When show jumper Christina Kelly rides in the Alltech National Horse Show this week, she might be competing with a home-field advantage.
Kelly, 18, lives with her parents in Nicholasville. She has competed several times at the Kentucky Horse Park, including in the Alltech Arena. The high point of her summer was the Bluegrass Festival Horse Show, which was in the Rolex Stadium in August.
She won the $40,000 Grand Prix on Camirage, her 10-year-old Westphalian mare, without knocking down a single fence in two rounds of competition. In the subsequent jump-off, the pair again cleared all the fences and finished in a blazing 35.655 seconds to take home the trophy.
"I did not expect to win it at all," Kelly said. "I was just hoping to go clear. ... It was the best day ever."
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She is clearly on a roll. On Oct. 22, she won the Brownland Farms $25,000 Grand Prix in Tennessee.
In the past year, Kelly has won several horse shows in Wellington, Fla., so she is leading in points in her division on one horse and is in second place on another horse, positioning her to cap a spectacular season with a division championship.
At her first National, Kelly will be riding Camirage ("I'm in love with her") and Narcos du Marais ("He's a superstar as well") in the Sleepy P Ranch $10,000 Junior Jumper competition Thursday afternoon and in the Sleepy P Ranch $15,000 Junior Jumper timed jump-off Friday night.
Then, if she makes it, she will have to pick just one horse to ride in the Show Jumping Hall of Fame $50,000 Junior/Amateur Owner Championship on Saturday afternoon.
She also has another horse, named Capitol Hill (his barn name appropriately is Cash), that she will ride in Sunday's ASPCA Maclay National Championship for Horsemanship, her first equitation finals.
"The jumpers are definitely more fun to watch," Kelly said. Equitation, in which riders are judged for their form, "is really quite stressful. ... It's not the best fun to watch."
With so much on the line in her first National appearance, you might expect Kelly to be nervous. She doesn't sound it.
"I'm so excited that it's going to be here," she said. "This is absolutely the best facility in America. I think it's going to be awesome."
She comes by her interest in horses naturally. Her father, Sean Kelly, who is Irish, and her mother, Barbara Kelly, who is English, were both jockeys. Her father was training Thoroughbreds when she started riding at age 10.
"I like them but I never got into racing," Kelly said. She had planned on going to boarding to school in England, but while her family was vacationing in Spain, they fell in love with the area near Marbella and decided to stay there for a while instead.
A friend had a pony, and Kelly started riding.
"We thought it would be a little fling, but it just got bigger," she said. Within a month, she was jumping. The month after that, she was competing.
In 2006, her family bought Diamond Edge Farm in Nicholasville, where her father now is breeding sport horses. Kelly has been training with Olympic veteran Margie Engle, who also will compete at the National in the Open Jumper division.
This will be Kelly's last competition in Kentucky as a junior; she plans to ride next as an amateur. Kelly, who was home-schooled, is weighing college but will take the next year off to ride.
"This is really what I want do," Kelly said. "I love riding so much."
During the gap year, she plans to travel to Europe to compete in top competitions with Camirage. Because her father is Irish, Kelly rides for Ireland, and she hopes to represent Ireland at the European Championships in August.
Kelly's interests in horses extend beyond the show ring.
She also has adopted a Quarter Horse named Dixie from the Kentucky Equine Humane Center. Dixie shares her stall with a miniature horse named Kreacher.
"We go to Shaker Village to trail ride, and I really wanted a Western horse," Kelly said. "I still have her, love her. She's fat and happy now."