More than trophies: Horses teach lessons as well as earn prizes

August 2014 Posted in People
Brittany Larson is a princess for the Canby Rodeo and the Clackamas County Fair Aug. 12 - 17.

Brittany Larson is a princess for the Canby Rodeo and the Clackamas County Fair Aug. 12 – 17.

By Brenna Wiegand

This year’s been a wild and rewarding ride for the horse-loving Larson family of Silverton.

Sarah Larson, a junior at Silverton High School, cleaned up at the high school equestrian state championships, while her 21-year-old sister Brittany was named princess for the Canby Rodeo at Clackamas County Fair Aug. 12-17.

Brittany and fellow court members Jessi Cornforth, princess, and queen Rachel Labant have spent the past year making appearances and giving speeches at numerous rodeos, parades, speaking engagements and TV and radio spots.

“We do as much as we can with kids because kids love rodeo queens and it’s a great way to positively promote the rodeo,” Brittany said. “Some people feel it’s animal abuse. We try to enlighten people and let them know that rodeo is really a very family-oriented thing.”

As they did at districts, Sarah, 17, and “Jazzy” took gold medals in barrel racing, pole bending, Figure 8 and birangle with birangle partner Monica Eichler at Oregon High School Equestrian Team’s state competition. She also earned seventh in team penning, Overall Timed Event and the Sportsmanship award.

“Sarah has accomplished more than most people do in their lifetime,” her mother Cassy Larson said. “It’s just amazing; we’ve been very humbled and blessed this year.”

“I’ve had lots of horses growing up, but Jazzy’s really taught me more about myself,” Sarah said. “She’s taught me you’re going to have hard days; you’re going to knock a barrel, but those days will teach you to persevere in practice and perfect it so you can eventually meet your goals. She works extra hard every time you put the saddle on her.”

“Even though the odds were against her she still came out No. 1 and I’m so proud of her,” Brittany said about her younger sister. “She and her friend Monica really set their hearts on what they wanted.”

At the heart of it all is their mother Cassy, and her mother before her. Raised with 55 horses, Cassy and her family had their own YMCA horse camp and gave camps throughout the region.

“I knew that horses were the way to go for kids,” Cassy said. “They give them so much, teaching them perseverance, drive and competitiveness – but in a good way; to bring people up.”

Today, “Larsonville” consists of 64 acres, 15 horses, three dogs and four cows. Cassy started a 4-H group in 2003 and has a successful training, breeding, teaching, judging and riding career of her own. In 2007, she won $1,500 and a $3,000 horse trailer in national competition on Jazzy – a $400 horse people laughed at her for buying.

“I just saw something with her; her personality and what she could be – like a diamond in the rough,” she said.

Cassy says their theory on raising horses differs from many. For instance, Sarah practices three days and conditions horses four days a week during the school year, but lets them rest during the summer while she works long hours driving a combine for Doerfler Farms.

Sarah Larson and her horse Jazzy won several gold medals at the high school state equestrian meet, including barrel racing.

Sarah Larson and her horse Jazzy won several gold medals at the high school state equestrian meet, including barrel racing.

“We’re don’t run them into the ground,” Cassy said. “And we let them do all kinds of things – trail rides, jumping, racing – so they’re well-rounded.”

Some have been given to the Larsons; many were bought for a song. Cassy is able to look past a horse’s present condition or its reputation to its potential and often makes champions – and family pets – out of them.

“When I was bidding on Breezy at the Hermiston horse sale there was some guy on the other side who kept bidding on her, too,” Cassy said. “Then I find out it was my husband.”

All three plan to go pro in the next couple of years.

“It’s a scary thought but I have confidence in how we do things,” Cassy said. “We have the horses that are totally built, with the personality and the want, so I think we can do it. I’ve been wanting it since I was a little girl.”

“Being a princess has made me come out of my shell and grow personally,” Brittany said, “but the coolest things I’ve done haven’t been so extravagant.”

Even Cassie was against Brittany taking on Gunnar. He’d get spooked, jump 10 feet sideways, dash to the opposite corner and start bucking.

“He was a pain in my neck for a year, but in the end he really blossomed,” Brittany said. “It was pretty cool: I was 14 years old on a horse I trained myself, up there with the big dogs, beating girls who had $20,000, professionally trained horses.”

Brittany’s favorite achievement was breaking the barrel racing record on Jazzy her senior year. Four years later, her winning time of 14.82 seconds stands, though Sarah came close to it this year at 14.83.

The sisters train horses in tandem: Brittany “starts” them, doing “the grunt work of teaching them the basics,” and Sarah finishes; does the finetuning.

“It’s hard but it’s my favorite part,” said Brittany, a University of Oregon graduate who gives lessons and works at Stayton Veterinary Hospital. “I get really bored on finished horses.”

“Whenever I race, it’s not to win but to come out in one piece,” Sarah said. “When you’re going as fast as you can on a barrel and you have to turn it, there’s so much that can go wrong and I have witnessed so many accidents. If I win, it’s a bonus.”

“It’s fun and it’s rewarding and it teaches you a lot in life,” Brittany said. “Whenever you’re having a bad day you can always go to the horses and they’ll make you feel better.”

Knowing how hard their horses and daughters have worked fill Cassy and Eric’s hearts with pride.

“I basically cry every time I see them run,” Cassy said. “And I’m in awe of the doors God is opening for us and we’re excited about the future.”

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