Equestrian champion carries a competitive spirit
18-year-old North Idaho woman wins contest at youth national horse show, college track scholarship
Many college students head home on weekends to raid the refrigerator or catch up on laundry. Leanne Asper will be driving between Pullman and her family’s ranch near Coeur d’Alene to continue her passion for riding and training Arabian show horses.
Asper, 18, is headed to Washington State University this month on a track scholarship and plans to study mechanical engineering. But she’ll also be preparing to defend her national title at next year’s Arabian and Half-Arabian Youth National Championship Horse Show, which attracts hundreds of top-caliber horses from across North America.
Riding Prim N Proper, an Arabian/American Saddlebred, she was crowned champion in the Country English Pleasure junior owner class July 27 in Albuquerque, N.M. When the results were announced in the arena, the 17-year-old mare seemed to know it was her turn in the spotlight.
“I just gave her a hug and she trotted herself over to where they put the ribbons on,” said Asper, who graduated this spring from Lake City High School while simultaneously earning an associate degree from North Idaho College.
The accomplishment is especially impressive given the brown mare’s headstrong disposition.
“She wants to do it on her own,” Asper said. “She doesn’t want you to tell her what to do.”
Asper competes in a style of English riding called Saddle Seat, designed to show off high trotting action. The Country English Pleasure class demonstrates ease of movement, cadence, balance and smoothness as the horses walk, trot, canter and gallop.
This was Asper’s fifth year of competing in the nationals – the second time with Prim N Proper – and her first championship win. Previously she was named reserve champion twice riding her first show horse, XL Giorgio, a 15-year-old gelding.
The weeklong contest began with a field of 59 horses in the class, with cuts made every day. On the last day, 16 were still in the running.
Prim N Proper stands out for how her hind legs high step along with the front legs – a trait Asper believes caught the judges’ attention. She had a feeling that last day she might come in first.
“You never know because there’s so many other people there. But I had a good feeling because she was really good. It was like one of my best rides ever on her,” she said.
The mare had been ridden in competition almost exclusively by professional trainers before Asper gave her a try.
“The original trainer said no amateur could ever ride this horse,” said Asper’s mother, Diane.
“It was just the perfect match,” added her father, Alan. “A lot of people can’t ride the horse. The horse’s nickname is Dragon Lady.”
Asper had to learn the peculiar traits of Prim N Proper, which is boarded in Eatonville, Wash., where her trainer lives.
“She’s like the opposite of most horses,” Asper said. “When she goes faster, you have to pull her back and then let go of the reins and she’ll slow herself down. But most people, they’ll get scared and they’ll hold on tighter, and she’ll just get angrier and just go faster and faster.”
Asper first rode at age 2 and has competed regionally and nationally since she was 12, first at the North Idaho Fair and in Spokane and Yakima shows.
She trains in the family’s enclosed arena and outdoor arena on their 151-acre ranch along Fernan Lake Road. Lately she’s been training two younger Arabians, ages 4 and 5, and hopes to begin showing the older one next year.
Her goal is to keep competing while in college, juggling that with the Cougar track team – she’ll run the 800 meters and either the 1,500 or 400 meters – and her studies. Asper is interested in engineering, inspired by her older brother Andrew’s major at Gonzaga University.
Asper will have one more year of competing in youth nationals before she moves on to adult competition.