15-year-old becomes first Flagler horseback rider to advance to Southern Regional Horse Championships
In her seven years of riding horses, Trinity Calugar had never qualified for the Southern Regional Horse Championships. She’d competed in the area show and the state show several times, but couldn’t quite get over the jump. Finally advancing to the regional was the 15-year-old’s goal entering 2018.
She’d first have to compete in the area show, held in Clay County, which features riders from all across central and northern Florida. From there, 75% of the riders from every area show in the state would move on to the state show. Then, she’d have to be in the top 70 to make it to Perry, Georgia, where the regional is held.
Several months prior, Keelee, the horse Calugar rode when she competed in the state show for the first time, developed an ulcer. Calugar’s trainer spotted it during a training session. The painful sore covered her entire left eye, forcing her to be stalled for three months.
The stress of being made to stand in a stall all day for three months straight proved too much on Keelee. When Calugar took her out of her stall to begin training for the area show, she discovered that Keelee’s front pasterns were fractured.
She wasn’t going to be able to ride her.
“I was pretty sad that I wouldn’t be able to show her because we’ve grown a lot over the years,” Calugar said. “I trained her to jump when I first got her, and we’ve grown a lot since I first started riding her. I was pretty upset that I wouldn’t be able to take her all the way to regionals.”
Calugar and Keelee had a connection, an unshakable bond. It developed over hours and hours of training. When she first got Keelee, who was previously a therapy horse for mentally ill children, she had to teach her to keep her head down, to trot properly and to pick up the correct leads while cantering. Calugar also taught her to jump. They started at 18 inches and worked their way up to 3 feet, 6 inches.
But Calugar is the only rider Keelee responds to.
“If anyone else gets on her, she’s like a demon child,” Calugar said. “Mares are prone to bad attitudes.”
But that hard-earned bond was gone now. At least for the time being. With only a few weeks to prepare, Calugar had to change her riding style from English to Western — and she had to do it on a new horse.
Calugar has had her good moments with Slick, the 7-year- old quarter horse her older sister, Sage, used to ride, and she has had plenty of bad moments. She had to get used to his quirks, adjust to the new style of riding and form a bond with him — all in the span of a few weeks.
Sometimes, it was too difficult.
“I had a few moments were I could not put up with him anymore in some of our training sessions. I just had to get off,” she said. “I could not deal with him anymore.”
But they persevered. The duo made it through the area show and qualified for the state show, held the second week of July. Then, something clicked.
“I really started to see a difference in him once we started to connect,” Calugar said. “It was hard for us to build that connection. But once we did, and he was comfortable with me and I was comfortable with him, that’s when I started to see progression.”
Calugar and Slick were part of the top 70 in the state show, which featured talented riders from every county in Florida. She achieved her goal of qualifying for the regional, and in doing so, became the first Flagler County horseback rider to compete in the event, which was held Aug. 3-5. They didn’t win any ribbons, but Calugar said she was grateful for the experience. Entering her sophomore year of homeschool, she’s still eligible for two more years of competition.
Now back home in Bunnell, Calugar is ready for the next step: to keep training. And every training session, regardless of the horse’s behavior, always ends on a good note. Calugar won’t have it any other way.
“I don’t let them get away with being bad,” she said.