By now, 16-year-old Alicia Hall is used to causing a lot of raised eyebrows - both inside and outside of Alaska - for eschewing a trainer in order to ride on her own. The situation might not garner any attention if Hall wasn't a major player on the Alaska hunter/jumper circuit and an accomplished competitor at some premier shows in the Lower 48. But the junior rider is both of those things.
"I started out with a trainer," Hall explained, "but all the trainers are in Anchorage, and I live in Homer [a remote seaside community located 220 miles south of the city]. I couldn't go down there every day, so my dad and I just split off and did our own thing.
"I have a pretty good feel for my horses," Hall added, "so if there's something wrong, I can usually fix it."
That brand of confidence, combined with a dash of fearlessness and raw talent, has contributed to Hall's notable success on ponies and horses, particularly in the jumper realm.
Hall began riding at age 5, but didn't start showing until she was 11. That year, she qualified her large pony hunter for the 2005 USEF National Pony Finals. Hall and her Connemara mare, My Shiny Penny, flew down to Kentucky to compete (as did Alaska rider Kaitlin Henry on Grey Ghost, who ended up on the 5th-placed pony jumper team).
Every year since then, Hall has returned to Pony Finals to represent Zone 12 in the jumper championships. (For the team phase, Zone 12 is usually combined with at least one another zone in order to comprise a full squad.)
At the 2006 Pony Finals, in the individual jumper phase, Hall placed 9th on her pony, Luigi. In 2008, she competed with a broken ankle and finished 12th overall in the individual phase. This past summer, Hall and Luigi competed on the jumper team that finished 7th.
But 2009 has been an especially good year for Hall. On Araucano, her Holsteiner, Hall placed 3rd out of 95 riders in the $25,000 Marshall & Sterling Child/Adult Jumper Classic at the Ocala (Fla.) Winter Celebration. The pair also won the children's jumper championship at the Kentucky Summer Classic in Lexington.
At the 2009 Ocala Winter Finals, Hall and Luigi won the pony jumper championship, and were reserve champions in that division at the Ocala Winter Celebration.
From riding in Alaska hunter/jumper shows, Hall has collected an impressive number of tricolors and awards for year-end, circuit and zone categories on her ponies and horses.
In-state, Hall competes on a diverse assortment of mounts: Calamari, her Arabian, does the modified jumpers and level 0; Sugar 'n' Spice, a mustang acquired in Colorado, does level 1, level 2 and children's jumper; and My Shiny Penny does mostly large pony hunter and hunter performance classes. Hall also owns a miniature horse that she sometimes shows in driving classes.
Nature Nurtures Talent
Home for high school junior Hall and all of her equines is the 90-acre Portage Valley Ranch. The rural setting is familiar to Hall's father, Henry Tomingas, who grew up on a ranch in Wyoming; and her mother, Ruth Hall, who comes from a farm in Maine. Hall is the only child of the couple, who accompany her to shows.
When Hall practices at the ranch, Tomingas is a big help, she said.
"My dad sets the jumps for me," Hall said, "although I really only ride and jump at the shows. At home I have a 60-foot round pen, where I set up gymnastics. I figure, if my horses can learn to set their own distance and get their feet up, that's going to take them farther than if I'm sitting on them with an extra 130 pounds on their backs, telling them what to do all the time."
Between schooling sessions, "my horses just hang out in the pasture," Hall said. "They're always outside and moving around, so they stay in good condition."
Hall acknowledged that horse-keeping in rural Alaska would not appeal to everyone.
"Winters are hardest," Hall stated, "because we don't have a barn [just a covered shelter]. We work to keep the horses warm, but not TOO warm. We keep our really heavy blankets handy because sometimes it will rain and hail and snow all at once, with high winds and temperatures of 40 below zero. So we try to save our heaviest blankets for those times."
But most of the time, she added, "our horses don't wear blankets. They just grow really thick coats."
While Hall is thrilled to travel to horse shows outside, she does enjoy living in Alaska.
"Where we live is the perfect place to have horses," she said, "because we're surrounded by mountains, so it's warmer. The sunlight makes the meadows very green in summer. My friend and I like to trail-ride along a river with lots of salmon in it, and we stop to fish. We let our horses go barefoot on the farm because the soil is boggy in summer, and it sucks the shoes off. We just make sure to keep their feet filed.
"In winter," Hall continued, "when we get a lot of snow, the horses love to bound through it. It's fun to ride in that deep kind of snow. You just have to be careful when it rains and turns the snow to ice. Because it when it snows again, you've got snow on top of ice. The layers just build up, and it's tricky because you don't know if there's ice under the snow where you're riding, which can cause your horse to slip or pull a tendon."
Her opinion of the Lower 48, in general?
"It definitely has more buildings, skyscrapers and freeways," Hall observed, "whereas in most parts of Alaska, things are more mellow, laidback and natural."
Outside of Alaska, Hall is excited about an offer she received while showing in Kentucky last summer: An owner from Venezuela has offered to hire her to come down to her farm in Wellington, Fla., to exercise and show her 26 horses, many of which are for sale. Hall is considering the offer.
"I wouldn't miss school," she reasoned. "I'd just fly down on long weekends and during breaks."
Beyond that, Hall realizes it will soon be time to choose a college path, and she's not yet sure whether she wants to limit her search to schools that offer equestrian scholarships. Many potential options seem to be available to her.
"I'd like to do Young Riders," Hall said, "but I don't have a horse yet. And someday I might like to go pro and do the Grand Prix. I haven't decided anything. But I've got lots of time to make up my mind."
More articles on riding in Alaska can be found in the January 1, 2010 issue of The Chronicle Of The Horse. Check out the table of contents to see what great stories are in this week's magazine. To subscribe please call (800) 877-5467 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.