nancy, having herself spent a lifetime atop ponies, had ridden Dyna in her youth and bought him a few years back when the opportunity arose. Like any sports mom, she’s proud her daughter is blossoming at her event of choice.

“I’m so thrilled,” said the single mom. “It promotes independence, a lot of self-motivation.”

The events actually allow little contact between parents and their children. Except for the heavy lifting, the rest of the care and preparation falls squarely on Lilia’s petite shoulders, Nancy said. The added responsibilities have rubbed off on the academic side of Lilia — she’ll be Associated Student Body president at Maywood Middle School this year as an eighth-grader.

Even though she rides five days a week and participates in competitions across the U.S., Lilia said she’s still a long way from the level of competition seen on television or in the Olympics. For now, she’s having a lot of fun.

“You get to meet a lot of new people and win big ribbons,” she said.

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