Horseback riding takes on new meaning for MHS Senior

Risha Chada | The Chronicle

Horseback riding is not just a sport for senior Clara Nemeth–it is family.

Senior Clara Nemeth is a seventh-generation horse trainer who dedicates her life to horsemanship. Nemeth, who has been riding horses her entire life, comes from a family of horseback riders that traces back seven generations. Nemeth said that horseback riding and horsemanship are all she has ever known and that she could not picture a life without horses.

“I’ve been riding my entire life,” Nemeth said. “My first time on a horse was when I was three days old and I feel like I just don’t know anything else. I wouldn’t be part of my family or who I am without [horseback riding].”

Although Nemeth’s family has a racehorse background, Nemeth herself shows her horse to the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), the largest all-breed association. For her particular event, Nemeth must ride her horse and follow an assigned pattern. Show horsemanship, Nemeth’s sport, is designed to show the rider’s ability to ride and handle their horses. The panel of judges will then score them based on their ability to ride and work well with their horses. Nemeth said the AQHA is one of the toughest circuits and competing in it distinguishes her from the rest of her family.

“I show on the AQHA circuit which is the most competitive circuit because it’s [made up of] the best of the best,” Nemeth said. “[The competitiveness] is one thing that sets it apart from the rest of my family because they come from a racehorse background.”

The high standards of the AQHA require its members to stick to a rigorous practice schedule to achieve perfection in their patterns. Nemeth, for one, has to practice at all hours of the night, often foregoing sleep in favor of the extra practice. During shows and the night before Nemeth said she practices at 8 pm that night, then again at 10 pm and 12 am before she goes to sleep. Then she said she wakes up at 2 am, sleeps, wakes up at 4 am, sleeps, wakes up at 6 am, sleeps, and finally practices for the last time.

“I practice insanely and spend so many sleepless nights staying up all night and practicing with my trainers until I get [the pattern] right,” Nemeth said. “Dedicating my life to being extremely good at what I do is really hard because I have had to make many sacrifices.”

Nemeth’s sacrifices, however, go past missing out on a few hours of sleep. Nemeth must sacrifice any semblance of a normal high school life due to frequent horse shows in the middle of the school year. Nemeth said she hardly ever gets to stay at a school for years because she has to switch horse trainers too often and move houses.

“I started out with a trainer in Michigan, and every time I outgrew a trainer, we would have to move to where our new trainer was located,” Nemeth said. “Growing up, my social life was only my horse show friends because I was with them constantly. I’ve even gotten the truancy letter every year of school because I’m never here. I’m always showing.”

While Nemeth never had a chance to get to know her school friends very well growing up, she did have her loyal horse, Jay Z, who has stuck by her side. Nemeth herself bred and raised her horse, Jay Z, who is an American Quarter Horse, a breed known for speed and dependability, whose roots trace back to the 1800s. Nemeth said raising Jay Z on her own developed a bond between the two that has helped her become a better rider.

“It’s really hard to start with a baby and raise [him] and teach [him] everything,” Nemeth said. “We have a really strong bond and raising my own horse really helped me prepare for college riding.”

Nemeth’s connection to horses traces far back to before her relationship with Jay Z. Nemeth’s entire family has always been fond of horses, as she comes from seven generations of horse trainers. Nemeth’s grandmother, Dot Morgan, started the New Vocations nonprofit organization to rehabilitate and rehome racehorses that can no longer compete. The New Vocations program has placed more than 8,000 retired Thoroughbred and Standardbred horses in new homes with experienced owners. Morgan, who has battled breast cancer, was also selected to be featured at the Kentucky Derby’s “Ladies in Racing” for being one of the most influential women in racing.

Through horses, Nemeth feels a connection to her family, especially with her grandmother, who she aspires to be like. The New Vocations program gives racehorses a new life or a “forever home,” because racehorses can only race until they are about 12-14 years old, but they live for about 35 years. Nemeth said after college she will work with her grandmother as part of the New Vocations company and pursue her passion for working with horses.

“[New Vocations] was built completely off of donations because it’s a nonprofit charity, which I [think] is really cool,” Nemeth said. “When I’ve finished college, I’m going to work for my family’s charity. We basically take off-the-track racehorses, train them to be riding horses and then adopt them out to their forever homes.”

Like her grandmother, Nemeth’s mother, who was a national champion for horsemanship, also connects her family to her love for the sport. Nemeth said by going to Texas A&M for college in the fall completes a circle because that is where her mother won the national championships.

“My [mom] won a national championship at Texas A&M, so it’s kind of cool that now I’m going there,” Nemeth said.

Ultimately, Nemeth’s family has helped her connect with horsemanship and make it an integral part of her life. Nemeth said that coming from generations of horse trainers has given her a leg up in the competitive world of horsemanship.

“My family’s history with horsemanship gives me more knowledge about what I do,” Nemeth said. “It helps me be more successful out in the arena.”

Photo by David Heasley