While other teenagers may be spending their free time adding to their clothes collection, Mason Fierro is picking up a shift at her after school job. And when she’s not doing that, the 16-year-old is bonding with Grace Leonard’s Prince Aragorn.
Prior to leasing “Spot,” a 15-year-old Friesian/Appaloosa cross gelding (Galahad Du Lac—TS Bright Gold) bred by Julianna Arnold, the junior at Legend High School in Parker, Colo., never truly had a horse to call her own. She jumped for fun until about 2014 when she decided to switch to the lettered ring, and this year marked her first year truly competing in dressage.
Spot also started competing in dressage mid-2016, and together the pair earned the junior/young rider first level championship (69.55%) at the Great American/USDF Region 5 Championships in Parker, Colo., on Sept. 14-17.
COTH: How did you get into horses?
Fierro: My mom kind of grew up around horses so from when I was about 2 months old I was just kind of near them. But I don’t think I started riding until I was like 4. So I’ve just kind of grown up with them and developed this deep love for them and passion that I can’t get rid of and I don’t ever want to get rid of.
It’s taken a lot of convincing to stay here, because it is a really expensive sport. But it’s nice. I’m glad that I stayed in it.
COTH: Despite going to high school, you also have a job?
Fierro: I have a part-time job outside of school and riding at Murdoch’s Ranch & Home Supply. But we mostly sell a lot of ranch stuff and that helps me get things for Spot, which is nice because I pay for all of his food and everything—and I work toward all that. So being able to have a small discount, even on a bag of feed, is definitely helpful.
COTH: So you pay a lot of his expenses?
I do my best to pay as much of it as I can. And then my parents will help me or I’ll help them with it. I work as hard as I can to try and make any of the costs a little less for my parents.
COTH: How do you juggle it all: riding, school and work?
Fierro: It’s a little difficult but I try to do my work schedule around my trainer’s schedule because I know she can’t come out to the barn all the time. So I talk to my manager and get that all figured out so I can have equal time with both.
COTH: How has working to keep Spot and pay his expenses influenced your relationship with him?
Fierro: A lot of girls my age would spend most of their money on clothes and shopping and all that. But 90 percent of my money goes towards him. The more I work for him, the more I’m appreciative of having him. So I try to work harder when I am with him—it’s kind of like I’ve been working so hard to make sure that he’s kept super well. I want to have a really good bond with him.
COTH: How did you find Spot? And what were your first impressions of him? He’s definitely an interesting mix of breeds.
Fierro: My trainer [Gigi Brittain] trained his owner with him. So when she found out that they were looking for somebody to either lease or buy him, she thought that we would be perfect and we could come a long way. And it kind of went from there.
My first impression of him was definitely, ‘that’s a very cute horse. I want a horse like that.’ Mostly it is that he’s definitely willing to work. And he always has so much personality. I don’t think I’ve met a horse with as much personality as he has. If he hears that you have food or can smell it, he will nicker across the barn and be as loud as he can to get to it. He loves Pop-Tarts so he’ll try to come out of his stall for them. He gets so excited when he knows there is food.
COTH: Does he have a favorite Pop-Tart flavor? What’s the weirdest thing you’ve fed him?
Fierro: He likes the brown sugar cinnamon ones. But we’ve given him PopTarts, chips, Goldfish, Twizzlers—he’s had basically everything.
COTH: Spot just started competing as well. What was he doing before this year?
Fierro: [The Leonards] owned him since 2012. He had physically not been ridden for three years prior to his now-owners buying him. He had an owner before them, however he was unable to be in lesson programs because he was a tough ride.
COTH: Can you describe your journey with Spot?
Fierro: We were just mostly working on getting him to trust me because he’s that kind of horse where if he doesn’t trust you than he’s not going to be willing to do anything. So for a while we worked on trust. And then we sort of focused on the test that we would be riding over the summer—trying to get him a little beyond that. So he’s trained up to maybe second level, but because of the breed that he is, he just isn’t capable of showing it.
COTH: How did you get him to trust you?
Fierro: I just spent as much possible time as I could out at the barn when I wasn’t at school or working. And I would try to do a little bit of ground work with him and spend some extra time before or after my ride, just giving him an extra groom or a lot of treats. And working on manners until he realized I’m not going to hurt him and he can actually trust me—and that he will get a lot of treats.
COTH: What’s your favorite thing about him?
Fierro: One of my favorite things about him is probably that he can sense when I’m having a bad day. So he’ll be super cuddly and sweet when he notices I’m having a rough day. He does everything that he can to do what I ask of him, and he will try to do it to the best of his ability even though it may be difficult for him. There are times when he obviously doesn’t want to learn because it’s difficult, but he does his best. So he proves that he is doing it.
COTH: What was it about dressage that got you excited and made you switch?
Fierro: I had a couple of friends that just moved to my barn who were into dressage. And so there was always that motivation where they were like, ‘Oh you can do this. We can help with you with it.’ And I would go their shows and just seeing kind of all different riders, how even when they don’t know anybody, they’re still working together as this big community. It’s really nice seeing that.
Nobody tries to tear anybody down. If you have a bad ride, there will be 10 people there to try to pick you back up and try to cheer you up.
COTH: Do you have any show rituals?
Fierro: Usually like before my ride, I’ll stop and watch the rider before me. And I’ll go through my test and give him a lot of pats and walk him around a little bit to make sure he’s calm but ready. And then he usually gets a lot of sugar before. We try to make him feel as comfortable, warm and confident as he can before he goes in so he doesn’t freak out about something.
COTH: Since he’s an interesting breed, are there any other fun breeds that you hope to ride too someday?
Fierro: I’ve heard somebody at the last show say they were looking at a Friesian Paint which I thought was pretty cool. And probably Fjords. I think they’re pretty and I think they’ll be so cool to ride too.
Like this story? We’re featuring lots of GAIG/USEF Regional winners on www.coth.com—including a neurosurgeon amateur’s bittersweet win, how North Forks Cardi helped his amateur rider overcome nerves, and more. Read about them all!