Sports

Riding around the world

To say Brittany Keller was born in a barn wouldn’t be very far off.

The 16-year-old, soon-to-be junior at Oak Harbor High School, got her first horse when she was only three and has competed in events with the Whidbey Island Pony Club since age five.

No equestrian event, however, can compare to the journey she will embark on this coming week when she ventures to South Africa.

“It’s definitely the biggest event I’ve ever done,” she said. “Difficulty-wise it’s not the biggest thing, but just the nature of the whole thing.”

Keller, along with just three other girls from pony clubs around the nation, were selected to represent the United States Pony Club in an international competition in South Africa. One of those girls is from Bellingham, while the other two are from the East Coast.

“It should be really fun,” Keller said. “I’m not excited about the plane ride, but it will be worth it when I’m down there.”

After receiving letters of recommendation from local and regional pony clubs, Keller wrote her own letter to the USPC and was selected from a pool of thousands of entrants.

While in Africa, she will get to show off her skills over a three-day span in dressage and show jumping, among competitors from 30 other countries.

The dressage competition features a 60-foot long, by 20-foot wide arena that challenges the ability of the horse to listen to the rider’s command.

“It’s all about being really discrete and showing off how well-trained the horse is,” Keller said.

In the show jumping segment, horses must clear 10 to 11 fences in a confined area, without making contact with them.

The event is by far Keller’s favorite and something she considers her speciality.

“What I do is an adrenaline rush,” she said. “Competition is really fast and you have to be able to think and act fast.”

Of course travelling over 10,000 miles away from home, Keller will have to leave behind her trusted companion Scooby Doo, but she isn’t concerned about adjusting to a new horse.

“The pony club I’m in really focuses on making it so you’re really changeable and when you get thrown on some weird horse you’ve never seen before, you can ride it and make it work.”

Competition will run from Aug. 27-29, but Keller will be in South Africa from Aug. 23 through Sept. 6.

Among other things she looks forward to doing are going on a horseback safari and getting to see how other clubs operate throughout the world.

“All the pony clubs down there have servants that tack up their horses and that’s really weird to me,” Keller said.

She also looks forward to using the experience as a building block toward her eventual goal of someday competing in the Olympics.

“You do stuff like I’m doing right now,” she said. “You pay to go to all those events that get you and your horse ready (for the Olympics).

You go up levels and you bump your horse up to like three or four stars.”

Brittany’s mom, Suzette, is thrilled for the experience her daughter will take part in over the next couple of weeks.

“It’s just a great opportunity for them to see how other pony clubs from other parts of the world operate because they all are different from the U.S.,” she said.

Keller is currently in Atlanta, Ga., meeting her new teammates and coach, and will leave on a 17-hour flight for Africa on Monday. She will return home just in time to start the new school year.

Keller would like to thank trainers Linda Chatfield, Trenna Atkins and Lisa Boyer for making the trip possible.

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