An extraordinary synchronicity exists between 17-year-old Mackenzie Barton and Bailey, a thoroughbred mare she leases from Garden Island Equestrian. They float above jumps on an obstacle course as if they have wings and glide around the GIE’s North Shore arena like one unit. Their partnership is so in tune that they make the sport of English horseback riding look easy.
And that’s the point.
Barton, a home-schooled senior, snagged the pre-children’s circuit championship at the 2017 Summer In The Rockies Series at The Colorado Horse Park. The events she participated in judge the poise and execution of horse and rider as they move on the ground, as well as when they jump (called hunter and equitation).
Barton, who grew up on Kaua‘i, credits her fluent riding ability not only to her dedication and perseverance, but also to her GIE instructors, Susan and Jessica Fredericks. The sisters co-founded GIE, a goal-oriented English riding facility in Princeville that focuses on “eventing” training like dressage and show jumping. They each have an extensive background in riding and horsemanship, and aspire to build a community of well-rounded, responsible, “horse crazy” people on Kaua‘i.
Stories swirl about how the English riding community once thrived on the Garden Isle, and how eventing was a regular occurrence. Since then, however, the kind of horseback riding that has gained the most traction on island is Western, a style that originated from working cattle on a ranch. The difference is largely in the saddle — Western saddles have a horn and are much larger, providing a rider with more stability, while English saddles are smaller and allow a rider to be in closer contact with their horse.
“Because the English saddle is much smaller, there is a steeper learning curve — balance and position are crucial to success,” says Susan, who served as an assistant trainer at a large show barn, worked as an equine veterinary technician and also retrained racehorses to become jumpers.
English riding, a tradition that emerged from the military and cavalry, also includes jumping over obstacles and navigating horses over courses of varying heights.
“Getting a 1,200-pound animal to willingly jump over a 5-foot standard (jump) is quite an accomplishment, not to mention adrenaline rush,” says Susan, who entered her first competition at the mere age of 2 and went on to compete on University of California, Santa Cruz’s equestrian team.
That rush is something Jessica is also familiar with. She was drawn to horses ever since she could speak and was gifted her first riding lesson at age 5.
“And just never looked back,” she adds.
Jessica started vaulting — gymnastics on horses — at 7. Her skills eventually landed her on the U.S Vaulting Team where she won several national championships, including a bronze medal at the World Equestrian Games in Italy at the age of 15. Since then, she’s traveled overseas as a groom and manager for several Olympians and owned a breeding facility called Nani Lio Farm that produced nationally top-ranked show horses.
The sisters, California natives who moved to Kaua‘i in 2014 because of their love for the island and family ties, are excited to have the opportunity to pass their knowledge on to others. Students at GIE don’t just have lessons in the saddle. The Fredericks also teach horseman-ship skills like proper grooming and tacking up (saddling). They’re even launching the Kaua‘i Island Pony Club in October, which is a nationally recognized nonprofit akin to 4-H, that provides national competition and scholarship opportunities. These activities are among the many at GIE that have taught students like Barton principles such as responsibility, time management and caring for another living being.
“(The horse) has a total mind of its own and needs care like a human,” says Barton.
Moreover, they’ve allowed students like Barton the opportunity to set and accomplish goals in a sport that can ultimately take them around the world.
“That’s what’s so fun with this sport — there’s never a limit,” says Barton.
She’s the first person to tell you that the realm of possibilities is huge for anyone at any age, as Barton never expected she’d find herself competing and winning ribbons at prestigious horse show events.
“That’s what’s so special about here (GIE). They’ll help make those opportunities possible,” she says.
Barton is quite the role model for keiki and proves that hard work pays off in the long run.
“Doing something with horses is one of the best decisions you can make,” says Barton, who plans to enroll at Liberty University in Virginia where she will join their Inter-collegiate Horse Show Association equestrian team. “You’re never going to grow out of it and it’s never going to get old. It’s always going to be there.”
GIE is hosting the inaugural Kaua‘i Horse Classic, which will present hunter, jumper and dressage classes at all levels, Sept. 16 at 9 a.m. at Keālia Arena. Visit gardenislandequestrian.com for more information.