BYU athlete has one foot on the soccer field, another in the stirrup

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Defender Paige Hunt prepares to head the ball off a corner kick in a game against USD. Hunt chose to play collegiate soccer instead of pursuing competitive horse showing. (Ari Davis)
Defender Paige Hunt prepares to head the ball off a corner kick in a game against USD on Oct. 9. Hunt chose to play collegiate soccer instead of pursuing competitive horse showing. (Ari Davis)

The riders in the arena turned their horses around and started to canter at the announcer’s request. The crowd was silent except for the gentle, and sometimes harried, coaching tips from trainers to riders. Concentration and quiet are crucial for the young riders in the show arena to maintain poised control of their horses, but suddenly the sound of a rock hitting the wall echoed throughout the arena. The horses ears perked up and one horse started to run. Paige Hunt was bucked onto the ground before the echoing of the rock subsided and her horse ran free.

“My horse, Shady, was just chilling in the arena somewhere and I remember the judge walking up to me and asking me if I was OK and seeing if I could get back on, and of course I got back on, “Hunt said. “I was a little shaky after that, but even if you get bucked off you’ve got to finish your class for your own emotional sake and to show that you trust your horse enough to complete a class.”

The BYU women’s soccer player’s life has always been a balancing act between two very different worlds: playing soccer during the week and showing horses on the weekend. Although she put her horse shows on hold to play collegiate soccer, riding horses is still one of Hunt’s passions.

The two worlds meshed together well for Hunt. Riding horses provided her an emotional outlet when the competitiveness of soccer was too much.

“When she has had a hard day on the field, the first place she wants to go is to the barn, so it’s a really, really, really good release for her and I am happy that she has had that as another love that she can go to and get a break from soccer,” Hunt’s mom Suzie Hansen said.

From a young age Hunt cultivated a love for horses. She got her own horse, Shady, when she was 12 years old and showed him in many horse shows until she graduated from high school. Spending summers and part of fall at horse shows was stressful but also created fun memories with her family and close friends.

Hunt poses on her horse after competing in a Western horse show as a young girl. When things get tough on the field, even now, Hunt turns to riding horses to find solace. (Photo provided by Paige Hunt)
Paige Hunt, now a BYU soccer player, poses on her horse after competing in a Western horse show class as a young girl. When things get tough on the soccer field, even now, Hunt turns to riding horses to find solace. (Paige Hunt)

Horse shows were considered family time for Hunt and her family. They didn’t have time for elaborate vacations, so going to horse shows became family vacation time. Hansen got choked up as she recalled waking her three daughters up early in the morning to pile in the truck to drive to the show grounds.

“We would live off of cookies and Doritos and pop for three days and I really miss it,” Hansen said. “It was fun. It was a great time.”

Many people don’t realize the time, money and intense preparation that goes into the life of competitively showing horses. Horse show arenas are intense environments, and experiences like the one Hunt had of being bucked off her horse are plentiful in the Arabian and half-Arabian horse shows. 

“It is a completely different world,” Hunt said. “I think the hardest thing, that maybe some people don’t even realize, is gaining that relationship and trust with the horse, which really happens outside the showing arena. If you can gain that trust while you are on the ground, then they will trust you when you are on their back.”

Hunt and fellow horse show competitor Cassidy Brewer spent hours every day at the show grounds grooming their horses together and building that trust with their horses. A comment Hunt and Brewer often heard from friends was that they thought they just showed up at a horse show and walked a horse around, but there is much more to it than that. Hunt would ride Shady at least a couple hours every day while she was in high school to build a good working relationship with him.

“People just didn’t realize how much you really have to put into it,” Brewer said. “I used to ride three to four times a week and take lessons one or two times a week. You can’t just put anyone on a horse and go in there and do good; it’s crazy how hard it really is.”

The rough and tumble sport of soccer is very different from the professional elegance of showing Arabian and half-Arabian horses, but Hunt thinks they aren’t so different and that both should require a helmet. Hunt was on the sidelines for three games this season after she tried to win a ball for the Cougars in the game against USD on Oct. 9 and came away with a severe concussion. She is no stranger to headbutts on the soccer field, but she said the worst headache she has ever had came from being headbutted by her horse.

Balancing two worlds is hard, but with the help of her parents Hunt managed to find a balance between showing horses and working the soccer field until she graduated from high school.

Hunt had a tough decision to make after high school because of the extremely competitive and time-consuming nature of showing horses and playing soccer. She chose to pursue a collegiate soccer career and is in the midst of an outstanding 2015 season as a starting defender for BYU. But she knows that Shady is always there ready and waiting for her return.

“I was really blessed to have the best of both worlds,” Hunt said. “To compete in two different aspects of my life was so amazing.”

 

 

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