Welsh pony Bristol Braveheart's long, blond mane blew in the breeze while he trotted around an oval-shaped track and his rider, Kayleigh Waldera, 8, whispered in his ear.
Kayleigh Waldera, 8, a second-grader at Brookwood Elementary, stands with her Welsh pony during a workout at her grandparents farm in Martinez. Kayleigh has won numerous awards in five years as an equestrian.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Listening to every command like an obedient servant, Bristol Braveheart, also known as Bud, was well-mannered and rewarded with praise.
"Good boy," Kayleigh, a second-grader at Brookwood Elementary, said as she massaged his head delicately at Butler Creek Stables in Grovetown.
Each week, Kayleigh and Bud practice one to two lessons with riding instructor Charlotte Rogers, of Gibson, Ga., perfecting jumps over poles, walk-trots, posture and more as they prepare for an action-packed summer of equestrian competitions.
Since she was 3, Kayleigh has been riding ponies.
"She's always been fond of horses," Stephanie Waldera, Kayleigh's mother, said. "She loves riding."
And Kayleigh has a plethora of ribbons and awards to display her talent. Among those accolades is the championship ribbon she won in the 11-year-old and under walk-trot division at The Central National Welsh Pony and Cobb Show in Tulsa, Okla.
"I like competing with horses my size and kids my age," she said. "The horses are really sweet and they love you."
Although she's received numerous awards, Kayleigh doesn't have time to revel in her stellar performances. Instead, she has to earn her keep around the stables, performing chores such as cleaning saddles and feeding the horses and ponies.
It's a discipline that her mother said helps her daughter in school, home and for the future if she plans to pursue her dream of becoming an Olympic rider.
"Kayleigh is a straight A student and a good child," she said. "She's just like any other 8-year-old. When I ask her to do something, I'll see an expression on her face like, 'Oh, Mom, do I have to?' But in the end she does just what I tell her."
When she's not riding her pony, which is seldom, Kayleigh plays with friends, paints her fingernails and spends quality time with her grandparents.
"On Sundays we pack a picnic and we'll go on trail rides," Shirley Waldera said about her granddaughter. "If Kayleigh had it her way, she would be out here everyday."
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