Nov. 29, 2016
By Brad Muller | More Features
South Carolina junior Paige Stopperich doesn't always get along with her teammate, Larry. However, there’s no question that the two have great chemistry, and that has helped make them champions.
“He’s my favorite, most of the time,” Stopperich said. “Sometimes, he’s a jerk, but I think he’ll stay in the family forever. He’s so big, so he can be a bully, but he’s also a complete wimp. I mean, he won’t walk through puddles. He’s a baby. He can be grumpy, but when he’s in a good mood, he’s really good at what he does.”
Stopperich acknowledged that Larry would probably say the same thing about her.
“He probably doesn’t like me sometimes,” Stopperich said. “It’s just one of those things.”
Larry is Stopperich’s horse, who is named after basketball legend Larry Bird and has been with Stopperich’s family for six years. Stopperich is a member of South Carolina’s equestrian team, and she also competes individually in national events. She recently won the American Quarter Horse Association’s Amateur Hunt Seat Equitation World Championship in Oklahoma City while riding her horse named Larry. For the layman, this is the “Super Bowl” of amateur equestrian events.
“The American Quarter Horse Association is the largest single breed association in the country,” Stopperich said. “It’s very prestigious. There were 14 countries there this year. I was really excited when I won. They announce the scores in reverse order, so it gets really tense when they get down to the last two.
“I like that this sport is so different. The adrenaline rush that you get when you compete and do well is amazing. Having a partner that is not a human partner is unique.”
There are qualifying periods throughout the year where riders hope to earn enough points to advance to the World Championships. Finding time to compete in qualifiers wasn’t easy due to her commitments to academics as well as the South Carolina equestrian team’s competitions in the fall and the spring.
“Most of the time I have to compete over the summer a lot,” Stopperich said. “Each horse show lasts about two weeks, so it’s two weeks away, then two weeks at home, and then two weeks away again. That’s when I get most of my points.”
Riding horses since the age for four, Stopperich is no stranger to success. The Pittsburgh, Pa., native won the AQHA Youth Hunt Seat Equitation championship, which is for competitors 18 years old and under, at the 48th All American Quarter Horse Congress as a freshman, while riding Larry. Earlier this season, Stopperich was the MVP after earning the decisive point in South Carolina’s win over No. 2 Georgia on October 9, and she was named the SEC Horsemanship Rider of the Month.
“On the team, the win over Georgia was probably the best win that I’ve ever had,” Stopperich said. “As far as my personal competition, winning the Youth Division was pretty exciting because it was my first one, and I wasn’t really expecting it. Winning this was still pretty cool, too.”
He’s 1,300 pounds, so he has to be willing to work with you. On that day he was.
When competing at the World Championships, Stopperich and Larry have to memorize a designated pattern consisting of different maneuvers.
“The maneuvers range between the walk, the trot and the gallop, along with transitions,” Stopperich said. “They judge you on how well you look, and how well you present your horse. Some people describe it as a dance you are doing with your horse. So if you are making it look very easy, then you’re doing a good job.”
Stopperich noted that no matter how much she and Larry train together, sometimes it’s not always easy to control how the horse acts once they get into an arena.
“Your horse can be in a bad mood that day,” Stopperich laughed. “I wish I had all of the control, but I definitely don’t. He has a mind of his own. He’s 1,300 pounds, so he has to be willing to work with you. On that day he was.
“I just try to keep him happy and willing to work with me during the competition. I constantly go over the pattern in my head and try to visualize the arena and all of the spots I want to hit. Then I get really nervous.”
Stopperich noted that being part of South Carolina’s nationally renowned equestrian team helped her in this individual achievement.
“I get to ride three or four times per week here, which is a luxury that not everyone gets,” Stopperich said. “My horses stay in Atlanta, but I live in Pittsburgh, so I could only get there maybe a couple times per month. So being on the team here, I get to ride all the time to get better. Sometimes I’m riding horses that aren’t necessarily easy to ride, and the workouts really help keep me in shape.”
Stopperich is studying psychology and criminal justice, and intends on attending law school in the future.
As for Larry, he’s content while enjoying the spoils after a competition.
“Afterwards, he got to take a long nap and had lots of peppermints and treats,” Stopperich said. “I think he was happy.”
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