Passersby on Owen Brown Road are likely to notice something not often seen in a Columbia residential neighborhood — two horses standing in the front yard of a small Hickory Ridge home.
But inside the home is something even more unusual to the area — a 17-year-old, up-and-coming horseback riding star.
Though just a teenager, Jacob Pope is the primary caretaker of 15-year-old thoroughbred Timmy and two-year-old miniature horse Monty. He is also a skilled horseback rider who won top honors last November at a rigorous, four-day national program for young, emerging riders.
"Jacob is totally dedicated to his riding," said state Sen. Ed Kasemeyer, one of the Popes' neighbors. "You see him out there practicing and setting up jumps. His life is caring for the horses and competing."
Kasemeyer was not exaggerating. Horses and riding play a role in almost every aspect of Jacob's life, from the decorations in his room, where he dreams about having a professional riding career, to his daily chores and after-school and weekend activities of choice.
Every day, Jacob gets up ay 6:15 a.m. to check on Timmy and Monty, feed them and make sure they have enough hay and water for the day. Then he goes to McDonogh School, a private academy in Owings Mills with a well-known equestrian program, and spends the afternoon after classes caring for the school's 70 horses and working on his riding skills.
And nearly every weekend, Jacob can be found at a riding competition.
"It's a weird thing if we have a weekend off," he said.
But Jacob, who started riding when he was five or six, doesn't mind; he likes the social aspect of competitions.
"You meet up with all your friends, you have fun all day, and then you get serious and compete," he said.
A family affair
Riding is not just a part of Jacob's life, it's a family affair.
For the past 10 years, Jacob, his parents Andy and Barbara, and his brother Edward, have spent their annual family vacation horseback riding at a ranch in Arizona.
"It's a nice thing that we all ride, we all enjoy horses," Andy said. "There is something attractive about horses that is hard to describe."
While Barbara only rides for recreation, Andy and 10-year-old Edward, like Jacob, actually compete.
"Edward started riding when he was two-and-a-half," Barbara recalled. "He was jumping by five."
Also a student at McDonogh, Edward competes in local riding competitions, but unlike Jacob, he's also taken in interest in other sports, such as lacrosse.
Asked if he hopes one day to compete in riding at the level Jacob now does, Edward said: "Not really."
Jacob said despite Edward's other interests, his younger brother is a top-notch rider.
"When I was 10, I was not nearly as good as him," Jacob said.