SPEARFISH — Ever since she was a little girl Ericka Furnish has loved riding and showing horses - and today she's vying to compete with the best in the world.
The 17-year-old is training day in and day out to prepare for both the American Quarter Horse Association's Youth World Championships in August and the Novice Championships in October.
“It's a lot of hard work and a lot of long days, but I love it and it's all going to be worth it if I do well,” she said. “It's crazy to think about the fact that I've spent all these years training for it and it's finally here.”
She thanks God, her parents and everyone who has gotten her this far because this is a great opportunity.
“I couldn't have done this without them,” she said.
Furnish, a junior at Spearfish Classical Christian School in Spearfish, said she fell in love with horses when she was 5 years old and while growing up she participated in 4-H. Her first American Quarter Horse Association competition occurred when she was 11 years old and she's been hooked ever since.
“I love the people, I love the challenge, and I love a good competition,” she said. That alone, she said, motivates her to work even harder.
In addition to the Novice youth championships, Furnish will also participate in the Quarter Horse Congress competition, the largest horse show in the world. More than 17,000 of the world's best riders will be in attendance and it is held in Columbus, Ohio this October.
When she's not in school, she is preparing for the national competition. Oftentimes she travels to Elizabeth, Colo., which is seven hours away from Spearfish, to work with her personal trainer. During the school year, she travels to Colorado at least once a month and during the summer she will either be training or competing nearly every weekend. While training, she works hard to develop and enhance her horsemanship and exhibitor skills. Her trainers, Bill Bormes and Joseph Bennett, challenge her to do her best.
“They both have a lot of experience and they really know how to push me to my limit so they are constantly pushing for excellence,” she said. “They are always reminding me to focus and do my best if I want to get to the top.”
All her hard work has paid off so far this year because she's taken top honors in the six competitions that have been held since January. Her goal is to continue that trend through the summer.
“We have shows nearly every weekend and they are held all over the country, so we stay pretty busy,” Furnish said. “It's a lot of time to be away from home but it's worth it because it's something I really love.”
In addition to her success in this year's competitions, Justin Boots named Furnish as South Dakota Youth Rookie of the Year for 2011 and she is currently the all around leader for the Novice Youth division of the Rocky Mountain Quarter Horse Association.
Vicki Furnish, her mom, said it's exciting to see her daughter so passionate about something.
“This is something that she's always wanted. She's stayed so focused over the years so I believe that with her drive and determination she will do well,” she said. “So, this is really exciting for us.”
American Quarter Horse Association competitions feature several different classes of competition, which include Western riding, English riding, and showing the horse in-hand. Furnish competes as an all around rider, but some of her favorite events are Western riding, English Equitation, Horsemanship and Showmanship.
Her best event is showmanship because, “ Buster is really good at it and I've become a lot more confident over the years.”
Buster, her 15 year-old quarter horse whose registered name is Petite Finesse, is currently third in the nation in Green Trail and also placed in Western Riding. Furnish said Buster has his own claim to fame, as his dad Petite Lord is nominated for the American Quarter Horse Association's Hall of Fame, which is quite the accomplishment.
The horse shows, she said, are nothing like rodeo.
“They are more controlled and slow pace. If you aren't showing, and not a horseman it's not really that exciting to watch,” Furnish said. “It's very much like a beauty pageant, but with horses and a lot of finesse from the horse and rider.”
In what little spare time Furnish does have, she said she loves to dance, sing, draw and hang out with her friends.
Her future plans are to obtain an equine scholarship in college so she can continue to ride. She plans to study biology with a possible outcome of being a veterinarian or a doctor.