Maya Ponomarenko

Senior Maya Ponomarenko is a champion horseback rider.

Senior Maya Ponomarenko, Horseback Riding Champion: Discipline and Dedication

When it comes to high-schoolers engaged in sports, it’s easy to think of the soccer team, the football team, the swimming team… the list can go on. But what about horseback riding?  Senior Maya Ponomarenko has discovered one of her greatest passions in this sport, through competition and connecting with her horses.

“It’s fun to ride and jump over obstacles at high speeds. It feels like you’re flying,” she said. “The mental aspect of it is another part. You learn to understand yourself as well as the animal. You learn a lot of self control, mindfulness and to keep calm in dangerous situations.”

Ponomarenko’s initial passion for the sport manifested itself four years ago at a summer camp, where she began riding horses and says she “fell in love with it.”

Since then, Ponomarenko has noted many of the benefits involved with horseback riding, that keep her coming back to the sport. “I would say it’s stimulating on an intellectual level, where there’s a lot of problem solving and testing your reflexes, so it’s a lot of fun in that sense.”

The risk factor in horseback riding is one that riders always have to be prepared for, as it can be a dangerous sport, even for experienced riders. This could be anything from bracing for a fall from a horse at a high speed, or even just maintaining a sense of caution while handling a horse. 

Committing to an unconventional sport outside of school can be a big challenge, considering that the school may not be able to provide accommodations. Ponomarenko also balances factors like homework and other time commitments.

“The commute is the hardest thing for me. I try to go every day, and the drive one way is about twenty to thirty minutes with traffic. It’s definitely a really long drive and coming home with homework on top of that is a nightmare,” said Ponomarenko. This is especially challenging when she has weekend-long competitions.

Nevertheless, there is certainly a bright side to staying committed and giving the sport her all. Ponomarenko commented on a recent competition she returned from a little over a week ago, placing first, second, and overall reserve champion.

“[The competition was] a really surreal experience— and it really showed me that my hard work was getting me somewhere,” said Ponomarenko. “I had been having a really hard time with my horse recently, and this competition helped me get my confidence back.”

When thinking about whether she would suggest others take up the sport, Ponomarenko says that horseback riding has helped her grow immensely as a person. “And the comfort of having a giant dog by you is also pretty nice,” she added.

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