SPORTS HEADLINES

Joy Ride: Passion for horses brings Shoppa buckle

By Richard Greene | Published Sunday, June 6, 2010

BETWEEN FRIENDS - On top of Boomer and Scooter, Decatur's Kristin Shoppa has become one of the state's top young barrel racers. She won the Texas High School Rodeo Finals last year. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Saddled atop Scooter’s tall, brown, athletic frame, tiny Kristin Shoppa appears at the mercy of his every move.

But with the reins in her hands, she brings the strong steed under her control. It’s this unique relationship that keeps the Decatur 17-year-old barrel racer in the saddle.

“It’s intimidating knowing they could kill you, but they choose to help you,” Shoppa said. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It’s just exciting to be able to ride horses.”

Shoppa is preparing to ride Scooter for a second barrel-racing title at the Texas High School State Finals Rodeo June 14-18 in Abilene. She also will compete in pole bending.

The barrel racing – with its speed and skill – is her favorite event.

“[Barrels] are more of a challenge,” Shoppa said. “There’s no way to describe it, the feeling of running down the alleyway. It’s fun and exhilarating to go that speed.”

Shoppa has been riding horses and competing since she was eight. She and her family have lived just north of Decatur for the past six years.

Shoppa is in the saddle on Scooter and her back-up horse, Boomer, nearly every day.

“We usually practice every day and get a 45-minute run with 30 minutes of that being barrels,” she said. “Some people think it’s natural, but it’s a lot of work.”

Her trainer, Kristin Weaver Brown, said Shoppa is willing to put in the work required to capitalize on her ability.

“It’s a lot of hard work training for any sport,” Brown said. “You have to want to train. She has a real passion.”

Brown added that Shoppa has the other needed characteristics and horsemanship to make her a good rider.

“That’s where it all starts,” she said. “You’ve got to know how to take care of the horses.”

Through hours in the saddle with Scooter and Boomer, Shoppa has learned their personalities and their strengths.

“Scooter is an awesome athlete, but he can be a huge punk and test your patience,” Shoppa said. “Boomer is a people-pleaser and knows his job. He’s a sweet teddy bear.”

On either horse, she realizes that they are a team that must navigate the course in only a few seconds and that the slightest mistake could be the difference in winning or going home empty-handed.

“If there’s a mistake, it’s usually my fault,” Shoppa said.

But in the biggest competitions recently, there have not been many mistakes. Shoppa claimed the state title last year and followed that with a Region III title this spring in barrels.

“She’s really good with pressure,” Brown said. “She likes it. Some people can’t do it. She sometimes does better when there’s pressure.”

Shoppa doesn’t ever think of it as pressure.

“I try to stay as calm as I can,” Shoppa said. “Scooter is apt to react to how I feel.”

The state title last year as a sophomore was a bit of a surprise to Shoppa.

“Scooter was just coming off an injury, and I didn’t know he was going to work so well,” Shoppa said.

She is hoping to have a chance for the title again this year, but she is not going to Abilene with that as her sole motivation.

“Hopefully I can place, but if I don’t win, it’s OK,” Shoppa said. “It’s just awesome to run there.”

And four straight days of competition in the two events also doesn’t bother her.

“It’s grueling, but I love to do it,” Shoppa said.

After high school, she plans to keep competing. She also wants to one day train.

“I want to do this my whole life,” Shoppa said.

Brown expects a bright future for Shoppa.

“She’s learned so much,” her trainer said. “It’ll be exciting this year and her senior year. She’s then got a long career ahead of her, training and competing.”

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