UPDATE: Aboard CH Hank Heroin, Thea Merlo finished in second place in her age group at the 2012 World's Championship Horse Show in Lousville in August. A video of her performance can be seen here, while the show's full results can be found here.
Horseback rider Thea Merlo says she’s loved horses since she was able to talk—not just riding them, but also bonding with them.
“I like to brush them; I like to hand-walk them; I also like to clean bridles and stalls,” the 9-year-old Hinsdale resident said. “I just like being at the barn.”
That barn-time seems to have paid off.
After quality showings in several local shows, Merlo has qualified in her 9- and 10-year-old age group for the World's Championship Horse Show, which takes place in August at the Kentucky State Fair in Louisville. Not the running-and-jumping most picture when thinking of competitive horseback riding, Merlo will compete in saddleseat equitation, atop a Saddlebred horse, and be judged on her riding fundamentals and demeanor as her horse walks and trots in front of three judges.
Merlo, who has been riding since she was 5, will compete in Louisville atop the Saddlebred CH Hank Heiron.
“When I ride him I kind of have to step up my game because he’s a very powerful horse,” Merlo said, noting the horse’s experience and calm demeanor. “Some horses are scared of their own shadows. Hank Heiron, he’s just safe and I can trust him.”
Lesa Merlo, Thea’s mom, also rides Saddlebreds and says she couldn’t be more proud of her daughter’s accomplishments.
“Her connection with horses is something really magical to watch,” Lesa said. "She’s fearless when it comes to horses."
The young Merlo attends , plays piano, and has two brothers, one of whom is her twin. She rides twice a week, year-round, at Northern Tradition Farm in Minooka and is coached by Tom Thorpe. Thorpe said the 9-year-old’s desire to spend time with horses at the barn is an example of her passion for the sport and is a big reason for her early success.
“She loves to learn, she’s self-motivated, and she’ll continue to get better and better,” Thorpe said.
Thorpe, whose farm is bringing 10 riders total to the World Championships, said Merlo’s first rides in Louisville’s Freedom Hall, with its grand and tense atmosphere, will be a great learning experience.
“It’s just one more step to make her the best rider she can be,” Thorpe said.
Merlo seems to share the same point of view. Her hope for the World's Championship?
“My goal would be to have a good ride and have fun,” Merlo said.
Merlo has sponsorships from national brands Dove and Sharpie, as well as local companies and MB Financial Private Banking.
Live streaming of the World's Championship Horse Show can be found at www.richfieldvideo.com.