Collier McLeod didn't need an introduction to horses.
No one in her family rode, yet McLeod was enamored with ponies by the time she was 2 years old -- even though the family was living in Japan while her father was with the U.S. Navy.
She started riding as a first-grader in Athens and continued when the family moved to Augusta soon after.
Now a senior at Augusta Prep, McLeod has gone from simply loving horses to being a fierce competitor on the national stage.
"I love the competition and going away," McLeod said. "But I just enjoy riding."
She recently returned from the Arabian Horse Association's Canadian Nationals, held in Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan, Canada. McLeod won national championships in the Working Hunter and Sport Horse divisions. She also was the Canadian Reserve champion in the Equitation division.
McLeod is the current leader for the AHA's Amateur of the Year and High Point Horse awards. Her horse, whose name is FF Irish Vodka, but goes by Guinness, is leading the points race for AHA Horse of the Year. The competitions end Dec. 31.
McLeod also is atop the United States Equestrian Federation's Leading Owner leaderboard, along with many other categories.
Her travel schedule has been grueling. A trip to Albuquerque, N.M., for the AHA Youth Nationals this past summer lasted nearly 24 hours by car. For the Canadian Nationals, held Aug. 23-28, McLeod had to get a special permission from school, and sent her classwork via e-mail from a wireless hotspot in Canada.
She also had to miss some class back in February. But the straight-A student hasn't had much trouble convincing teachers to let her hit the road.
"I got all my schoolwork out of the way," said McLeod, who is also a member of the Cavaliers cross country team. "Augusta Prep was very supportive."
The question now is where she'll mix riding and school after graduation.
McLeod sent video clips of her riding to prospective schools. She heard back from Washington and Lee University, a private school in Lexington, Va., near where McLeod has competed in the past. She visited the school and it's now the frontrunner for where she'll end up next year.
"We're pretty familiar with the area," she said. "It's a good town. And they have a good riding program."
McLeod rides about three days a week at a private stable behind Paradise Kennels off of Belair Road. About once a week she works with trainer Cynthia Cubbage in Aiken.
Cubbage also travels with McLeod to events. Cubbage left Friday for Idaho and the AHA's Sport Horse Nationals competition, which started Tuesday and concludes Saturday. Collier flew out to join her Sunday.
The competition will mean more time in hotels and writing English papers from the road, but it is something McLeod and those around her have grown accustomed to.
"It's something I've grown up with," she said. "It's part of what I do."
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