Next week, Rachel will head off to Florida to compete in the ``Horse Show in the Sun - Ocala Circuit.'' The series of shows will draw riders from throughout the United States and Canada. Rachel, an honor student, will spend three weeks in Florida.
Rachel, 17, competes in the Children's Hunter Division, which is for youth under 18. In this division, the jumps are three feet high. The highest division for athletes under 18 is Junior Hunter's, where the jumps are three-and-a-half feet.
Rachel has no aspirations of becoming an Olympian. She competes for the love of the sport and because it enables her to be around horses. She has indeed inherited her mother's love of the animals.
``My mom is the one who got me interested in riding,'' Rachel said. ``When I was 10, I was involved in everything a girl that age gets into, but once I started riding, I really loved it.''
Lissa, a pediatric nurse practitioner, said that she can't explain her obsession for horses, but that it has been with her all her life.
``My mother said my first word was horse,'' Lissa said, laughing. ``There were no horses when I grew up in Brooklyn, but I cut out pictures of horses, read Black Beauty about 900 times, and just loved anything about them. It was an obsession. I decided if I ever had the chance, I'd get a horse.''
When Rachel began to take lessons, so did her mother. Lissa used to enter competitions, but now prefers to watch Rachel compete.
Not only does Rachel enjoy riding, she has developed a close relationship with her horse, a 6-year-old chestnut thoroughbred mare named Glen Arden, who is nicknamed Reef.
Rachel has been riding Reef for two years and will be riding her in Florida.
``She is one of my best friends,'' Rachel said. ``For as much time as we've spent together, we've become close.''
Rachel trains every day after school with Reef at Ev'ry Farm in Mount Laurel. For the last four years, Rachel has been taught by Patti Clark.
``Rachel has shown a lot of improvement, and the horse, which was inexperienced, has come a long way,'' Clark said. ``What I really like about Rachel is that she maintains a very good riding level and is extremely dedicated, plus she is a very good student and puts in a lot of time with her schoolwork.''
Rachel, as do other riders, lives by the credo that the best thing to do after falling off a horse is to get right back on.
``I learned when I first started riding that every good rider falls,'' Rachel said. ``I'm no exception. I've had my falls. There is some danger in the sport, but I'm not afraid. I feel it has become second nature.''
Rachel said she is bothered by the perception that equestrian riders don't need athletic ability.
``People think we're not athletes, that the horse does all the work, and that's just not true,'' she said. ``You need more than muscle strength to ride horses. You have to be flexible, and you want to be soft with your hands. It's a feel you get from constant practice.''
Clark said the sport is also a great teacher.
``Competition teaches you that if you fall, you must regroup,'' she said. ``You can use that the rest of your life.''
Rachel's stay in Florida won't be a vacation. After all, she will be tutored in her schoolwork and faxed homework, in addition to competing. Next year she will attend Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. She hopes to enter local horse shows while attending college.
For now, her thoughts are on the Florida show. Rachel hasn't set any overly ambitious goals for the competition.
``I just want to do the best I possibly can,'' she said. ``I know that I'll enjoy myself, and that's the important thing.''