Ready for the ride of her life

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LOS ANGELES — Kristina Harrison received a gift from her daughter prior to the biggest competition of her life.

Taking part in the dressage equestrian event at the 2003 Pan American Games as a member of the Team U.S.A., Harrison carried with her a special silver dollar that she kept tucked away in the pocket of her riding jacket.

The good-luck memento was given to her by her 6-year-old daughter, Rison, who received two silver dollars a few days before from the tooth fairy. The youngster decided to give one of her dollars to her mother to help her at the games in Santo Domingo,Dominican Republic.

Aboard her 11-year-old black gelding Kantor, Kristina Harrison helped the United States Equestrian Team win a gold medal in the Prix St. Georges Dressage Team competition.

Fast forward eight years, and now it's Rison who is in the saddle.

"She has been riding since she was 4 going on 5," said Kristina, who won a national title at the prestigious Federation Equestre Internationale Prix St. Georges at the Bayer/United States Equestrian Team Festival of Champions in 2003. "But I wanted her to ride not because I did, but because she really wanted to. I guess she wore me down."

Kristina is now giving back to Rison, serving as her daughter's riding coach at the Paddock Riding Club in Los Feliz. And Rison is showing that she indeed has inherited some of her mother's equestrian genes, as she is preparing to take part in a national competition next week.

Rison, 14, a Burbank resident and freshman at Westridge School in Pasadena, has earned a spot in the 2011 United States Equestrian Federation Dressage Seat Medal Finals, to be held Thursday through Aug. 27 at Dressage at Lamplight in Wayne, Ill., near Chicago.

Rison will be competing in the 13-and-under division after placing among the top two finishers in a regional qualifier last October. She will be going against 10 other athletes from across the nation, including riders from New York, Colorado, Alabama, Texas, Idaho and Nebraska.

"I'm really not that nervous about the finals," said Rison, who has grown up in Burbank. "I don't get nervous much at all. You have to focus, especially in big competitions, and if you don't focus you forget what you're supposed to be doing. There's just no time to be nervous."

Dressage is an ancient sport that made its Olympic debut at the 1912 Stockholm Summer Games. Along with the talent and ability of the rider, much of dressage is focused on the horse. In competition, a rider will put the horse through a series of moves and those moves are scored by a panel of judges. The competitors are given a score based on percentage.

Rison was dealt a blow recently when her horse, Kingsley, suffered a minor injury. Although the injury wasn't severe, Kristina said they don't want to take any chances with the horse in a competition setting. That left Rison to scramble to find a horse in Illinois that she could ride in the finals.

She found a horse named Anakin, after the two flew to the Chicago area for Rison to get comfortable with a new animal. Rison has only ridden the horse twice and will get just a few more practice sessions with Anakin in the days leading up to the competition.

"We are just thankful that we found some people who were so generous in letting her ride one of theirhorses in the competition," Kristina said.

Added Rison: "A lot of people at my mom's barn have also been so great to let me train on theirhorses and practice on them since I can't ride Kingsley. I've really been able to figure a lot of stuff out on thosehorses and hopefully that will help me."

In a unique link to her mother's riding success, Rison took to the saddle Thursday for a training session aboard Kantor, now 19 — the same horse Kristina rode to victory at the Pan American Games eight years.

Rison also had another obstacle to overcome in her road to the USE Dressage Seat Medal Finals — funding. Faced with missing the competition because of a lack of funds, Rison got resourceful in true entrepreneurial style.

The young athlete hit the kitchen and held numerous bake sales. In addition, she hand made saddle soap and sold it to horse owners at the Paddock Riding Club. She also stenciled T-shirts and sold them, put together braiding packages to be used on the mains of horses and even sent out letters to friends and family asking for donations.

"I even went around with a wagon with all of my stuff displayed for people top buy, and told them about my cause," Rison said. "I did that for two months.

"Everyone has been so generous and helpful and really supportive of me."

Kristina said her daughter's fundraising endeavor, in which she was able to raise $5,500, brought to light an aspect of Rison that she didn't know existed.

"It was really interesting to see all the hard work that she put in, all on her own," she said. "To see someone have a goal and to be so motivated was incredible. She was able to do things that I didn't even expect her to do. She really made it all happen."

Now all that is left for Rison is the competition.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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