In the spring, 16-year-old Emily Andon of Bel Air battled everything from mononucleosis to the pouring rain on almost every day of the qualifying competition for a chance to compete in the North American Young Riders Championship.
Emily, who was just old enough be in the equestrian event, was chosen as an alternate for her region, just missing a spot to compete in the championship in Quebec this month. She was one of the youngest competitors and the only representative from Maryland.
The NAYRC is competition for riders ages 16 to 21, and features equestrians from North America, Central America and the Caribbean.
Emily and her horse, Wendolin, compete in the dressage category. According to the United States Dressage Federation, "Dressage is a demonstration of the precision and harmony that exists between the rider and his mount." The horse and rider perform a series of movements which are judged for "naturalness and consistency" as well as "dexterity and ease."
Dressage is a lesser-known division of equestrian competition, even though its origins began thousands of years ago.
"It's about focus, it's about the connection with your horse. It's very mind-oriented, it's about figuring out what the horse is thinking. It's very calm, very elegant," explained Emily, who will be a junior at Bel Air High School.
She has been riding horses since she was 4 and has tried every kind of horseback riding, including jumping and triathlon eventing. She became interested in dressage at 11 while riding with the Churchville Pony Club.
Since then, Emily has become a successful dressage competitor. This year alone she received two blue ribbons at a qualifying show in Fair Hill and a bronze medal at the U.S. Equestrian Team/Bayer Festival of Champions in Gladstone, N.J. Her scores have been high enough to receive the Silver Medal Rider Achievement Award from the dressage federation.
Emily competed in these shows with the hope of qualifying for the NAYRC. Riders must earn high scores at three qualifying shows during the preceding year. Because she met the age qualification in January, Emily had to fit all her of qualifying shows into a short period.
It was during this time that she became sick with mono and still managed to earn a spot as the region's only alternate.
She is already thinking about next year's championship and will compete in her first qualifying round this week at the Horse Park of New Jersey.
Emily has been riding her current horse, Wendolin, for 15 months. He is a Hanoverian imported from Germany and was purchased by the Andons at a horse show in Florida.
The Andons own a horse farm in Havre de Grace, which is primarily for trail riding and is not equipped to accommodate Wendolin. Wendolin is kept at a stable in Cotesville, Pa., where Emily travels six days a week for training. The trip takes about an hour, and she typically works for about 2 1/2 hours before heading home.
Her trainer, Todd Flettrich, is a Grand Prix rider and has encouraged Emily to enter the area's toughest competitions.
Despite the rigorous horseback riding schedule, Emily also plays the piano, is active in a youth group at St. Mark Roman Catholic Church in Fallston and is a dedicated student.
Her mother said dressage is her daughter's true passion.
"She just fell in love with it. ... She loves the movement. She loves the challenge," said Ellen Andon, her mother.