Scholars have long theorized why we remember so little from the first years of our lives, and the meaning of those memories which do remain. Research indicates that we remember very little before the age of two. For Stephanie Freeland, daughter of Steve and Jan Freeland and a 2013 graduate of Zionsville Community High School, her earliest memory is her love of horses.
Stephanie clearly remembers her first pony ride at age two at the zoo. When the ride ended, she screamed hysterically because she didn’t want it to end. So, what’s a good parent to do? Her mom and dad kept paying the additional $5 to go around again, and another $5 to go again, another $5 and another round, etc. Stephanie wouldn’t settle down for her afternoon nap until she and her mother had driven a mile down the road to check on a horse to make sure it was okay. Clearly, this passion for horses developed early in her life and hasn’t diminished in the slightest.
This fall, Stephanie will attend William Woods University on an equine performance scholarship. The university is well known for equine studies and maintains an elite stable of Grand Prix dressage horses. Stephanie has her sights on making a future U.S. Olympic Dressage Team. Dressage is described as “horse ballet,” requiring the horse and rider to combine the strength and agility of gymnastics with the elegance and beauty of ballet. The result is truly the best blending of sport and art in this amateur rider/writer’s humble opinion.
Stephanie began taking English riding lessons at age five. When she was eight years old, her trainer told her mother that Stephanie wasn’t losing interest in the sport, and advised the Freelands to prepare their checkbook for the ownership of a horse. However, Steve wasn’t going along with the program, just then. He protested, “We need a horse like a hole in the head,” – a father’s famous last words. It wasn’t long before the checkbook came out and Steve’s love of horses and his support for Stephanie’s riding began to grow.
As fate would have it, there was a young, neglected Arabian gelding at the stable named “Joker.” No one cared about him. He quietly stood by the fence and watched as Stephanie worked around the stable. He seemed to have a natural affinity for her and she started to watch him as well. Joker’s owner couldn’t help but notice that the two were drawn to each other. An agreement was reached for a trial period of one year in which Stephanie was required to train and care for Joker. At the end of the trial year, Stephanie owned Joker.
On their first ride, Joker was spooked by the backfire of a passing motorcycle. This was the first time, but not the last, that Joker bucked Stephanie off. Any rider knows the mantra that if you fall, you get right back on the horse. And so she did, again and again. Over the years, Stephanie has broken her nose twice, broken her tailbone, broken her arm, broken ribs and received a concussion. Thankfully, Stephanie is diligent using a helmet every time she mounts a horse. Although, several helmets have been cracked along the way, her determination remains solid.
Eventually, Stephanie changed riding disciplines to dressage, for which Joker was not well suited. Enter Rhuie (pronounced Rue), a quarter horse previously trained in Western, and in which a trainer saw great dressage potential. Again, Rhuie didn’t cl
ick with his first owner and Stephanie felt an affinity for the cast-off horse.
Soon Stephanie and Rhuie were learning dressage from the ground up together.
Stephanie found dressage trainer Ken Levy of Legacy Farms in Noblesville. Ken is a dressage judge who recognized the talent and dedication that Stephanie gave to the sport. Rhuie has moved up the ranks in dressage, under Ken’s direction and Stephanie’s ability to understand her horse.
For some lucky girls wanting to compete in dressage, parents simply purchase an outstanding show horse that gets them to a certain level. That would not be Stephanie’s case. Stephanie doesn’t have the “Cadillac” of horses, just yet. She considers herself an underdog in the competitive equine world. She personally trained her horses entirely. It will be exciting to watch her growth now that she will have the opportunity to be working with world-class dressage horses at college.
However, don’t think Stephanie’s interests are limited to just horses. She also plays classical and modern music on piano, violin and acoustic guitar and was a member of the high school orchestra, honors orchestra, and full symphony.
As Stephanie heads off to college to compete at the highest level, we wish her the best and hope that her earliest dreams come true.