March 23 ē 01:20 AM

Gaining strength in the saddle

Dryden youth learns teamwork, values in competitive horse ring

Sean takes on a new look in hunt attire atop Rarytas.
July 11, 2007
Sean Hazen, a soon-to-be-8th-grader at Dryden Jr./Sr. High School, doesn't care if he isn't a straight-A student, nor if he's the most popular boy in school. Living in an "awesome" Christian home, horse showing, and being in a great youth group at Dryden's Holy Redeemer Church are the three things he says he loves best.

A sports enthusiast, Sean's baseball team, the Dryden Cardinals, won in the All Star Finals last summer against Metamora and Hadley. And that's great because Sean enjoys life's challenges. He has learned the values of teamwork astride his Arabian horse, Rarytas.

This past year, Sean won the Arabian Horse Association of Michigan (AHAM) 13 and Under Championship in Intro to Dressage Test 'A' and the Regional Arabian Youth 13 and Under Championship. Sean has been the only boy to make it into the top five in the 13 and under division for three consecutive years.

"He's just a great representative of what he is doing," his mom Bonni Hazen says. "Kids need to see that."

At the early age of 4, Sean's desire to ride materialized. He began taking riding instructions on his pony, Rolly Polly.

"I saw my mom riding and thought it would be fun, so my Mom started giving me lessons," Sean says.

Bonni is an instructor for all disciplines and currently has 25 equestrian students. Sean raises warm-blood and Arabian cross horses at her facility 'At Liberty Arabians' on Joy Road in Metamora. She explains that the show season usually begins in March and continues through October; however, unlike most sports, equestrians never shelve their paraphernalia. They continue to care for their horses throughout the inactive winter months. To the dedicated equestrian, this comradeship with an animal is not a chore, it is a partnership uniquely different from any other sport.

"I'll never stop riding," Sean says. "If I'm not in the show ring, I'll still ride."

From the adolescent years through age 20, horse showing is a sport that predominantly features girls. Girls often wear frilly blouses and sparkling accents, which boys tend to shy away from, choosing the conservative approach of the traditional shirt and tie. Capturing the judge's attention can be difficult. That is why Sean's form must be impeccable.

"Boys don't wear fancy shirts, so we have to be very good riders," Sean says.

Sean's diligence to the tiniest details won him the EMAA Championship in 2005. That same year, Sean and Rarytas went on to win the Region 13 Arabian Championships in Indianapolis, Indiana, showing in Western Horsemanship and Western Pleasure in the walk/trot division. It was the icing on his birthday cake when he came in the top five in his division of more than 12 riders, all this on the same day he turned 11 years old.

"He tries real hard," Bonni says, "going to this or any championship is a big undertaking financially and emotionally."

The 2006 year was Sean's first year in riding English and he noticed immediately the difference in riding styles. Doing the dressage test provided Sean with the experience of utilizing his riding skills in making the horse perform without the benefit of having other horses in the arena. He says he learned a sense of balance and discipline in directing Rarytas through the trotting and cantering exercises.

"Dressage really helps me in my Western riding," Sean notes.

Sean is used to working hard to achieve his goals, and Bonni explains that Sean has to work hard to acquire good grades, too.

"We think that's why he does well with showing," Bonni says. "He's used to working hard. Academics don't come easy, so he doesn't expect his showing to be easy either."

Sean's beloved show horse, Rarytas, is now 21 years old. Sean explains that this is old for a horse and he will soon be riding a new horse named Junior, a quarter horse and Arabian cross, next year in the shows.

The idea of starting over with a new horse doesn't bother Sean, he's learned to adapt well to the English saddle and to the stressful conditions of the showing atmosphere. In fact, Sean says he enjoys the tension during regional shows.

"Sean appears very relaxed," Bonni says, "but I know inside he's nervous. That's something you can't teach a rider. Sean doesn't portray his nervousness. He gives 110 percent and is reliable and dependable."

Sean is quick to explain that he does get nervous, but his jitters don't begin until he's stepping into the arena.

Horse showing has really become a mom and son affair because both Bonni and Sean show throughout the season. Sean says he and his mom have worked out a system: He shows one year at the nationals and his mom shows the next year.

Bonni plans to qualify for the Dressage Regional in the fall. This year, the regional will be held in Lexington in October.

Both Bonni and Sean sometimes feel the pressure of perfecting their riding skill while practicing at home and often have to console each other when the riding exercise is not going as well as expected. Sean remembers occasions when he has to play teacher to his teacher.

"This is a bad day for you mom," he'll say. "Maybe you should not do this exercise now."

Sean stays in contact with the local riders his age through the 4-H Club 'Rural Route.' During the winter months, he enjoys skiing, basketball, and the not so pleasant, but mandatory, pastime of studying. Sean says his favorite subject is lunch and he especially enjoys school because of his many friends.

Just after his love for horse showing is his youth group at Holy Redeemer Church. The youth group meets the first Friday of every month. They see movies, enjoy pizza, pop and popcorn while interacting with video games, playing basketball, fooseball, and ping-pong.

"It's awesome there," Sean says, "and I'm really blessed living in a Christian home."

Sean enjoys life's challenges and he's learned the values of teamwork astride his Arabian horse, Rarytas, but he admits that his most cherished asset is a God-given gift.

"I have a lot of friends in school, but it's just awesome coming from a Christian home."

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