Daily American Staff Writer
8:35 PM PDT, November 3, 2012
A 4th-grade Christmas surprise put Nikki Klink on the road to her favorite hobby and, quite possibly, her career.
The 17-year-old Somerset native said she remembers when her parents, Jonas and Terry Klink, signed her up for horseback riding lessons during one fateful holiday season. Even at that age she had considered herself an animal-lover, and had owned two dogs.
“I was interested in horses,” she said. “(Riding lessons) was one of my Christmas gifts.”
Klink is now a senior at the Somerset County Technology Center, where she is vice president of the cosmetology class. Come graduation, she is looking to attend the Vet Tech Institute in Pittsburgh.
According to Klink, learning to ride a horse in the 4th grade wasn’t good enough. Two years later a few friends introduced her to barrel racing. This a rodeo event in which a horse and rider complete clover-leaf patterns around a series of barrels. Whoever finishes the course in the fastest time is the winner.
“Barrel racing is a lot harder than what you’d think,” she said. It’s about “hand placement and kicking your feet.”
“It’s not just the horse — people have to make the horse do what they want.”
During the years Klink raced with four different horses at multiple venues across the state. She competed at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg as well as venues in Bedford and Huntingdon counties.
“I started out with slower horses and worked my way up to the faster horses,” she said. “Once you get used to a horse you know what you have to do.”
Racing has come with a price for Klink: She has numerous cuts and scrapes from brushing the barrels.
“My legs are all scarred up,” she said, adding that while she has had horses slip and roll onto her, she has never been seriously injured.
But the transition into adulthood has in some ways meant letting go of old pastimes. Klink recently sold her two horses because she won’t be able to care for them after she leaves for the Vet Tech Institute — an 18-month associate’s degree program that would allow her to work at a veterinary office.
“I definitely want to own a horse again, at least to trail ride because I definitely miss it,” she said, also not ruling out a return to the area after the institute. “I don’t think I want to travel too far from home. I definitely like Somerset better than I like Pittsburgh from what I’ve seen.”
Part of her desire to remain local is her love of snow and snow-related activities. Klink said she has been riding snowmobiles “since I was able to hold onto my parents.”
In addition, she’s also used them for racing — both in the snow and on grass. She said she enjoys the speed and typically races boys.
“Usually I win,” she said with a laugh.
According to Klink, the races take place on a 500-foot strip. Most of her snowmobile racing has been done at the Laurel Highlands Snowmobile Club in Westmoreland County or on Chickaree Mountain in Cambria County. She estimated her top speed at 80-plus mph.
“I really like it,” she said.
Klink made sure to heap praise on not only her parents, but also her grandparents — Joe and Margaret Klink and Ed and Cathy Ong — as she moves onto the next phase of her life.
“They’ve supported everything I do,” she said. “We ride snowmobiles together and (they) take me to horse shows.”