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Kali Erin Hutchinson - People's Choice Morgan Junior Exhibitor of the Year

by Ann Bullard

Show ring success. Talent. Sportsmanship. Humility. Concern for others. Each of these traits is important. When one teenager exhibits them all – and then some – it’s not surprising she is your People’s Choice Junior Exhibitor of the Year.

Kali began her tricolor career in the walk-jog division as she won the 1997 Grand National Western Seat 8 & Under Championship in 1997 with Credibility

Kali Erin Hutchinson began riding when she was two. Her mother, M.J. Sklenicka, had ridden but not shown. Kali followed her sister, Abby, who enjoyed a successful hunter career aboard Blk Orchid Ace Commander, into the show world.

"I’ve always loved showing," Kali said. "I started in Western Lead Line when I was four and then did lead line in Saddle Seat."

The Hutchinson girls began their riding careers with Manya LoCascio. After riding Saddle Seat in tournaments and for her first year of walk and trot competition, Kali moved into western and hunt seat. That was 1996.

In March, 2001, the sisters moved to Mary Carlton of Crystal Farms. Teamed over the years with horses such as Credibility, Silverheels Miss Trust, Hylee's Take Command, Rum Brook Vintage Rhythm, Kearns Endeavor and Coalition X-Static, Kali worked her way up the ribbons.

Kali aged out of the Junior Exhibitor Division with a pair of World Champion and a pair of Grand National titles to her credit. Riding Hylee's Fanflaire, she topped both the Western Seat Senior Equitation and Western Pleasure Junior Exhibitor 14-17 divisions. She and Hylee’s Blood, Sweat and Tears earned a reserve in the highly competitive Grand National Junior Exhibitor Hunter Pleasure class as well.

Kali spoke of the kindness other exhibitors have shown her. "My first year with Mary at Nationals, my horse was injured. Linda Hall was nice enough to let me show her western horse, Vegas Santa Fe. Laura Marino let me borrow her Sixpenny Riptide for the Hunter division."

Kali Hutchinson may have been the person in the saddle. Her parents do much more than support their daughter’s equine addiction from behind the scenes. Steve Sklenicka has worked as a farrier and still trims and shoes the horses they have at home. Even more important, he often transports Crystal Farms show string, sets up the tack room and provides numerous other services for his family and their trainer.

M.J., an accomplished seamstress, has made Kali’s show clothes for years. She has expanded her services to other Crystal Farms clients and, most recently, to a limited number of barns in the Midwest.

"Mom’s making my show clothes makes life hard when I’m trying to figure out what to wear in a class. I had four or five western outfits I could have worn at Nationals last year," Kali said, commenting on her mother’s skills.

Living in Ashland, Ohio, made getting to Crystal Farms a challenge for Kali and her family. During the school year, she concentrates on maintaining National Honor Society-level grades, playing the oboe and saxophone in the high school band, being secretary of her senior class and a member of the student council. Weekends mean a drive to Michigan.

The past two summers, the teenager spent four days a week with the Carltons. Kali says she had the opportunity to "work some horses. I learned to focus on them and kind of ride by myself. Mary let me ride a couple of three-year-olds here and there. Her young horses were pretty good – pretty well trained … but they had their little moments."

Mary Carlton spoke of her champion rider. "When Kali first came to me, she was a little girl wanting to move to walk, trot and canter. She was pretty green and hadn’t cantered much. She came along quickly. Kali tried real hard; that’s one of my favorite things about her."

Kali credits Carlton along with instructors Dani Munch and Meredith Lazar for her success. Munch, who joined the Carlton team in 2003, includes dressage and jumping in her areas of expertise.

"Dani helped me train in equitation and to get my western horse [Hylee’s Fanflaire] where he is today," Kali said. "Three years ago he was just a pasture horse.

"Riding dressage helped me learn to ride him. I could feel his muscles move, could tell when he took a wrong step quicker than I could before. I could feel his taking a step forward or back in the turn on his haunches right away. Dressage helped make it easier to keep him on a straight line rather than wavering back and forth. I was kind of amazed. She explained how back muscles tighten or relax when a horse makes a move. I didn’t think I would be able to feel that much. Dani told me to feel these things. When I concentrated on what to feel, I did," she added.

"Meredith helped me understand body control. I used to have horrible shoulders. She helped me feel every muscle, when things were going in and out of place," Kali said. "She, Mary and Dani take the time to work with you individually, to help with any problem you may have."

In 2005 and ’06, Kali elected also to show Saddle Seat, with emphasis on the Classic Saddle division. It proved to be a wise move. After she won several titles at regional shows aboard Coalition X-Static, Kali headed to Oklahoma City for the 2006 Grand National. Kali earned a yellow ribbon in14-17 Saddle Seat Classic Equitation and a blue in the 16-17 Western Seat Equitation Grand National classes. She left Oklahoma City as the Saddle Seat Classic Equitation and Western Seat Senior Equitation World Champion.

Kali more than does her part. "I definitely subscribe to the idea that you have to be physically fit to do this sport, especially in your legs. I like to go to the local ‘Y,’ to exercise, run around and get the stress out of my system," she said, explaining she works out six days a week when possible. "Mary has ‘boot camp’ in August. I loved it. We did yoga, running and worked on riding. We ended the day either swimming laps, boxing or running around the pond."

She explained that boxing helped work on reflexes, arm strength and balance. "We would stand on one foot and kick the punching bag."

Kali’s work ethic – on a horse, at the barn and as an Honor Society student– make her a role model for many of the younger riders. That ethic is one of many traits Carlton values.

"It’s important for the older ones to be role models," Carlton said. "Kali is quiet at first, but when you get to know her she is very ‘alive.’ She is so helpful with the little kids. They all look up to her; she’s a big sister to them all, especially Sara [Heidenreich.] It’s so sweet to see Kali help her through her ups and downs. And she’s always the one to take in the new teenaged girl, to make friends with them quickly."

Kali calls the kids ‘awesome’. She concedes that – from a horse person’s standpoint, she is at an awkward stage. "I’m stuck between being an old teenager and young amateur. I am really going to miss equitation."

Why does she have the relationship she maintains with the younger riders?

"I think they can see how hard I work. I am out there before an equitation class doing patterns over and over again so I can nail them. They see me running before a show," she responded, adding she tries to set a good example.

"I like to help other people. If they’re having problems, [some of] the kids come to me. I will give them little suggestions and let them see what [works] best for them," she said. "Little Sara [Heidenreich] considers herself my little sister. She follows me around and works as hard as she can to be the best she can be. She comes to me asking me to make up a pattern for her; then she’ll do it for me."

With ‘Little Sara,’ that big-sister relationship seems to go in both directions. Sara will be sharing Hylee’s Fanflaire for walk and jog competition, while Kali will be showing Sara’s mom’s world champion Bell South in hunter pleasure.

"Sara has always been there [for me,]" Kali said. "She helped me when I had a bad class, with all that heartbreaking stuff."

As she approaches high school graduation, Kali looked back – and ahead. Next year means college, probably Ohio State University. Her goal: to become a surgeon.

From the equestrienne standpoint, "It’s going to be different doing performance. I’m afraid I’m going to get in the arena and not know what to do with myself. I’m so used to focusing on what my body is doing. Now I have to focus even more on my horse."

Other than one’s immediate family, few people know a teenager better than their trainer/instructor. Mary Carlton and Kali’s relationship certainly testifies to that.

"She is great to work with," Carlton said. "Like most kids, she’s had ups and downs in her career. It’s great to have Kali end her [junior exhibitor] career with an honor like the People’s Choice. She always has wanted to get better, to be better, to be kind to people. She is the type of kid anyone would want in their barn."

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