The 1,500-pound quarter horse named Lena never really got a chance to carelessly gallop into the open field and enjoy being a horse until she met her owner, Payton Koontz, two years ago.

Lena lived in a trainer’s barn where random treats and playtime did not come often, and the training background made it hard for her to trust anybody before Koontz got a hold of her. Koontz was searching for a show horse pretty enough to compete in the Halter class while having the strength and size to withstand the all-around competition when the 15 year-old Columbus horseback rider first laid eyes Lena.

The horse matched Koontz’s criteria and felt it was a perfect fit when she gave Lena her first test ride.

“The horse and I just clicked,” she said.

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Koontz, a Columbus East sophomore who has been riding horses since she was 6 years old, described Lena as being pretty wild and claims she has a personality like no other horse she has seen. She started with baby steps by rewarding Lena with treats for good behavior to gain the trust of a horse who was not used to receiving much affection from its owner.

Koontz made an effort to take her out of the barn every day at Woods Equestrian Center, where she is boarded. She heads over to Woods and feeds Lena after she brushes her.

Once dinner time is over, Koontz allows Lena to run around while she holds on to a long rope until the horse exerts enough energy for Koontz to ride her. This process is called lunging, and they are forced to do a lot of it before Lena is calm enough for Koontz to hop on.

Koontz rides Lena for about two hours, then practices on her showmanship patterns before putting her back in the stall to rest. Showmanship is the class in which Koontz excels the most.

During the showmanship competition, Koontz is standing off of the horse while she and Lena must complete the pattern given to them as a team. The bond created with the horse is especially important during showmanship because competitors are judged based on how they and the horse complete the pattern together.

Koontz said it is hard to perform well if there is not a strong bond between the rider and horse.

Koontz began competing in her first horse shows in 4-H when she started leasing horses in the third grade. She said the problem with leasing horses is the fact that others are still able to take lessons with their horse, which makes it harder to establish a significant bond.

Koontz owned her first quarter horse when she was 10 and began showing for the American Quarter Horse Association. She is still involved with the association today and shows for the Kentucky Quarter Horse Association, as well. One of Koontz’s favorite places to show is in Liberty, Kentucky, because Lena is an all-around horse and Koontz loves Liberty’s all-around program.

Koontz placed first in the state fair in showmanship a few years ago and was in the top 10 in the nation for her age group last year. That was a big accomplishment for her, considering Lena did not know how to do anything but ride when she first bought her. Now, Lena is able to participate in about six different classes.

“So many times, my horse has a really bad attitude, and so many times, I just wanted to give up,” Koontz said. “Working hard and finally getting stuff done and receiving awards after all the hard work I put in meant a lot to me. … She and I have grown a lot together in the past two years.”

Lena has come a long way from where she was but is still not comfortable trusting everybody, including Koontz’s father. She still pushes him around and tries to nibble on him when he attempts to feed her.

“This may sound really bad, but she’ll bite the people that she doesn’t like,” Koontz said. “She just will act more aggressive.”

Koontz tries to ride Lena every day throughout the year, and she really kicks it into gear when school is out. She competes in shows about every other weekend in the summer, then slows back down in August.

The last competition of the year for Koontz usually is the North American Show in November. The show, where Lena took first place in the Halter class, is open to all riders in North America. Halter is judged completely on the horse’s appearance, and Lena’s muscular build helped her walk away with the first-place finish.

Koontz still has a couple of years before she will be heading off the college, but she already has thought about looking into a college equestrian team if she chooses to take that route. Her plan right now is to go to college in hopes of becoming a dental hygienist.

As far as Lena is concerned, Koontz plans to keep her after graduation and breed her.

“We want to have babies out of her and sell those.” Koontz said. “She’s such a well-built horse.”

The Duo

Name: Payton Koontz

School: Columbus East

Year: Sophomore

Horse: Lena

Horse’s weight: 1,500 pounds

Best Class: Showmanship

Key Performances this year: First place in Halter in North American Show; Seventh place in Showmanship in Novice Championship

Author photo
Frank Bonner is a sports writer for The Republic. He can be reached at fbonner@therepublic.com or 812-379-5632.