Heather Billings / The Collegian
As a collegiate western rider in Fresno Stateâ€™s equestrian program, sophomore Keri Blackledge says sheâ€™s been thrown off, bucked off and generally unwillingly removed from a horse in every way possible in her 10-plus years as a rider.
â€œBut as they say, you always need to get back up in the saddle and I always have and always will,â€ Blackledge said.
Blackledge currently competes in the reining event for the Fresno State equestrian team, which involves doing eight to nine different maneuvers that must be executed in a given pattern.
Her coach, Becky Malmo, describes her as an extremely talented rider.
â€œKeri is very dedicated to this team and always brings her best not only to the competitions, of which I donâ€™t think sheâ€™s missed one, but to all the practices also,â€ Malmo said.
The liberal studies major, who came to Fresno State from Orange County specifically to get involved with the equestrian program, is no stranger to the western lifestyle.
Her parents own a ranch in Temecula, Calif. where they run a training, boarding and breeding program with 14 horses and two foals due in the spring.
â€œKeri started riding when she was 8 years old,â€ Keriâ€™s father Kevin Blackledge said. â€œWe were in Orange County and went down to the local fair and a trainer was at the equestrian center at the fairgrounds. She had some brochures laid out, so my wife snagged a couple and signed Keri and her younger sister up for lessons. Keri went to her first lesson wearing a bicycle helmet.â€
Blackledge soon outgrew those awkward first days and went on to win several awards including five saddles, 15-20 buckles, countless trophies and nearly $15,000.
She still remembers the first time she made it into the finals at an event.
â€œWhen I was 17 I competed in a show called â€œReining by the Bayâ€ in which I showed in a non-professional derby, which is an aged event for horses ages 4-6, and I won the first go around and the finals,â€ Blackledge said. â€œThey served wine to all the finalists, except me because I was the only one under 21.
â€œThe joy and feeling of accomplishment that overcomes you when you win is the best feeling in the world,â€ Blackledge said.
Blackledge is not only a good rider but a good student as well.
So far in her sophomore year she has earned a 3.0. G.P.A.
â€œTo be able to focus on studies and riding takes a lot of time management, but as in the name of student-athlete, Iâ€™m a student before an athlete,â€ Blackledge said.
Blackledge credits her abilities as a rider and her academic success to the support of her family, who has missed only one tournament.
â€œSince I started showing nine years ago they have only missed one horse show,â€ Blackledge said.
Blackledge said that after she graduates, she hopes to pursue a creditial or a masters degree here at Fresno State in hopes of becoming a horse trainer.
â€œMy first choice would be a horse trainer,â€ Blackledge said.
â€œNo matter what I decide to do my plan is to always be involved with horses.â€
Comments may be used in the print edition of the newspaper. Be sure to pick up next Fridayâ€™s issue of The Collegian for featured comments.