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12-year-old wins titles by leaps and bounds


© St. Petersburg Times, published July 29, 2000

RIVERVIEW -- Peyton Love started training as an equestrian athlete when she was 6 years old.

After two years of learning how to ride a horse in a walk, trot and canter, she was ready for her first jump in which the horse would simply walk over the poles or rails lying on the ground.

Now at the age of 12, Love is a champion hunter. Hunter is the class of show jumping she competes in around the state.

So far this year, she has won championships in all three shows in which she has competed, including under saddle short stirrup and equitation short stirrup titles.

The under saddle classification is the judgment of the horse on its moves, performance, lead changes, ability to make the exact number of strides between jumps and response to commands.

Equitation is judgment of the rider and her ability to give commands, sit properly, the position of the legs and hands when giving commands to the horse and overall performance riding.

Last year, she earned the title of Short Stirrup Champion of the Year from the Pinellas County Horse Association, a statewide organization that sponsors the shows.

Love owns her horse, Jamaican Me Crazy, which is stalled at Cross Point Farms in Riverview, where the pair train. Actually, Jamaican Me Crazy is only 13.2 hands tall and is classified as a pony.

"Equestrian is a sport different from all others like soccer or tennis," Love said.

"In my sport, the horse loves me back. Sissy, which is what I call her for short, starts moving around and nickering when she first sees me coming. I ride her to exercise her even when we are not training for a show. After a workout, I rub her down and give her treats of oats and stuff in sticks. She also loves cokes and root beer."

Love is a straight-A student as a seventh-grader at Immanuel Lutheran School in Brandon. When classes are in session, she works hard with the books so she can spend more time in the saddle.

Two days a week, she is guided by trainer Tammy Priest, and another two days, she rides and trains on her own. Priest has been her trainer for all six years Love has competed in the sport.

"Peyton is a perfectionist," Priest said.

"She has this super ability to maintain concentration on each step of her rides even though there are a dozen or more things she has to do just right for both her and her pony. Most kids her age lose their concentration the first time something goes wrong on the course or with the horse. Not Peyton. She usually ends up each show as the champion or reserve."

Abby Gates, 16, a senior at Bloomingdale, , is one of Love's riding mates. Gates also is a champion of many shows and a successful scholar.

She is ranked 14th in a senior class of more than 500. Taking honors classes, she has a grade point average of 5.1.

"I have been competing for only three years, but I have never had a fear of jumping with the horses," Gates said. "The thing I love best about this sport is being around the horses. Each of them have their own personality. Tymer is my favorite horse."

Gates also works part time at Cross Point, allowing her to spend even more time around the horses, which she can use for riding or lessons. As for Love, she takes her sport seriously. Not only does she enjoy riding and jumping now, but she wants to continue for as long as possible.

"Next year, I will move up to a medium class of competition," she said. "That means I will jump a little higher and over a little more complicated course. I have no interest in any other sport. I love horses, and equestrian is a sport providing me with an opportunity to always be around them."

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