It's a tale as old as time, a young girl falls in love with horses and dreams of riding and ribbons. Unfortunately, not every story unfolds like a Disney movie and life's challenges sometimes put our dreams on hold. Luckily for Ari, a spunky pony named Odie came into her life at the right time. Their journey has been filled with both highs and lows but most importantly a love to last a lifetime. To all the girls who thought their horse dreams were a childhood fantasy, I hope this tale will bring you inspiration.
Name: Ari Mason
Home Base: Massacheusetts, USA
Horses: Odie, a sassy and talented 14.2 hand pony whose adorable name is Made To Order
Recent highlight of your riding career: Sometimes the small milestones are the most rewarding. Jumping Odie bareback in a halter and feeling so connected and in sync, flying over a 3'9" oxer to realize his scope is beyond what I had imagined-some of my most impactful moments have been in training at home. Odie is a project pony who has surpassed all expectations and I'm so proud to see him thrive.
Horse that had the most impact on your journey: Odie has made me a better rider and horsewoman than I ever could have imagined. Over the past couple of years, we've become a team and developed a bond I've never experienced before. He has taught me grit, determination, patience, and persistence, and shown me the power of believing in yourself and your horse. Our connection deepens every day and I honestly don't know where I'd be without him. He's my forever horse.
Most challenging time in your riding career: Odie's training has been the most rewarding experience of my riding career but also the most difficult. Our first winter together, almost every ride ended in tears. He was under muscled and had no sense of self-carriage, so we went back to basics and spent months building his foundation from the ground up. It was immensely frustrating for us both. He would grab the bit, evade contact, and ignore my aids. I was in no way prepared to train a horse while still learning myself. But I stuck with him. We kept working. And one day, it clicked. I'm so grateful for the trainers who believed in us and recognized his talent. There have been many moments like that, but that was a turning point, and working through it showed me what we were capable of.
Most rewarding moment: I have two because I just can't pick one! The first time Odie chose to be with me at liberty made my heart so full, I thought it would burst. Groundwork has become very special to us and plays an important role in solidifying our bond. There's no greater honour than when a horse is completely free and chooses to follow you. My other most rewarding moment was our first-time jumping 3'6"- bareback. We put Odie through a jump chute (probably his first one ever) and he loved it so much. By the end, he was running himself through it and didn't want to stop! My trainer dared me to hop on and being the daredevil I am, I did. He knew his job and I knew he'd take care of me, so I mostly hung on and tried to stay out of his way. It was wonderful. It felt like flying. I don't know if I've ever been happier.
Who has inspired/guided/encouraged you? I'm incredibly blessed to have such a strong support system. My parents have cheered me on since day one. They're not "horse people", but they nurtured my passion and enabled me to chase my dreams. Without them, horses wouldn't have been a part of my reality growing up. I've also had two trainers who really stand out as being deeply invested in both Odie and me. They've known exactly how much to push and when, how to teach us in a way that resonates, how to achieve my goals and set new ones. I've found tremendous support through Instagram as well. It's an absolute joy to connect with likeminded equestrians, form real relationships, and cheer each other on. I've formed lasting relationships with the people I've met, and I'm so thankful to know them.
Words to live by: Don't let anyone tell you what you can and can't do. Odie was an underdog and I was out of practice. It was easy to write us off and tell us we didn't deserve to be in the show ring. We deserved to be there, and so do you. There's a lot of judgement and competition in this industry, but you know your horse and you know yourself in a way that nobody else does. If you have the dedication, drive, and willingness, you can be unstoppable.
Looking forward 5 to 10 years, where do you see yourself? I plan to take Odie as far as he can comfortably go. I have no idea where he maxes out. We'll slowly work our way up until he tells me that's enough, and then we'll find what's comfortable for him and stick with it. He's a horse who loves his job and I'm really careful to push only as much as he's ready and willing to go. As long as he's happy, I'm happy too. I could never let Odie go, so he'll spend the rest of his years with me and will have a cushy retirement with lots of love. Ultimately, I'd love to jump at Grand Prix level, so maybe there's another horse in my future too. In a perfect world, I'd make a career out of riding and training, but it will take time and experience to get to that point. Right now, I'm just enjoying the time and experience that comes with every ride.
Looking back 5 or 10 years, what advice/encouragement would you give your younger self? I wasn't riding much 5-10 years ago. I fell out of horses after middle school when the pressure of competition got to be too much, then rode sporadically in college. To my younger self, know this: It doesn't have to be all or nothing. You don't have to let go of something you love because you can't compete at the level you want to. There are other barns, other trainers, other horses that can help you remember why you love it. One day, you'll dream about horses, and you'll know it's time. You'll listen to that, and you'll ride. Horses will be a part of your life forever, and it's ok to feel lost right now. You'll find your way back.
You can follow Ari & Odie's adventures @littleponybigjump