By Missy Wattenbarger
Twice a week, around 4:30 a.m., 13-year-old Brylie Mays settles in for a ride to a stable on the other side of Knoxville. The drive normally takes an hour and a half, and once there she greets her American Saddlebred named Bravia, who she affectionately calls Hula. The pair trains for almost two hours before Brylie has to head back to Crossville to attend school.
This routine is repeated on Saturdays, and the summer usually gives way to fewer trips and more overnight stays with the trainers. Although it’s not the most ideal schedule, it has given Brylie the opportunity to compete on the world stage for the past three years and become one of the most successful young riders around.
"There have been so many bad days but pushing through it was worth it though,” said Brylie, the daughter of Ray and Kiersten Mays of Crossville.
This summer, the ninth-grader claimed fifth place at the World’s Championship Horse Show, which took place during the third week of August in Louisville, KY. Since 1902, this competition has been held annually at Freedom Hall and has remained the premiere event for American Saddlebreds. The week-long competition, held in conjunction with the Kentucky State Fair, is where the best come to compete each August.
In order to be eligible for the World’s Championship Horse Show, Mays had to compete in several other shows throughout the country and place in the top three at each one. Once she qualified, she had to compete again on Aug. 19 to be one of only eight riders allowed to come back for the championship on Aug. 22.
Mays competed in the three-gaited pony division, for which her horse had to be shown at a walk, trot and canter.
"Pony is a smaller Saddlebred, not what you normally think of as a pony,” explained Kiersten. “It has to measure 14 hands (56 inches) and under... and only juvenile riders (under age 18) can ride it.”
For this division, Mays was judged on how well-mannered her horse was and how well she could control her. According to the show’s program, the horse's walk must be springy and athletic; the trot, a square, bold, two-beat gait, must be performed with speed, form and natural high action; and the canter must be slow, rhythmic and executed on the correct lead (left forefoot).
"It's much harder to do than it looks...” said Kiersten.
She pointed out that Brylie must tell her horse what to do by making subtle hand gestures while holding two reins.
"Just the movement of your pinky makes a huge difference,” stated Brylie.
“Some horses like more top reins than the bottom...” she added. “So it's really like getting to know another person. It's not that every horse is different. It's all the same basics, but each horse has it quirks, you know.”
This was Brylie's third year to compete in the World’s Championship Horse Show with Bravia and to place in the top five. She won third place last year and was the second-place winner, also called the "reserve world champion," in 2011. The only difference was that this year she was competing against riders older than her and with more experience.
"She was in the 13 and under division (in 2011-'12)... but this year — I don't really know why — they eliminated the 13 and under... division. It was all 17 and under," explained Kiersten, who wasn't notified about the change until three months before the championship.
"If you are 17 at the beginning of the qualifying period, you can compete throughout the whole year," she continued. "She was competing against the best of the best of the best who were 18 years old. So the other riders who beat her were 17 and 18 years old. She was the youngest at 13 to place."
Based on her wins prior to the championship, Kiersten and Brylie believe that she could have won the championship if the 13 and under division was left in place. However, Brylie is content with the ribbon she received in this year's show.
"Everybody wants to place high, and it's pretty cool that I even got a ribbon because I know a lot of people who don't even get a ribbon for a really long time," she said. "And I was happy with my ride, so that's all that matters to me... I'm OK with it."
Brylie has already decided to change to the five-gaited division for next year's competition. This is considered by many as the most spectacular and exciting in the show because of the speed and strength exhibited by the equine athletes. In addition to the walk, trot and canter, they must perform the slow gait, a high action and refine gait performed slowly, and the rack, which is fast, showing action, energy and power.
"I want to get another horse. I've been in the pony division for three years and want to do something new. She's such a great horse and she taught me a lot, and I think that another rider should have an opportunity to have her,” said Brylie.
She doesn't foresee horse riding as a future career, but plans to continue riding until she ages out of the competitions. As a lover of books, she hopes to major in English literature and make a living as a writer and publisher.