It was the photographs of her mother that first sparked Alexa ‘Lexi’ Brooks’ imagination.
Five years ago, Brooks stumbled upon a box of old pictures and ribbons her mother, Kim, had won competing in equestrian events.
“I saw the pictures and the trophies and I said ‘mom I want to do this’,” Brooks said.
That initial spark became a passion and in a few short years Brooks has become one of the best equestrian riders of her age in the country.
A freshman at Whitehall High School, Brooks finished third among middle school students in reining at the 2013 IEA Western National Championships, held in July in Oklahoma City, Okla.
“It felt great,” she said.
It was the third time she had competed at the national championships and the third time she had placed at the prestigious event.
Brooks, who is the daughter of James and Kim Brooks, began riding five years ago and has been a member of the Pond Hill Equestrian Team of Pond Hill Stables and Ranch in Castleton, Vt., for three years.
The IEA, which is an acronym for Interscholastic Equestrian Association, was founded in 2002 to promote instruction and competition among middle and high school aged riders. In 11 years the association has grown to include more than 8,000 riders across the country.
Riders can compete in both Hunt Seat—a form of English—and Western.
The unique aspect of the IEA is that the athletes do not supply their own horses or tack. Instead, the horses, saddle and other equipment are provided to the students at the show.
“Basically, you go to the barn with your clothes and watch the horses warm up. Then you pick a horse’s name out of a hat,” Brooks said. “You have no experience on that horse and every horse is different. But it really helps you grow as a rider.”
Debbie O’Rourke, Brooks coach, said because of that the onus is completely on the rider.
“They are expected to get on and look better than the person who was on before them,” she said.
The IEA season is limited to five competitions each year and begins in October and wraps up with the National Championships in July.
O’Rourke said its take a lot of dedication to succeed in IEA.
“It’s quite a commitment. They work all year to get there,” she said. “Lexi probably rides four or five times a week. She is very dedicated and puts in a lot of time.”
At each competition, participants earn points, which qualify them for different “zones.” The more points a rider earns, the more competitive the zones into which they are placed. In order to qualify for nationals, riders need to accumulate 20 points during the season, which makes them eligible for the semi-finals. If they place first or second in the semi-finals, they advance to Nationals.
“It’s truly the best of the best,” O’Rourke said.
For the past three years, Brooks has competed in the Middle School Division. Although she has competed in nearly every English and Western discipline—dressage, jumping, cattle sorting and even barrel racing—its reining that she has excelled at.
“Basically, you have to guide your horse through a set pattern,” Brooks said.
Competing in the Future Intermediate Reining division—the highest in the Middle School Division—Brooks took third place.
She has already begun preparing for the upcoming season, which begins on Oct. 19 in Massachusetts.
Brooks will compete in the high school division this year, meaning she’ll go from being one of the older competitors to being one of the youngest. But she’s taking the new challenge in stride, even looking forward to the increased competition and she hopes to one day compete at the collegiate level.
“I love being able to grow as a rider. Every time you ride you learn something new,” Brooks said.