Many Miles Make a Rider

Always up for a new adventure and a fresh challenge, a versatile young horsewoman keeps proving she’s got what it takes.

I’ve done a lot of riding in my life. I’ve gone on 30-mile and 50-mile endurance rides, and competed in state horsemanship contests. I’ve ridden many different horses—a total of 17 so far, which may not seem like a lot unless you consider that I’m only 12 years old.

Credit: Photo by Lisa Chadwick The author on Katir at last year’s Chalk Rock 50-mile endurance ride in Bridgeville, California.

I think all the time I’ve spent in the saddle and on different horses and participating in various programs has helped me become a better rider. Plus it’s been great fun—I highly recommend it.

‘Kung Fu Pony’
I began attending American Endurance Ride Conference events at the age of 3. I didn’t ride then, of course. My mom rode and I stayed in camp with my dad.

At 6, I participated in my first AERC 10-mile fun ride. It was in the Redwood National Park near Orick, along California’s far northern coast. I rode Patches, my then 10-year-old Shetland Pony mare. Actually, we called her “Kung Fu Pony” because she’d buck and kick if other horses came too near. Sometimes I’d end up in front of the saddle horn. Then my mom, also on the ride, would trot up, lift me by the back of my shirt, and plunk me back in the seat.

I learned I prefer to ride in saddles without horns!

I did my first AERC 30-mile ride a few weeks later, the Cuneo Creek ride in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. After a couple of years, I moved up to riding my mom’s Morgan/Arabian endurance horse, Chief, then 20. A real “steady-Eddie,” Chief took care of me and was actually easier to ride than Patches.

My first AERC 50-mile ride was the 2014 Chalk Rock at the Chalk Mountain Ranch in Bridgeville. This time I rode Katir, a veteran 14-year-old Arabian gelding owned by Sharon Wimberg.

‘This Is No Joke’
That first 50-miler was kind of spur-of-the-moment. My friend Alex Niehaus—a third-generation endurance rider—and I were walking through the Chalk Rock camp. Robert Weldin, Sharon’s husband and a close friend of my family, came up to me.

“Mary,” he said, “do you want to ride Katir in the 50 with us tomorrow? This is no joke.”

Did I! Only problem was, I’d come to Chalk Rock just to hang out with my friends—Joleen Bigger as well as Alex—so I didn’t have any riding clothes or tack with me. They say endurance riders are the friendliest, most helpful horse people around, and that proved totally true in my case.

Sharon lent me breeches, socks, and other necessities as well as her wonderful Katir. Jo Proctor lent me a saddle, breast collar, bridle, and reins. Beverly Cananvan lent me her helmet. Three people lent me half chaps; Clarissa Hale’s fit best, and she let me keep them after the ride. Lisa Chadwick (who also took the photos you see of me and Katir), lent me her Ariat riding shoes. (After the ride she wrote “Mary Homicz 50 miles Chalk Rock” on them.)

These are great friends!

That same season, Beverly Cananvan, who has sponsored me in AERC, let me ride her 13-year-old Arabian gelding Marathon in the 2014 Cuneo Creek 30-miler at Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

Like Katir, Marathon is a blast to ride—quite forward but easily manageable.

A ‘Royal’ Time
I do love endurance, but it isn’t the only kind of riding I do. I also belong to the California State Horsemen’s Association, which offers a wide range of programs—from endurance, gymkhana, and trail trials to horsemastership, reining, and royalty. CSHA’s strong emphasis on horsemanship has helped me become a better rider overall.

I’ve competed in several CSHA programs, including royalty. Julie Neely is my horsemanship coach. She helps me with my biggest challenges, one of which is keeping my hands down. Another is sitting deep in the saddle and moving my hips with the motion of the canter. For that, Julie told me to “belly dance”—and it really helped!

In fact, I did well enough to become the Junior Miss CSHA for 2015. To win, I had to take both a riding test and a written test, plus give a speech and be interviewed. It’s been a wonderful experience, and I hope to encourage more young people—boys as well as girls—to give this program a try.

And endurance, too—I won’t forget that! Because each type of riding helps you become better in the other.

Plus “mixing it up” is just so much fun.

Mary Homicz lives in Junction City, California, with her mom and dad; brother, Jimmy; two horses; and three ponies. Their 11-acre farm is near the Trinity Alps Wilderness. At press time, Mary had just been diagnosed with osteosarcoma (bone cancer); her mother says Mary would love to receive letters from fellow equestrians to cheer her during treatment (P.O. Box 581, Weaverville, CA 96093).

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