Melanie Carraway is only a freshman at Greenbrier High School, but her experience in local horse shows has given the 15-year-old statewide recognition.
Melanie and her pony, All Bets Are Off, earned the title of Pony Medal Finalist at a Progressive Show Jumping event at Highfields in Aiken on Nov. 5-6.
Melanie and All Bets Are Off topped that feat at the Aiken Winter Classic I held Jan. 6-8, a national "A" show. Melanie and her pony took the Large Green Pony Hunter Championship.
"The points added up all across the country, said Melanie's father, Mike Carraway. "For her to win the whole thing, that's a big deal."
The championship was a big enough deal that Melanie and All Bets Are Off qualified to compete in the United States Equestrian Federation Pony Finals this summer in Kentucky. This competition features more than 1,000 horses.
For Melanie, the honor caps a dream that started with a toy she received when she was 4 years old.
"I had a little stick with a horse's head on it," she said. "I used to ride it everywhere when I was little. I've loved horses ever since then."
The freshman's love for her four-legged friend goes deep. Just to care for her pony, Melanie must make an hourlong trip four times a week from her home in Evans to the stable in Aiken where she grooms, rides, trains and exercises All Bets Are Off before making the trip home.
All that work is necessary for the team to perform well, Melanie said.
"There's a definite relationship that you have with your horse. With the hunters, which is what I do, you're judged on the rider and the horse," she said.
Melanie has competed regularly in horse shows for almost nine years. Her father got her into the sport as a way to spend quality father-daughter time.
"I was looking for something I could do with her," Mr. Carraway said. "I had no idea it would go to this level."
Melanie said she plans to improve on her level of competition as long as she can."I plan to do it all of my life," she said. "I'm working hard to go to the University of Georgia and get into law school so I have a lot of money to do this."
The sport can put a dent in anyone's wallet. Melanie said the cost for a typical show horse can range from $10,000 to $100,000. Despite the cost, her efforts have paid off. She totaled 277.5 points for a fifth-place finish in the Pony Hunter division of the 2005 Progressive Show Jumping.
Melanie said the fifth-place finish wasn't easy to come by.
"I still get nervous because I'm kind of new at it," she said. "The pressure of it is hard to deal with, but I can overcome it."
She's overcome more than nervousness. After Melanie's riding skills outgrew All Bets Are Off, Mr. Carraway planned to sell the pony.
After their stellar performance at the Aiken Winter Classic I, he changed his mind. "Her pony was for sale, but it's not for sale now. She'll keep it, at least through August."