By Brad Fauber
Hannah Stephens has been around horses her entire life and has participated in plenty of horse show competitions while growing up, even taking home her share of championships at various levels of competition.
But despite her past success, Stephens, a recent Central High School graduate who will compete for Auburn University's equestrian team beginning this fall, couldn't help but be a little surprised by her performance at the APHA Youth World Championship Show in Fort Worth, Texas, on June 29 through July 6.
Stephens, competing for the fourth time at the World Show, took home a world championship in Novice Trail (14-18 age division) while also claiming a reserve championship in Novice Western Riding (18 and under) with her 6-year-old mare, Sensational Hannah. Stephens also won reserve championships in the limited divisions for Hunter Under Saddle, Hunt Seat Equitation and Western Horsemanship, and had seven top-10 finishes in what will likely be her final time participating in the Youth World Show.
"I had a better show than I expected to have -- not that I didn't want to do good or didn't think I was going to do good, but I wasn't expecting to go out of there with like five different titles," Stephens said in a phone interview Monday. "I haven't really been doing Trail for a very long time. We started doing it with Hannah, my horse, and she got really good at it and I happened to be a novice, so we just put me in at novice at the World Show and hoped that something like that would happen."
Stephens won a world championship in Western Showmanship at the event last year, and she said her previous experiences at the World Show helped her remain calm between competitions at this year's event.
Her first-ever championship in the Trail class this year was a welcome addition to her growing list of accolades, but Stephens said it was her performance in the Hunter Under Saddle event that came as the biggest shock. Stephens and Sensational Hannah placed fifth in the overall event to go along with her runner-up finish in the limited division.
"I was definitely surprised at my performance in the Hunter Under Saddle," Stephens said. "My horse is not a Hunter Under Saddle horse -- she's small and in Hunter Under Saddle classes they look for big horses with long strides. I wasn't expecting us to go out there and place as well as we did."
Stephens is still young enough to qualify for the Youth World Show again next year, but she said she currently has no plans to return to Fort Worth next summer as she prepares to start her collegiate career at Auburn this fall.
"There are a lot of things that go into showing at the level that I just competed at in the World Show. I'm just ready to do something different," Stephens said. "I'm definitely going to miss it, but you just get to a point where the same things keep happening."
Stephens said she is eager to get started at Auburn next month and prepare for the 2013-14 equestrian season, which begins on Sept. 28 against Fresno State. Auburn won the NCEA Overall National Championship last season, a feat that Stephens said "reassured me that I made the right decision about where I was going."
Earning a starting spot on a team loaded with upperclassmen will be no easy task for Stephens, but she said she is more than ready to face the challenge.
"I'm excited, it's definitely something that I'm going to have to work really hard for, though. There are a lot of great girls on the team at Auburn, so it's not going to be easy to earn a starting position," Stephens said. "But it's definitely something that is going to be enjoyable -- I hope it's going to be really enjoyable having to work really hard like that."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org