Brookwood’s rising sophomore Liana Nowak, 15, practices with horse Kesha during a training session with trainer Kevin Jewell at Pine Lane Farm in Conyers earlier this month. Nowak was preparing for the Varsity Intermediate Reining competition at the Western National Finals in Oklahoma City on June 27-29. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)
Brookwood student prepares for Varsity Intermediate Reining
Brookwood's rising sophomore Liana Nowak, 15, practices with horse Kesha during a training session with trainer Kevin Jewell at Pine Lane Farm in Conyers in June. Nowak prepared for the Varsity Intermediate Reining competition at the Western National Finals in Oklahoma City, Okla., which took place at the end of June.
CONYERS — Some say it’s every girl’s dream to own a horse. Fifteen-year-old Liana Nowak says so herself.
The Brookwood sophomore has been riding since she was seven years old. Equestrian aspirations have twice taken her and a horse — trotting and cantering — into the national championships.
After winning first place in the individual category at a southeastern qualifier hosted by Chateau Elan in April, Nowak was invited to the national event at the end of June.
Her category was the reining class, a competition where the rider guides their horse through a precise pattern of circles, spins and sliding stops. The patterns require the horse and rider to be quick, responsive and in tune with each other, said mom Anne Nowak. Judges award points for completing the maneuvers.
Reining horses typically are stock horses fitted with special shoes on their hind feet called slide plates, which allow for what Anne Nowak called “the dramatic sliding stop.” Horses wear protective splint boots on their lower front legs as well.
Liana Nowak said the key to executing the sliding stop as well as other patterns is “being in tune” with the horse.
“It’s important,” she said. “You have to go in with a kind heart and hopefully the horse will accept you and give you a good ride, but you don’t ever know what you’re going to get. You have to hope for the best.”
Riders during competition do not get to use their own horses. It’s a “luck of the draw” type of situation, said her coach Kevin Jewell, who owns Pine Lane Farm in Conyers. Each rider draws a horse they’ve never ridden before.
Jewell explained reining as a discipline that is “very hard to do even for people who have done it for a long time…but (Liana) is a kid who is very dedicated. She comes out, works hard and sticks with it. She wants to be good at it.”
Unfortunately, Nowak was disqualified on a technicality during the recent national competition. But she hopes to continue in her pursuits.
June’s trip was the young woman’s second time heading to the nationals over the past several years. “It’s very exciting,” she said. “To have a sort of team experience with an animal is pretty cool. Trying to figure them out … because it’s not just you. It’s the horse too. It’s us as a team working together.”
Her mom said it’s in the girl’s blood.
“She’s living out my childhood dream,” Anne said, laughing. “I love horses. I never had the opportunity growing up to do what she’s doing now.”
Watching her daughter compete, she said, has been “amazing.”
“What started as a family going on a trail ride together years ago has become a passion of hers, and to watch her compete and see how good she is…it’s incredible to see,” Anne said.
Jewell said the girl has talent. To control a horse, he said, takes discipline too.
“Horses are creatures of habit,” Jewell said. The animals respond best to a rider’s guiding precision. In reining, the horses must perform different maneuvers using either a trotting or cantering gait. The difference is in the speed.
“It’s a very exciting sport to watch,” Anne said. “We were thrilled that (Liana) could go to the nationals.”