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Trainer Kim Williams, at left, and 2018 Gittings Horsemanship Final winner Anna Ordonio present Charleez Simcik as the 2019 champion.
Trainer Kim Williams, at left, and 2018 Gittings Horsemanship Final winner Anna Ordonio present Charleez Simcik as the 2019 champion. (Shawn McMillen Photography)

Some of Charleez Simcik’s earliest equestrian memories involve a miniature horse named Chiclet.

“He was big to me at the time. And I mean, he’s like, smaller than a Great Dane. Honestly, he’s so tiny,” Simcik said. “Probably my earliest memory, feeding him and playing with him.”

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Her mother bought him from an auction when Simcik was 2- or 3-years-old and, from there, a lifelong love for all things equine blossomed.

Simick, 18, of Taneytown, won the Maryland Horse Shows Association Gittings Horsemanship Finals at the Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) regional horse show Oct. 18, according to a WIHS news release. This was Simcik’s last opportunity to compete in the junior class and she beat out 27 competitors from various states at the Prince George’s Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro, she said.

“I wanted to close out on a good note with that class,” Simcik said in an interview. “I felt relieved that I accomplished my goal of improving my riding over the past year — enough to win.”

This was Simcik’s third year competing in the Gittings final. Last year she placed second.

The equitation competition consisted of three rounds. In the first round, riders completed a course of obstacles in a specific order, according to Simcik. Riders received a diagram of the course to memorize and walked through the arena on foot to measure the distance between jumps.

Horses are expected to take a certain number of strides between obstacles, but the judges don’t tell the riders how many, Simcik said. Riders must walk the arena on their own feet to calculate how many strides it will take for their horses to complete the course, according to Simcik.

“The rider has to know their horse’s stride well enough,” Simcik said. “So if I’m approaching a fence, my eye is trained to be able to tell how far I am from the jump and how my horse’s stride compares to that. So that means if I’m coming up to a jump, I have to know if I need to make my horse open their stride and reach farther to get to the jump sooner or make my horse’s stride become smaller.”

After the first round is complete, riders were scored and the top 10 returned for a second round for “flat class," which does not involve any obstacles, according to Simcik. During the flat class, the judges asked riders to perform certain tasks with their horses, such as walk, trot, or canter, and variations of those movements, Simcik said.

Charleez Simcik, of Taneytown, leads her horse Angelique over a jump at the Gittings Horsemanship Final in Upper Marlboro.
Charleez Simcik, of Taneytown, leads her horse Angelique over a jump at the Gittings Horsemanship Final in Upper Marlboro. (Shawn McMillen Photography)

The top four riders from the second round moved on to the final round. Simick and her horse, Angelique, held their lead the entire competition, she said.

In the third round, riders were tested in reverse order, so whoever was in fourth place competed first and the person in first place competed last. The rider who competes last has the advantage, because riders were tasked with completing an entirely new course — with no diagram to prepare them and no time to walk the course on foot, unlike in the first round. A judge gave verbal instructions to the riders twice, and off they went, expected to follow instructions, Simcik said.

The winners were announced in reverse order, starting with eighth place, according to Simcik, leaving plenty of time for nerves to build.

“When they called who was second place, that’s when I knew I had won,” Simcik said.

Lifelong equestrian

Simcik was raised by a horse-loving mother, Stacey, who grew up with horse-loving parents. They board and train horses at their Taneytown farm, Wisteria Show Stables. Stacey is a coach and trainer, Simcik said.

Simcik, along with her 15-year-old sister Jianna, help with everything on the farm — from grooming horses to mucking stalls.

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Simcik’s been riding and caring for horses so long she’s not exactly sure when she started. She believes her first show experience was at 18-months-old, riding a horse being led by an adult.

Chiclet the miniature horse now spends his days hanging out at the farm with a family of miniature donkeys named Flapjack, Waffles, and Forrest, Simcik said. Baby Forrest is so named because he had to wear splints on his crooked legs when he was born, like the movie character Forrest Gump.

As for Simcik’s horse show career, she’s passing the reins of Angelique on to her sister. If they click well, Jianna will continue competing as a junior with Angelique. Simcik may show Angelique in adult equitation classes or get a new horse to compete in jumping, she said.

Simcik’s chosen career path shouldn’t come as a surprise. A senior at Garrison Forest in Owings Mills, Simcik wants to be a veterinarian and care for horses. She has not yet selected her college, but hopes to be an animal science major on the pre-vet track, specializing in large animals.

“I think I was like, basically born into this field,” Simcik said. “I’m very happy that I was.”

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