Stamford’s recent run-in with some surprisingly warm weather has been met with excitement from several members of the Westhill community, especially those who participate in spring sports. Senior Emma Alleva is one of the many student athletes embracing El Niño’s sunny side effects, but not for the typical reasons members of traditional sports teams may cite. As a former competitive horseback rider turned instructor, Alleva bypasses Westhill’s football field and basketball court, and instead heads straight for Mead Farms, the place where she’s trained for the last 12 years of her riding career.
Emma discovered she enjoyed being around horses at a fairly young age. “I started riding when I was 4 years old. It was around that time that my babysitter took me to the barn I ride at now and showed me the horses as a fun daytime activity. Ever since then, I’ve loved horses.” While many cycle through an array of pastimes or hobbies during their adolescence, Alleva’s interest in horseback riding has never faltered. “Riding is such an interesting experience…” She said. “It’s different from other sports. You’re forming a bond with an animal, learning to work in unison with the horse rather than just depending on individual strengths.”
Alleva’s riding schedule varies throughout the year, practicing twice a week while school is in session, and spending almost every day of her summer training and working at the barn. As an instructor, Emma works with younger members of her horseback riding program. “I walk beside the horses when the kids are beginning to learn to ride. Once they’re more comfortable and can steady themselves, I begin to go over the basics of controlling a horse and some tricks as well.” She said.
When she’s not working as an instructor for beginners, Emma can be found pursuing some training of her own. Although she no longer competes, Alleva is still passionate about the sport and has continued taking lessons to improve her skills. When asked if she missed the rigorous but rewarding schedule of a competitive horseback rider Alleva said, “I enjoyed competitions because I got to meet so many people who loved the same thing, but I can’t say I liked being so on the spot with everyone watching me and my horse. It’s not like a traditional sports team where you’re one of maybe 12 players. If you make a mistake, all eyes are on you.”
Although Emma’s feelings on competing are mixed, it’s evident that she has been able to succeed despite her nervousness. Alleva consistently placed second and third in Mead Farms riding competitions, citing her favorite experience as, “a Halloween-themed competition that took place in October. Everyone was able to ride in their costumes, and it helped to downplay the typically stressful environment of competition day.”
With graduation steadily encroaching, Emma has no plans to leave behind her passion for horseback riding once she heads off to college. “I plan on majoring in equine studies, which is a degree that encompasses a wide variety of horse-related subjects like pre vet or animal science.” Alleva commented with excitement. Emma’s experience as an instructor for younger individuals is another factor that has helped to shape her course of study. Knowing that she enjoys working with children, Alleva said she’s looking into a therapeutic riding concentration. When asked what therapeutic riding was, Emma explained, “[It’s] when you teach children with a physical or mental disability to ride. It can help to improve communication and motor skills, and is generally a very calming experience.”
While very few 17-year-olds can claim with certainty what the will pursue, it’s clear that Alleva will always find a way to be involved with horseback riding and the incredible applications that the sport has.