On the surface, 12-year old Louise Whitner is an average seventh-grade student. She goes to school, labors over homework and plays field hockey, but there's more to the always smiling young woman than meets the eye. Evidenced by her nomination for the 2014 Laura Pickett Trophy for Excellence in Horsemanship, Whitner is anything but average – both in the show ring and beyond.
Louise Whitner accepts the Laura Pickett Trophy
The Laura Pickett Trophy for Excellence in Horsemanship was donated to the Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) by Vicki Lowell and created in memory of a very special equestrian and trainer – Laura Pickett.
Pickett lost her fight against breast cancer at just 52 years, after a five year battle. The Trophy honors her contributions to the sport she loved and the legacy she left behind. She inspired enthusiasm for life, in addition to good horsemanship, and her award is presented to an “up and coming” rider who best exhibits the same qualities. Of the 32 riders nominated, Whitner rose above.
Cricket Bedford – Louise's mother – received a call earlier this week from their trainer Marti Bigley with unexpected news. “Wash your hair – we're going to Washington,” exclaimed Bigley.
“When I got the news I wanted to pinch myself. I couldn't stop screaming,” said Whitner. “I am really grateful and lucky to be doing what I do. I have had so many opportunities.”
Whitner competes in the Pre-Childrens Division with Van Gogh, a barely 15.1-hand mount she got the ride on this spring. “He's lovable, but not easy,” admitted Bedford. “Every little girl grows up dying for a horse and she got hers, he just happens to be a mini one.”
Vinny, as Whitner has come to call Van Gogh around the barn, has found a special place in the young rider's heart, despite his antics. She fondly explained the horse's signature move in the show ring. “He likes the crowd. Sometimes he'll sit back, spin and give them a wave,” she joked.
Whitner's self-proclaimed obsession with horses started young, and with plenty of familial influence. A mother whose lineage is steeped deep in foxhunting and a father who trains steeplechase horses gave their daughter plenty of opportunities to feed her hunger. “I fox hunted once, and it scared me to death. The show ring is where I want to be,” laughed Whitner. “I love the connection you have with your horse when competing. My horse is always there for me – he's never going to break my heart like some boy.”
Whitner's yearning for blue ribbons led her family to Bigley and assistant trainer Robin Anderson at Merry Point Farm in Unison, VA, eight years ago. The then four-year-old fell quickly in love with a pint-sized pony named Spot and her fate as horse-crazy was sealed.
While Whitner accepted the Laura Pickett trophy during the WIHS evening festivities this Thursday, Bigley returned to familiar territory. The honor was her second after Mary Elizabeth Cordia, who she also trained as a child rider, accepted the award in 2012.
“It's so much fun to watch these girls grow up and evolve into really good riders and horsewomen,” said Bigley. “Louise takes on so much responsibility aside from just riding the horses. She's positive and always smiling – she deserves this.”
Furthering the “Buck Breast Cancer” theme throughout the annual WIHS Barn Night, the 2014 Clear for the Cure Campaign recognized October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Dedicated to the cause, WIHS welcomed charity partner Capital Breast Care Center (CBCC) for the second year and placed a pink ribbon vertical in the course for the $20,000 Gambler's Choice Costume Class.
A $7,500 check is presented to Capital Breast Care Center after the $20,000 Gamblers Choice
CBCC’s mission is to provide culturally sensitive breast cancer screening services and health and wellness education to all women in the Washington, D.C. area, regardless of their ability to pay.
In memory of both Pickett and fellow horsewoman Elizabeth Solter, a generous anonymous donor gave $250 every time the jump was cleared during the evening's featured event. After the last horse crossed the timers, the tally sat at $7,500 and was presented to CBCC as a donation toward their mission. In addition, the Buck Breast Cancer Benefit Party took place later in the evening, with proceeds also going to CBCC.
Adding to her Laura Picket Trophy accolade, Whitner was awarded with a custom pair of congratulatory field boots from Fabbri. “She is usually riding the smallest horse and is also still riding in jodhpurs,” said Bedford. “She just asked me for tall boots the other day, so this is such a perfect surprise for her. It was a spectacular evening.”