The rain trickled down the awning of the Zubrod Stables on Thursday as the morning session of the Junior League Horse Show at The Red Mile came to a close.
Maisie Benfield, a 15-year-old Saddle Seat Equitation rider from Louisville, slid off her American Saddlebred named Size Me Up and reflected on her second-place finish in the National Horse Show Saddle Seat Event.
"I think I did good," she said.
The event was one of four events Benfield, a member of the 2014 U.S Saddle Seat Team, registered for during this week's horse show hosted by The Red Mile.
The show has been around since 1937 and is one of the largest and most prestigious outdoor shows for American Saddlebreds in the world.
Benfield has attended the annual show since she was 8, but started riding horses when she was 3.
"My mom was a ribbon girl at a horse show and I wasn't really into anything else. They found a place called Rock Creek Riding Club and I started there when I was 3," Benfield said of her introduction to horse showing. "I rode there for a year and then moved to Betsy Webb Stables. I rode there for a while and came here (Zubrod Stables)."
At Zubrod she met her current instructor, Cindy Zubrod Boel. Boel, a prominent figure in equitation with more than 20 world championships, was struck by Benfield's adept riding skills.
"She had a tremendous desire and very good body control," Boel said. "She had a strong work ethic and as with any other sport for an individual to succeed, they need a good support system. Her parents would bring her to the barn three or four days a week for riding."
That dedication propelled Benfield to the top of her division and helped cement a spot on the 2014 U.S. Saddle Seat Team. The 12-member team consists of the best riders in the country and will next represent the U.S. a year from now in Cape Town, South Africa, for the 2016 Saddle Seat World Cup.
Benfield, who competed in the Five-Gaited Division, helped the U.S. sweep the gold medals during the 2014 Saddle Seat World Cup in Asheville, N.C.
"I really enjoyed it," Benfield said. "It was completely different. When you go out there you compete as an individual, but that (the World Cup) was a real team thing. I've never been on a team in any kind of sport so that was fun for me. I met people I'll be friends with for the rest of my life."
However, her place on the team isn't guaranteed for the 2016 World Cup. After the event ended last July, the process for making the team began again. Of more than 100 applicants, only about 30 riders are accepted to try out and just two teams of six are accepted.
"You make a video," Benfield said of the process. "You give all of what you've done throughout your career and they make you try out. You go to Missouri and they pick six people."
She thinks her chances of making the team again are high. Her focus though remains on her final showing Saturday evening and the two remaining shows at the Kentucky State Fair and The American Royal in Kansas City, Mo.
The American Royal is to saddleseat competition what the Belmont Stakes is to Thoroughbred racing .
"That's the biggest highlight for equitation, that's the biggest show," Boel said. "It has all our national finals there."
Benfield finished in second place in the 2014 UPHA Junior Challenge Cup national finals in Kansas City.
This season, the competition has risen as Benfield moved into the 14-17 Equitation Division.
"The competition is a lot harder," she said. "You can definitely tell the difference of the level of people you show against. I like it better though."
As most athletes will attest, the lure and enjoyment of a sport comes down to one aspect: the love of the game. Benfield discovered that love early.
"I started when I was young and I loved it then," she said. "So I didn't stop, I couldn't."