Teammates ride to semi-finals

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Layne Saliba

Getting national recognition is a big thing, it is something that sports teams get when they make waves in unexpected waters.

Although they’re not making waves, because they choose to ride horseback, sophomore Elizabeth Belville and junior Laura Smith are getting the attention they want.

“When I was in middle school I had a horse, and when he was five he went blind,” Smith said. “That was devastating because he was my show horse.””

“I ended up continuing with him for two years. I took him to shows and everything. Even without his sight people had no idea. It kinda made me push harder to do the best I could because, I mean, here’s my horse, he’s like completely relying on me to be his eyes. That level of trust, that he would allow me to take him to a strange place and ride him and him be fine.”

That wasn’t the only struggle that Smith would face throughout her equestrian career. During her senior year of high school, she would be thrown off the saddle by a horse that had a health issue causing it to start bucking. She suffered a fractured hip due to this and was on crutches for five weeks.

“I went like a month and a half without being able to ride and then I had like three or four weeks to try and get back. I mean, I lost like all the strength in my legs but I ended up going to zones [semi-finals] and making it to nationals,” Smith said.

Despite these unfortunate circumstances that Smith went through, she came out on top and made it to the National Reigning Horse Association semi-finals this year along with her teammate, Belville. They both have found a sport that they enjoy and couldn’t imagine going through life without it. Even when other things have been let go, riding has always stuck around.

“It’s been my life, everything. I’d always do like soccer or gymnastics, but I just kinda would get rid of those, but horse-riding has always stayed with me,” Belville said.

Both riders have had a passion for riding since a young age. Smith started out when she was eight-years-old, while Belville was only three when she first climbed on a horse. Riding has been something they have always loved, and this love for the sport can be largely attributed to each of their mothers.

“She’s always been the one that’s been there for me. Even when I came to college,” Belville said.

“When I was younger, I always wanted to ride. And my mom had always wanted to ride too. So when I was eight she was like ‘we’ll just get her some horse-back riding lessons and it will be all good.’ And then six months later we bought a horse,” Smith said.

The desire to ride is something that carried on through elementary school, middle school and high school. Now they have taken it to the collegiate level and seem to be happy with their decision.

Both Belville and Smith chose to attend Georgia Southern University partly because of the equestrian team. Even though Belville didn’t ride her first year at GSU because she wanted to focus on her first semester as a college student, she still wanted to have the option to do what she loves in case she changed her mind.

“I just wanted to take time, but I made sure the school had an equestrian program before I came here,” Belville said.

All of the hard work and training took these GSU equestrian stars to the NRHA semi-finals. It was a journey with ups and downs, but once they accomplished what they had been working so long for, they couldn’t help but to have an incredible experience. Both girls were able to stay concentrated on their riding, but still were able to have fun and enjoy the time they had while at semi-finals.

“It was a lot of fun. I think it was more fun because we got to do it together. So it was like we both worked towards it the whole summer. The main thing was we both wanted to have fun,” Belville said.”

They both took part in riding western style at semi-finals, and even though they did not make it further than that, the girls remained positive.

“We were just happy we made it that far,” Belville said.

Smith felt the same way, “It was just an amazing experience to get there,” she said.

Both girls, however, realize that they couldn’t have gotten to where they are or accomplished what they have without the help and support from those closest to them. They both make mention of their parents, coaches and teammates as key roles in their success.

“My parents were a good support system. And then like in college our coach, Eleanor Ellis, she’s really been helpful in helping me grow as a rider in both my ability and confidence,” Smith said. “I wouldn’t have ever been able to get this far if it wasn’t for the support system of our coach and the teammates.”

Plans for the future include riding for both girls. The love for riding will always be part of their lives and they don’t plan on letting it go. Even though the expenses for showing at competitions may become too much to bear, they will still continue to ride for enjoyment.