When Sarah Beth Hood was a child, her mother said she had trouble finding a hobby.
“She did gymnastics and soccer and T-ball and none of them ever clicked,” said Jennifer Hood, Sarah Beth’s mother. “Then when she was 6, she decided she wanted to try horseback riding. I thought it’d be like all the others, but she just fell in love with it.”
Sarah Beth Hood has been riding horses ever since, joining the Pony Club and participating in a variety of mounted games, riding exhibitions and competitions across the Southeast.
But now the young equestrian is headed a little farther than Kentucky or Maryland.
Hood, 15, a freshman at Walnut Grove High School, has been chosen as one of five riders to represent America in the Pony Club Mounted Games, which will be held this year in Sydney, Australia.
“I was shocked,” Hood said on being chosen. “We’ll be competing against teams from England, Canada and Australia, so I’m happy to be chosen.”
Jennifer Hood said that might be an understatement.
“She found out through Facebook, checking it on her phone on the way home from another riding competition,” Jennifer said. “She screamed a lot in the car.”
Hood will travel to Sydney April 5 after spending a week — nominally her spring break — in Maryland training with her teammates, who hail from states as far as New York and Pennsylvania.
Once she arrives, she’ll be spending two weeks in Australia, living with a host family, visiting cultural sites with the other competitors, participating in exhibition rides at various events before finally competing in the two-day mounted games.
“It’s a relay race, with the five riders doing different events, like trying to place a flag in a certain point while mounted, or dismounting at a gallop to grab an object before mounting again at speed,” Hood said. “I’m excited.”
Hood had to send a video to the Pony Club — a horse-riding organization, using “pony” in the British sense to mean all horses, similar to 4-H — of her riding skills on both her own horse and one she’s never ridden before. She’ll be doing the same thing in Sydney, where all the competitors will be using the same new horses.
“There’s basically a pot of horses, so everyone switches horses every four races,” Hood said. “It keeps the event even because no one is familiar with these mounts.”
Still, Hood is a little nervous about the competition.
“England will be our biggest challenge because they’re always a tough team,” Hood said. “And they’re Australian horses, so their team may have an advantage, too. But we are a very strong team, I think.”
Hood will miss two weeks of school for the event, but her mother is not concerned about her straight-A daughter. Jennifer Hood said Pony Club has taught her daughter a lot of responsibility, including the nerve to raise more than $1,700 selling scarves to help pay for the trip.
“I’m still a little nervous,” she admitted.
But Sarah Beth is ready to take on the competition, part of her love for the sport.
“It’s very competitive and I love that about it,” Hood said. “It’s a team in itself, just and the horse every time you ride.”