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VALLEY/VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Horse Trade

New Ride Renews Harmon's Spirit and Brings Another Dressage Title

April 12, 1998|VINCE KOWALICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BURBANK — Upon us all, the saying goes, a little rain must fall.

This year to be certain. And profoundly for members of the Interscholastic Equestrian League, who nearly had their four-program schedule this season washed away by El Nino.

Determined to salvage a soggy 15th season, the IEL's Los Angeles chapter ignored a steady downpour Saturday and completed its final program beneath the shelter of the Equidome of the L.A. Equestrian Center.

For Corey Harmon of La Reina High in Thousand Oaks, a silver lining to a painful past season was found in a second consecutive dressage championship.

Harmon, a senior whose career aspirations actually lean closer to computers than equitation, easily might never have gotten back in the saddle after suffering the emotional and financial devastation of the death of her 13-year-old horse, Gatsby, in 1996.

Yet, Harmon returned this season aboard 7-year-old Eliot and placed first in both IEL events this season.

Harmon named her first horse after the famous F. Scott Fitzgerald character. Her second horse took the name of poet T.S. Eliot.

"I read a lot," Harmon said.

Harmon had to study long and hard before deciding to return to equestrian competition. She began riding at 6 and had grown accustomed to riding three hours a day, six days a week.

"It took me awhile to decide I wanted to continue riding," Harmon said. "But I just really like it so much. Every day after school I would go ride my horse."

Harmon was among four La Reina riders to win championships Saturday. La Reina, with 458 points, outdistanced second-place Marlboro (186) to win its fourth consecutive team championship.

Mickey Sullivan was overall novice champion and placed second in dressage. Lexi Shaw was overall freshman champion and placed second in dressage. Alie Keegan was junior varsity dressage champion.

La Reina, with 33, has the most riders of any school in the 30-member league. The L.A. chapter of the IEL, an organization created to promote competition among students in middle school and high school, has more than 160 riders.

The rain, as has been the case all season, dampened the occasion, reducing the field of competitors to about 100. Twenty-three were from La Reina.

After beginning the season with a competition at Middle Ranch in Lake View Terrace, the league has had two scheduled programs canceled because of rain. A program rescheduled because of rain also was rained out.

Much of Saturday's program, scheduled to include four outdoor arenas, was forced inside the Equidome.

"It's frustrating," Harmon said. "You need to start thinking a couple of weeks ahead for these shows and then you work and work and work and then it rains."

Harmon was disheartened, to say the least, by the loss of her first horse to a burst intestine.

Harmon received a call one evening from a trainer saying the horse was suffering abdominal pain. Within hours Harmon and her horse were headed for an animal hospital near Solvang. Gatsby could not be saved and was put down that night.

"It was pretty devastating," Harmon said. "I felt like everything I had worked for was completely wasted."

Harmon and Gatsby already were scheduled six days later to enter a dressage competition. The horse's value was close to $50,000, but insurance only covered $10,000 of the loss.

"Only a horse owner knows how you feel about those things," said Barbara Harmon, Corey's mother and president of the IEL. "We had to take a long look at [the cost of] buying another horse and training."

Gatsby and Eliot are about as similar as their names. But Harmon has ridden both to success. "Gatsby, he was a really nice horse," she said. "I really got lucky with him. Eliot is more nervous. He needs to be calmed."

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