Sports

Enumclaw youth named United States grand champion

Marissa Jensen earned grand champion and reserve grand champion honors at U.S. Nationals. - To view or buy photos go to www.courierherald.com Photo by Brenda Sexton
Marissa Jensen earned grand champion and reserve grand champion honors at U.S. Nationals.
— image credit: To view or buy photos go to www.courierherald.com Photo by Brenda Sexton

It's been a couple of weeks since the U.S. Youth National Arabian and Half Arabian Championship Horse Show in Abuquerque, N.M., took place the week of July 25 through Aug. 1, but 17-year-old Marissa Jensen said the shock of winning grand champion and reserve grand champion is fresh in her mind.

And, the Enumclaw homeschool senior said she's still overwhelmed from winning the grand champion at the Canadian National Championships in 2007.

"The shock is still there," she said. "It's the same for nationals and Canadians.

"We had a good ride," Jensen said of her most recent victory. "It could have been anybody's to win."

Jensen is modest. To win the 14- to 17-year-old JT national title and also get runner-up in the JO division in the same week is a difficult feat in the tough world of western pleasure.

Riders have to impress three judges who, in the open division, are eyeing manners, performance, substance, quality and conformation and in the junior horse classes are judging substance, quality, performance and manners. Amateur and Junior exhibitor classes are judged on manners, performance, suitability of the horse to the rider, substance, quality and conformation.

Western pleasure involves incredible horse-rider communication. With a set of lightly-held reins in one hand and the posture of a dancer, western pleasure riders communicate with their horses through invisible cues. The rider and the horse have to look like it's a pleasure to be riding. It has to be effortless – smooth regardless of the task.

It's hard to go into the arena and not make a mistake, Marissa's mother Karen Jensen said. "It's very difficult. Most people don't want to ride pleasure."

Arabian horses are perfect for the chore. Arabians are known for their balance, agility, intelligence and footwork.

"They are so well trained you can have them on a loose rein," Marissa said. El Shekinah Gold is trained by Greg Harris of California.

Marissa's partner was El Shekinah Gold +++//, Shak for short, a 12-year-old Arabian. The pluses and slashes after an Arabain's name signify awards bestowed on that horse from the Arabian Horse Association. El Shekinah Gold is a talented horse, but not the same horse Marissa won the Canadian title with in 2007, which makes her 2009 national title even more amazing.

Marissa won the Canadian title with WFC (Winner Circle Farms) Trademark +/, a 14-year-old Arabian, who fell ill after competition and was put down. Devastated, Marissa was not going to compete in western pleasure again. She qualified for 2008 nationals in hunter pleasure with a different horse, but decided not to attend.

Losing Trademark was difficult – then El Skekinah Gold came into her life.

The two had a magical connection. Her first time out, a regional competition in Santa Barbara, Calif., the pair qualified for the national champioship.

At nationals, the twosome made the first cut, the top 16. Later, they found themselves in the ring with the final 10, and when they called "Marissa Jensen from Enumclaw, Wash., on El Shekinah Gold" as the grand champion there were tears in her eyes.

She said it's about drive, determination and teamwork.

"It's about wanting it as much as your horse wants it," Marissa said. "The horse has to trust you and you have to trust the horse, too."

"They're athletes," Karen Jensen said of the horses that compete. "They know they have a job to do and they're going to do that job."

"I had to work a little harder at it," Marissa said of her rise to the top. "I started later (around age 11 and 12) than my other competitors."

Karen said she and her husband Bart were not horse people, so when Marissa was little she had a pony. Karen likened it to soccer or any other sport; parents give their kids a try to see if they like it and see where it leads. Eventually, Marissa worked her way up to riding lessons and a horse. Her talent and drive moved her forward.

Now, with one more year available to compete as a youth, Marissa would like to go back and defend her title, and take another stab at the Canadian title as well.

She's also looking past western pleasure. She'd like to try her hand more at reining, which is an Olympic sport, as well as side saddle, hunter pleasure and sport horse.

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