November 2018 - Horse People: Alli Christy
Written by by Kim F. Miller
Thursday, 01 November 2018 05:34
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NorCal Junior Medal Final winner takes diabetes in stride in pursuit of big goals.

by Kim F. Miller

Established equestrian professionals often describe medal finals of their youth as the most stressful moments of their careers. The NorCal Hunter Jumper Association Junior Medal Finals were indeed a big deal for 16-year-old Alli Christy, but stressing out over them was not in the cards. The eventual winner aboard her horse of two years, Wodan, Alli has dealt with bigger deals since receiving a juvenile diabetes diagnosis at 4.

nov2018 alli1Alli in the early days.


She manages the disease with grace and maturity, often speaking to large crowds at educational and fundraising events. Both qualities carry over into her approach to riding, notes her trainer Patty Ball. “She’s always been a very special girl and very mature for her age.”

Alli lives in Reno, but keeps her horse with Patty’s Hunterville Stables in the Auburn area’s Penryn. Along with being a winner – of the Norcal Junior and the Hudson & Company finals this year – Alli is a pure pleasure to have in the barn, the trainer states. “She’s the sweetest girl, always smiling and very happy all the time.”

Held this year as part of the Sacramento International Horse Show Welcome Week, at the Murieta Equestrian Center, the NorCal Finals took place Sept. 29-30. Alli sat fifth after round one, with the top 10 separated by only a few points.

nov2018 alli2Alli and Wodan: Photo: Grand Pix Photography

The Saturday course in the covered indoor ring featured long bending lines, while Sunday’s track was more jumper-like with multiple turns and striding choices and a faster pace required. Alli and Wodan topped the field over Sunday’s first track, giving them the catbird last-to-go spot for the work-off. The “super fun” work-off included a hand gallop to the second fence, an oxer. “I knew I had to step it up in the hand-gallop, so I really put pedal to metal there,” Alli recounts. They also nailed a halt later in the course to seal the win. Given that the NorCal Finals were a “huge” goal for Alli, winning it the first time out at this Big Eq 3’6” fence height “was awesome.”
    
Going The Distance

Commuting two hours each way to Hunterville is another challenge that makes Alli’s equestrian accomplishments all the more impressive. She and her mom Michelle usually make the trip twice a week for training and meet Patty and Hunterville’s Kristie LaFreniere and Haley Webster on the weekends for shows. It was a lot to juggle during freshman and sophomore years of high school, and even more so now with the ambitious college-admission focused curriculum of her current junior year. Alli and her family have contemplated moving Wodan back to Reno, but so far have felt that he is so happy and well cared for at Hunterville, they don’t want to make that step.

nov2018 alli3Alli with her family, parents Scott & Michelle and brother Nate.

Alli swims and runs to stay fit in lieu of daily saddle time. Though neither use the same muscles as riding, “they help with endurance and mentally knowing that I have that strength.” She’s grateful to local barns who allow her to ride green horses and gain more mileage. Ashlin Bowen has been especially helpful in providing rides, along with other trainers in the area. Many of these opportunities stem from trainers knowing Alli through her role as a member of the Reno Hunter/Jumper Association’s youth committee.

A Christmas gift of riding lessons introduced Alli to horses when she was 8. It was a classic case of “thinking it would be phase and it wasn’t,” she says. The horse-themed movies and pony encounters she craved as a kid indicated something bigger. Toward the end of that 10-lesson Christmas package, Michelle recalls Alli telling her, “When I get on a horse, I have this feeling in my heart I’ve never had before.” That’s a passion, Michelle explained to her daughter. A passion that grew as more riding time took the place of dance and gymnastic lessons. As a parent, Michelle saw Alli’s love for horses as a much-deserved counterpoint to the 24/7 realities of living with diabetes.

Those first lessons came from Lynn Mullens at Meadow View Farms, where Alli gained a thorough horsemanship education and advanced to starting to jump. As equitation division goals took shape, she started riding with Wendy Brownlee at Brownlee Equestrian to tackle more competitive circuits. As her abilities and regional and national goals emerged, Alli looked into a friend’s recommendation of riding with Patty and contending the California circuit.

nov2018 alli4With trainer Patty Ball.

The long drive didn’t make sense at first, Michelle Christy admits. “We thought, ‘Who would do this to train?’ But after her first lesson, we thought, ‘OMG, how can we make this happen?’” Weekend trips led to additional weekday commutes for lessons, fit into a carefully calibrated family schedule that includes an equally active younger brother, Nate, and dad Scott. “There is a lot of dividing and conquering,” explains Michelle cheerfully. Also a lot of studying in the car and making the most of a family RV at shows where Alli can tend to her health needs and keep up with her rigorous academics.

Alli’s natural riding abilities were well developed when she arrived at Hunterville. Finding an ideal equine partner in Wodan provided a good next step. The 16 year old KWPN purchased through Cara Anthony brought a strong equitation resume to his new owner.”Our connection started on day one, but it took about one year for us to really get to know each other,” Alli explains. “He has been my teacher and has a super big heart.”
    
Looking Ahead

Ambitious plans await. Qualifying for the Maclay Nationals next year is the big target, along with landing a spot on a National Collegiate Equestrian Associatiion team in college. “That’s been my biggest goal since I was 8. When I first started riding, there were collegiate equestrians at my barn and watching and listening to them kind of set the stage for that.”

With great advice from Hunterville’s Haley Webster, Alli is working on her recruiting website and getting her resume of show accomplishments in order. Haley rode with Patty Ball throughout her junior years, then earned an athletic scholarship to attend Texas A&M and compete on their Hunt Seat team.  

nov2018 alli5 Photo: McCool Photography

Along with loving Patty, Haley and Kristie as trainers, mentors and people, Alli loves the barn atmosphere at Hunterville. Stablemate Sophia Sanders is a close friend who won the NorCal Junior Medal and Hudson & Company finals last year, and the CPHA Foundation Equitation Championship and several top finishes so far this year. “We look the same, our horses look the same, and we both have great families, so people call us the ‘twins,’” Alli relays.

Wherever riding and college aspirations take her, Alli is sure the impact of getting to pursue her equestrian passion will be a big help throughout life. “This sport is really special because you learn to communicate with your ‘teammate’ through your body language and positive energy and you have to rely on yourself and your teammate beneath you.”


Living & Riding With Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease of unknown cause. Living with it for 12 years, Alli is an expert at managing it yet blood sugar dips and spikes are often out of her control. “It’s always a balancing act  -- kind of like horses in that you never know when you’re going to have a good day or an off day.” She wears two devices, including an artificial pancreas that attaches to her sports bra, that alert her to highs and lows. Snacks and juices are always at the ready and she maintains a healthy diet to help stabilize blood sugar. Ultimately, though, “you never really know what the body is going to throw at you.”

While contesting the Maclay Medal class in Sacramento, for example, her body threw a curve ball during the flat phase. An alarm signaling low blood sugar went off. “It sounds like a phone ringing,” Alli explains. “We’re not really allowed to talk in the class, so I just had to sit there and smile until the class was over.”

Whether riding through that embarrassing moment or speaking to a big crowd at a recent Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation event, Alli’s attitude is all about not letting the disease hold her back. As she concluded her speech, “I have Type 1, but Type 1 will never have me.”

To learn more about juvenile diabetes, visit www.jdrf.org.