By Kyle Gregory
On a sunny Tuesday afternoon at picturesque Madrone Ranch, a few miles southwest of Lakeway, Annie Deck, 14, is brushing her horse, Chaminade, and preparing for a day of flatwork.
“When I get here, I have to take her out and start grooming her,” Deck said. “You want to groom the horses so any dirt or dust doesn’t create rubs when you put their tack on.”
Deck and Chaminade (affectionately known as Chami) are a competitive riding duo, and the two have been rising through the ranks of the Central Texas Hunter Jumper Association. They finished 2012 with a stack of ribbons and first place in both the equitation and hunter classes.
In order to succeed, Deck and Chami have to spend nearly every day together, and the daily brushings are only the first step in their routine.
When Chami is sufficiently groomed, Deck retreats to the tack room, where she grabs the nearly half-dozen pieces of equipment necessary to properly saddle a horse.
She then sets to the task of transferring all of the equipment onto Chami. She reaches over and around the animal that dwarfs her, nimbly fastening a multitude of clasps and buckles. Chami looks ahead, seemingly unperturbed.
Soon, Deck and Chami will be out on the course, practicing their turns and rollbacks, working at being as graceful as possible.
“I come out about five or six days a week, hacking her and working her because she needs to stay in shape” Deck said. “I’m probably out here two to three hours. It’s a big commitment, and not many people understand why I’m so committed. I just know what I want, and this sport takes a lot, commitment-wise and hours-wise and work-wise.
“Taking care of an animal takes a lot. We’re a team, and if she’s not healthy, we don’t go. I’ve got to make sure we’re both feeling good, and all of the training that we put in every day makes sure we stay safe and get better.”
According to Deck and Chami’s trainer, Carly Johns, all of their practice is paying dividends.
“The funny thing about Annie and Chami is that a year ago, we were barely able to make it around a course at all,” Johns said. “Now she has finished up the year being the champion of two divisions, and her and Chami are just this dynamic duo.”
Deck and Chami were not always a dynamic duo. In fact, Annie wasn’t very keen on her horse in the beginning.
“When I first got her, I did not like her,” Deck said. “I thought she was hard. She makes you work for everything. But, through the months of having her, we’ve really formed a great relationship. You have to learn to work with them – it’s teamwork. We’ve become a really good team. We have a good connection.”
“Chami has been known around these parts to be kind of a difficult horse to ride,” Johns said. “For Annie to come along and for the two of them to form this partnership over the past year, it’s been really fun to watch.”
Any difficult inclinations from Chami are invisible, as she responds dutifully to Deck’s commands – arching her neck and straightening or lowering her head.
Saddled up, Deck and Chami trot off to a nearby pen to practice while Deck’s mother, Liz, looks on.
“That’s probably the most rewarding part, as a parent. To see your child do something they’re passionate about,” Liz Deck said. “She’s 14 and has already found her passion. I think there are a lot of adults who don’t know what they’re passionate about.”
Deck’s passion came from a bit out of nowhere to her family, none of whom have experience riding. The Decks were living in Chicago when as a 6-year-old, she started talking about wanting to ride horses.
“To be honest, we thought it was just a princess phase. Every little girl seems to go through the pink princess phase, and it just never wore off,” Liz Deck said. “She just kept asking and asking and asking to ride a horse, so we got her one lesson for her seventh birthday. The rest is history, as they say.”
For her part, Deck also struggles to explain what first drew her to sport, but she’s glad that she started.
“I started riding at 7 years old; I have no idea why,” she said. “No one else in my family has anything to do with horses. I fell in love. I love the relationships that you form. My teammates and I get to become friends and support each other.”
Deck and Chami will be entering a higher division in the upcoming year, and they had their first taste of the new competition at their last meet, where they competed in their first A level show. Chaminade placed first in her flat class, and the duo scored highly in jumps and equitation.
As she continues to advance up the equestrian ranks, Deck has no doubt about what she wants to do in the future.
“I definitely want to ride in college. I want to be on the equestrian team. Beyond that, I don’t know, but I want to keep working with horses for sure,” she said.
Despite her competitive streak, Deck said that it’s the not main thing that draws her to the stable every day.
“I’m a very competitive person, so I love the competitions, but what I really love is forming that connection with the horse and what’s really great is that you can relate to everyone out here,” she said. “We all have the same passion. It’s a great environment. I’m really lucky to have a great horse and great friends and a great trainer.