Willys On The Green and Katerina Mendel captured their first world championship in hunter under saddle. (Journal photo)
by Larri Jo StarkeyThe American Quarter Horse Journal
The baby giraffe won a world championship.
On August 8 at the 2013 Built Ford Tough AQHYA World Championship Show, Katerina Mendel of Ann Arbor, Michigan, walked, trotted and cantered her way to her first world championship.
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“It was everything I imagined and more,” Katerina said in her exclusive Journal interview. “It was overwhelming. It felt amazing, just realizing that I did it and I worked so hard and I got through it. It was just wonderful.”
Katerina’s mount was Willys On The Green, a 2008 brown gelding by Willy Be Invited and out of the Thoroughbred mare Dance The Green by Dance Brightly. Sometimes the gelding goes by “Indy,” and sometimes, his height gets him a different nickname.
“He’s been such a great horse,” Katerina said. “We call him ‘Baby Giraffe,’ so that’s my good-luck charm, little giraffes. He’s one of those horses that is wonderful, with a great personality, great everything. He tries so hard for me, and he’s amazing. I love him to death.
Katerina and her family purchased Indy from breeder Fritz Leeman of Massillon, Ohio, as a 2-year-old, and the rides have been great ever since.
“My ride today was amazing,” Katerina said. “I felt like I was just floating. I didn’t have a lot to worry about. I did (worry) – don’t get me wrong – but he was locked in, ready to go. He felt ready, and we just went in and did what we always do and relaxed and had fun. It was great.”
Katerina and her giraffe are currently leading the nation in youth hunter under saddle. In 2012, they won the Nutrena East Novice championship in hunter under saddle, and they were third at the 2012 Ford Youth World.
“What’s fun about hunter under saddle is being able to go out there and strut your stuff, show off what you can do,” Katerina said. “It’s like saying, ‘Here’s me. Here’s what I can do.’ It’s great.”
Katerina, 18, will be attending Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor in the fall. She has one year of youth eligibility left and hopes to return to defend her title.
“I want to thank my mom for dealing with me, because there are times when we get frustrated with each other because we’re around each other so much,” Katerina said. “But I also want to thank my trainer Rosie Sheffer because she helps me so much to be a great rider. This is how I won this – it’s because of her.”