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Victoria youth wins big at world horse championship

By ALLISON MILES
July 3, 2012 at 2:03 a.m.

Evans Saenz holds a belt buckle that she won at the Pinto World Championship Horse Show in Tulsa.

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Some might argue that Champions Row, a street in Victoria's Benchmark subdivision, is home to many a winner. After all, it's in the name.

But, in a brick home in the street's 700 block, sits the real thing.

Evans Saenz, with help from her Pinto horse, Freida, was recently named reserve world champion at the 2012 Pinto World Championship in Tulsa, Okla., which spanned June 11-23.

It was the first such win for the 10-year-old, who began taking lessons at 5.

"When I got my ribbon, I started crying," she said, with a braces-clad smile. "I was so excited."

Horse shows run in the animal lover's blood, she said, explaining her grandmother rode when she was younger. Still, the win was no accident.

She worked hard with trainer Jay Jordan in the weeks leading up to it, fine tuning her technique and getting in important bonding time with the 9-year-old horse she just began training heavily with in January.

Jordan, a resident of Comfort, northwest of San Antonio, said that hard work and natural talent both helped her excel in the arena. The training program is a strict one, he added.

"This is a big commitment. A huge commitment, especially for a kid her age," Jordan said. "There are a lot of emotional ups and downs, and she really focused. She had her head in the game."

Such shows get the whole family involved. Evans' father, Trey Saenz; mother, Diana Saenz; and 8-year-old brother, Max Saenz, went along for the ride, watching competitions, helping with cleanup and offering moral support.

Preparation and support aside, Evans admitted that competition - she competed in about seven events over several days - brought a swirl of emotions. While she was excited to prove what she could do, nerves set in.

And she wasn't the only one. She said Freida felt the pressure right along with her.

"She gets nervous," she said. "She starts trying to bite at her side bit and wants to get out there."

Still, with some calming words from Evans, the duo did just fine. Not only did they cinch the reserve title, but also 16 ribbons from various judges, a shiny silver and gold belt buckle and title of all-around seventh in the world.

That last title comes with a personalized jacket, although Evans' mother said the family opted to sidestep tradition. While the horse's registered name usually goes on the jacket along with the title, it didn't seem appropriate.

Freida's registered name is "This Girl Is Hot."

"We think we're going to stick with 'Freida,'" Diana Saenz said with a laugh and a nod.

As for Evans, a fifth-grader at Schorlemmer Elementary School, she said she plans to continue competing in shows down the road. And her coach said he believes she can succeed.

"As long as she stays focused and committed, there's a tremendous amount of opportunity that she hasn't even realized yet," Jordan said. "There's a lot she can do."

Evans offered a bit of advice for other kids looking to make it in horse shows.

"It's a lot of hard work, but you have to keep trying," she said. "You can't give up."

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