There’s something about horses which seem to capture people’s hearts – they’re loyal, trusting, understanding and, if you’re lucky, they can become your best friend and provide a lot of enjoyment. That’s the way it is for equestrian Emma Klopp, 9-year-old daughter of Jason and Carrie Klopp, of Crescent City.

Emma said “I always loved horses since I was born” and she’s been taking lessons four years now. It’s her passion – it’s her life – it’s what she wants to be: a horseback rider. Her lessons are taught by Niki and Colton Smith of the Smith Horse Company in Limestone. Through the years she has worked with five horses: Simba, Garth and Ben were horses she rode for hunt seat/English saddle lessons; then she rode Invy for western saddle trot, walk and cantering (faster than trotting but not quite a run; the horse’s head needs to go up and down); and for the past year she has worked with “BB” (Bearly the Best) as she does walk and trot lessons.

Of all the horses she has trained with “BB” is her favorite: “I love her so much. She’s calm … she doesn’t do bad things (getting rattled),” Emma said. “She is the perfect horse for me.”

Emma’s first experience with a horse took place when she was three years old. She met the horse belonging to her cousin Isabella Crego, who barrel races. She started lessons with one trainer but then switched to the Smith Horse Company. Her mother, Carrie, noted, “They just don’t show her (Emma) how to ride but how to take care of the horse and body parts of the horse. During her lesson, Niki Smith will quiz Emma and Emma always gets the answers right.”

Carrie continued, “Emma started to learn riding English then last year she started to learn Western,” which is what she is doing this year. Of course, some horses can be pretty big and that can be cause for concern, but, Carrie said, “I love how Emma can fall off a horse and get right back on. She is not scared at all and totally loves the horse.” Emma shared she was bucked off once because the horse saw a hose and thought it was a snake.

Trainer Niki Smith, who taught hunt seat lessons, said of Emma, “A small girl with a huge passion for horses! All the horses love her. She has a very good way with horses.”

Co-trainer Colton Smith, who teaches the western lessons, noted “Emma is a very dedicated child who loves horses and learning everything about them. Her parents and grandparents help her stay dedicated by bringing her out to ride several days a week.”

So, how does a 5-year-old convince her parents she wants to take horseback riding lessons and that she’ll be dedicated to it? “My Mom and Dad both knew I love horses and they thought I was old enough to take lessons,” she said. It began on a trial basis with her first trainer

Emma noted her favorite breed is the quarter horse: “I love how they feel and how they’re not so fast,” she said.

This past March, Emma began attending horse shows and competing. Her first competition was the American Quarter Horse Association meet at Gordyville where she placed fourth both days. Then on March 24 she took part in the Illinois Quarter Horse Association competition, again at Gordyville, and she placed sixth. She rode “BB” for both contests.

As her mother noted, Emma doesn’t just ride, she works with and for the horses. She can just about take complete care of her horse – from top to bottom, from nose to tail tip. Her grandmother, Karen Klopp, who is the one mainly responsible for getting Emma to her lessons, noted, “Every time she goes for a lesson, she has to take care of the horse. She brushes the horse first, then she cleans the hooves.” Once the horse is prepared, it’s Emma’s responsibility to carry the saddle and saddlebag to the horse. She puts the blanket in place, gets the horse saddled (with some assistance due to her size), puts on her spurs, then dons her helmet as the trainer gets the horse bridled. The saddle she uses now weighs 13 pounds and she carries it from the back of the barn to the horse.

When her lesson is completed, she removes the girth, helps remove the saddle and saddle pad, puts the tools away, brushes the horse down and puts on the blanket. The final touch is putting an apple in BB’s dish.

When practicing, she uses two hands for the reins, but for showing she has to use one hand.

For lessons, she wears jeans and a shirt, but when she’s competing, she has to follow the dress code. “I have to wear a tank top because what I put over the tank top is something like a hoodie,” she said. “I have a couple different outfits.” One outfit is accented with “music” appliqués. She must wear boots which have a heel and the spurs have to be worn so the sparkles are on the outside. She must wear a cowgirl hat, which is custom made, and stored in a hat case. Her boots are stored away from her dogs so they don’t get chewed up and she makes sure those, along with the spurs, are kept shiny. She has to wear make-up and her hair has to be in a ponytail for competition. The only jewelry she can wear is earrings.

“BB” gets spruced up for shows, too, as she gets her mane brushed and a fake tail gets put on so the tail is very, very full. The artificial tail is a requirement – if the fake tail isn’t on, points will be deducted.

All-in-all, at competition, it’s not just the rider who gets judged. Judges take into consideration how the rider is dressed, how the horse looks, how the two get along together, and how the horse acts and the rider reacts.

Emma’s trainer lets her have sparkles on her hat – she’s the only one who can – and the reason is because she is “small fry,” which means she is young and can only walk and trot.

Emma said she is working on her “pattern” right now. There are four cones put out – A, B, C, D – and Emma has to walk the horse from A to B, then from B you trot, go around C in a circle, then trot a circle to D and back up.

Sometimes, just like humans, horses get to feeling frisky. Emma said when this happens during training, she has to lunge the horse 10 minutes. Then, she has to lunge the horse for 20 minutes at a horse show because “she would be more wild at a horse show because of all the horses around.” A lunge is when you put a lunge rope on the halter, then you stand in the center and let the horse go around in circles. “You have to do it slowly,” Emma said, “or you can get very dizzy.”

So far she has had three shows and is anxiously looking forward to another competition this month.

Emma knows she has to show respect to the horse and she knows she should expect respect from the horse. Communication between the rider and horse is key to a good performance.

Emma’s goal with her horse training is to keep it going. She said if she gets a horse for high school graduation she’d like to board it at her current trainer’s place. She wants to continue with horse shows and competitions with the hope of earning lots of ribbons. After high school she’d like to attend a horse college. She noted, “If you have your own horse, it’s cheaper. You learn how to perform better” in competitions at a horse college.

After horse college, Emma would like to become a trainer and continue to do shows. She tried barrel racing but didn’t enjoy it so she doesn’t plan on doing that.

Emma gives credit where credit is due: The reason she can continue with the lessons is because her grandmother, Karen Klopp, makes sure she gets to them when Mom and Dad’s work schedules keep them busy. “I am very lucky my Grandma has the time to take me to lessons,” she said. “I had her come to my show because I think it’s important for her to see how much I learn and improve.”