When Kaylee Townsend and Addie McConkey began riding as part of the Last Lap Ranch Interscholastic Equestrian Association team in Maryville last year, neither thought they would compete in the Hunt Seat National Finals, but last weekend the two girls traveled to Syracuse, N.Y., to take part in the event.
"They're both extremely hard workers," the girls' coach, Mary Wells, said. "They ride five to six days a week and are really focused on improving and take a lot of critique without getting down on themselves. They understand they're always trying to strive to be better and that's a tough thing for kids."
For McConkey, a freshman at Lenoir City High School, the past year was her first riding a horse at all.
Wells said making it as far as McConkey did was "huge" for the rider.
"It was really fun," McConkey said. "It's only my first year riding, so that was really cool. I think it was really fun being there with another rider and I got to meet a lot of new people, a lot of different people. I got to ride a new horse, so it was really fun."
Townsend, a sixth-grader at North Middle School, has a few more years experience under her belt and was able to finish second overall in her event.
"I was really excited," Townsend said. "There was a lot of really good competitors out there, so I wasn't expecting that. I thought it was a big accomplishment for me making it that far."
Riders were judged on riding ability at the event, with both McConkey and Townsend competing on the beginner level, meaning they were not asked to "show over fences."
Wells said she believes both have plenty of room to grow.
"I think both of them are very focused on their riding," she said. "It's definitely their sports, their thing. I think they'll both continue to work very hard on it and I think we'll see a lot of good things from them in the future."
Both riders said the event was much larger than those they're used to competing in, which created some extra anxiety, but that it also made the experience a memorable one. They both said they were glad to have a teammate to share the experience with.
"I'll probably remember how much fun I had and how big of an accomplishment it was," Townsend said.