News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Sisters equestrienne is making a comeback

Alessandra Wentworth is a senior at Sisters High School. She’s got big plans for her future with one common denominator: horses. She caught the horse-bug after attending a riding camp when she was nine. Now she’s sure she wants horses in her life forever.

“I want to be an equine veterinarian, so I’m surrounded by horses all the time,” she laughed while grooming her horse Kilkenny I.Q.

She boards her horse and takes jumping lessons from her longtime trainer, Cindy Shonka at JGW Ranch in Tumalo. But “Q,” as she’s known around the barn, isn’t Wentworth’s first horse. In fact, back when Wentworth was competing seriously with her first horse, Penny, she had no intention of riding any other horse. But three years ago, an untreatable spinal condition forced her faithful jumper, Penny, into early retirement. Wentworth had to start looking for another horse. She was sad to end her successful riding career with Penny but knew if she wanted to keep competing she had to recast her dreams with a new jumping partner.

When Penny started refusing jumps and showing signs of back pain, a veterinarian told Wentworth she couldn’t compete on her in an upcoming show. Since she was already signed up to compete, her riding coach let Wentworth ride one of her horses in some classes.

“I jumped him for the first time in the practice ring and he did pretty well,” she said.

“The next day, when the show started, the ground was wet in the warm-up arena but we were jumping everything fine.

Right before we were going in, I jumped one last practice jump called an oxer.

After landing the jump I remember turning and looking at my coach.

At that same moment he tripped, rolled and landed on my hand.

He took off, and suddenly I was surrounded by medics.

I was pretty beat up and out of it.

I had a concussion, rib contusions, and my right hand was bloody from being stepped on.

Two of my fingernails were ripped right out of the nail bed, and were just gone.

I couldn’t ride for nine weeks.

Then while I was recuperating, I found out Penny could never jump again.”

Before Penny began her life of leisure in an equine retirement facility in Redmond, she had become a well-trained, highly effective jumper. Wentworth knew she couldn’t afford to purchase a horse as experienced as Penny. She’d have to find a horse who’d be a good training project and do what she’d done with her first horse: train her well enough to once again win top honors at highly competitive show-jumping competitions.

Wentworth had to accept she’d have to start all over.

“It was a shock because at first I thought I could still ride Penny on the flat (not over jumps) but then we realized she couldn’t take any weight on her back. I tried eight horses before finding one I liked and then he didn’t pass the vet check; so I still didn’t have another horse. I kept looking and finally found Q,” she said.

Wentworth can’t help smiling as she describes that Q is fun to work with and reminds her of Penny.

During those nine weeks of recuperation, she had plenty of time to think about riding, but Wentworth had no thought of staying off horses.

“I was lucky I wasn’t more hurt in the fall. I know I will come off again, but I’m going to keep doing it. We riders love it too much to stop. Really you can get hurt in any sport. But I know jumping is a dangerous sport because you’re riding an animal that weighs almost 2,000 pounds going 20 miles an hour over jumps. I’ve never broken a bone or anything,” she said, knocking on wood.

It’s taken lots of practice, consistent lessons from Shonka, and perseverance to finally see positive results in the show ring. Shonka has continued teaching Wentworth jumping and dressage.

“She helped me find both of my horses. We both saw her potential. I seem to end up with horses with a lot of personality. Q is like a big golden retriever and she’s funny and gentle enough to carry around my friends,” said Wentworth.

Q is living up to their expectations. Wentworth has taken her in four shows now, and they recently competed in a two-week show called the Oregon Summer Classic, in Wilsonville.

“She’s been doing really well and came in Reserve Champion in our division called the .70 which has 2.6-foot high jumps. They’re not very big but she’s doing great. I moved her into a class with a little bit higher jumps and she did well,” said Wentworth.

The jumps are brightly colored, with vertical jumps like single fences, and oxers that have width and are solid.

“The jumps we do have what’s called fillers to make them look more scary and intimidating to test the horse. Q is what’s called ‘lookie,’ but she didn’t stop the entire time we competed in Wilsonville. She’s been doing really well and hasn’t thrown in a stop since two shows ago. We set up scarier jumps at home to build up her confidence,” said Wentworth.

Wentworth knows Q can jump much higher, but the way she found out was terrifying.

“When I first got her she was in a pasture and it was winter and about 20 degrees with two feet of snow on the ground. Q got spooked, took off and ran straight at a steel Powder River gate, I thought for sure she would stop but instead she jumped right over the gate which is four-feet-nine-inches tall. I know a lot of horses don’t survive that so I feel so lucky she was OK. I told her to never do that ever again. Afterward she just trotted right back over to me,” she laughed.

Wentworth still visits Penny making sure she’s happy and not in pain. She and Q are best friends. Seeing them together it’s clear Wentworth picked the perfect show-jumping partner. She hopes to keep taking Q in more competitions, and when she starts college she’d like to join their show team.

“I’m applying to OSU,” she said, “so if I get in, we’ll both be going to college.”


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