Rochelle Keane, Lifestyle Writer
What is it like having a horse as a pet? Unlike many who have the usual cats, dogs and fish, there are a few, like the Schwapp sisters, who chose a 200-pound animal.
"Well, I wouldn't call a horse a pet. He's more like a teammate, and the best part of having a horse as a teammate is that we have to learn to communicate with each other," horse owner, Briana Schwapp explained to Flair. "I love the partnership that I share with a horse, as opposed to the ownership that comes with a dog or a cat."
Claire added, "Horses may seem like very big and tough animals, but they actually require a lot of attention, exercise and care."
Pets can be considered your companion, the friend you have who listens to you or doesn't judge your actions, comforts you when you need it and never leaves your side. And for Briana and her younger sister Claire, their horses are extremely affectionate.
Briana has always been fascinated with animals and is currently interning at Noah's Ark Veterinary Centre in St Andrew. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College in the United States, after studying biology and psychology, she is now in the process of applying to veterinary schools to continue her studies.
"I have always loved animals, and at around five years old, I begged my parents to start riding lessons. They obliged, and I haven't stopped riding since. I was definitely more interested in interacting with horses than in doing competitions. I got my first horse, Cous Cous, at 10 years old due to my success in the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) and then Trelawny a few years after she retired from competitive horse riding, when I was 14. Now Trelawny is my sister's horse," she said.
Briana continued to explain her experience with her current horse by stating, "Spending time with him comforts me just like my dogs do. Horses require a different level of care and tend to be skittish. Dogs and cats, on the other hand, have a greater sense of independence, while horses need to be monitored and cared for in a different way. His name is Alexis Pegasus, but everyone calls him Alex."
While Claire revealed, "Every horse has their own personality and likes and dislikes, so it's very entertaining to watch them, play around with them, and try to break down and figure out the way they think. My horse's name is Trelawny, because that's where he came from!"
Sisters naturally share everything and these two, who reside in St Andrew, definitely share their love for horses.
Claire shared how her love for horses started because she followed her sister in doing everything. "I only began riding because that was what she was doing. I ended up loving it, and then I continued doing it for my own satisfaction," she stated.
Claire informed Flair that before Briana passed Trelawny down to her, she owned two other ponies - J.LO and Goofy.
"My horse, Trelawny, has a very funny personality. He does not like bright, large, or loud objects, and if he spots one, he will let me know very quickly by a little jump or gallop. He loves attention, and is very sweet in the ring. His legs are very small, but very fast, and he is always up for a ride through the cane fields," she said.
Briana describes Alex as being calm and affectionate. Brimming with pride, she reveals, "He loves water! He has been banned from the pasture because he keeps climbing in the trough, and he loves standing in a cold river for hours on end - sometimes he'll swim and splash like a child. It's special when you can tell that a horse genuinely enjoys what he is doing, but as soon as Alex gets on a cross-country course, he perks up his ears and I can feel his muscles tense. He isn't a huge fan of dressage tests (when the abilities and skills of a horse are put on display), he can get a little naughty and fidgety, but he's always willing to try."
Though dressage may not be Alex's favourite activity to do, a combination of excitement and nerves is what it means to ride for Briana. Coining the phrase 'burning butterflies' with her sister Claire, they describe what their nerves feel like while riding. Stating that it has to be overcome, Briana added, " ... but you have to be able to suppress that and focus, but then the thrill of flying over jumps, galloping a cross-country course or nailing a dressage movement takes over".
At 15 years old, Claire attends the American International School of Kingston in St Andrew and has accomplished some milestones in her life that still amaze her.
"When I look back at all the things I have accomplished, it actually surprises me, but I would not have been able to do it without the support of my family and my coach Susan Wates. I still have so much more I could accomplish and so much room to improve so I'm excited for the future as well," she said.
With dressage being Claire's strongest area in riding, she was, as she said, 'lucky' to become the winner of the Children's FEI World Dressage Challenge and won first place with the highest score in the entire Caribbean. She also travelled to Trinidad, Cayman, and Barbados to place first in her categories.
"The feeling I get when I ride or when I am around horses is a feeling like none other. All my worries about things such as school or exams go away. I completely forget about things I am dreading or that makes me unhappy. The only thing I feel when I'm on the grounds of Caymanas Park with people and animals I love, is happiness," Claire noted.
Not just a hobby, riding has taught Briana many life lessons. From being responsible for caring for an animal to patience, "one of my biggest accomplishments to date is learning to ride Trelawny - he is a handful and taught me a lot. I wouldn't be who I am today without many of the lessons I learned on that horse. Riding at my college, Mount Holyoke, was an amazing - and the most challenging - experience. I was riding in -20 degrees Fahrenheit weather, and students were responsible for a lot of the horses' care so there was an extra element of responsibility and time commitment. The lessons were very demanding and it made me push harder," she noted.
The sisters' love for their horses will never fade and Briana's plan is to show that same care and affection for her pets to others, as she continues her studies.
If it is one lesson to be learnt here it is once you are passionate about something find a way to make it your own. Briana Schwapp is well on her way and she started with her teammate. Meanwhile, Claire Schwapp will continue to strive and enjoy rides with Trelawny while she finds ways to express herself through music and dance at school.