From a very young age, Claire Estabrook was fascinated with horses. She began riding at three years old and was immediately hooked.
“Horses provide a weird calming effect that’s hard to describe,” says Estabrook, who especially appreciated the animal’s therapeutic nature once she reached high school — a sometimes volatile environment steeped in cliques and never-ending drama. During her low points, Estabrook escaped to the barn.
“I could always rant to my horse and just chill out,” Estabrook says. “It’s really comforting to hang out with him and know he’s listening to me but at the same time not having to worry about his opinion.”
Through the years, she has leased or owned several horses, including Rusty, J-Lo and now Willy, a 4-year-old dark brown Quarter Horse. She began showing years ago in 4-H in Boone County, Franklin County, New Castle and Noblesville, always thriving on the competitive atmosphere. The funny thing is, she’s never played any sports.
“This is my sport,” Estabrook says. “I love the connection between me and the horse.”
It’s hard to believe she’s only had Willy since October. In fact, her family purchased him, sight unseen.
“The day he came to the barn, I went out to ride him and absolutely fell in love,” Estabrook says. “I’ve never clicked that fast with an animal. It was instant, the connection between the two of us.”
Estabrook began working with a trainer two years ago. When she first acquired Willy, the trainer was focused on cleaning him up and getting him ready to ride. Now she’s working on Estabrook’s strengths and position.
“Willy is a very big show horse and he knows what he’s doing, but when I first started riding him, I wasn’t anywhere close to his potential,” Estabrook says. “So we were building me up along with him, working on strength and stamina.”
The whole process has been an exercise in patience and in trust.
“Willy and I are best friends,” says Estabrook, 18, who began her freshman year this semester at IUPUI to study exercise science. She plans to pursue a career in physical therapy.
Besides going to school, working at Chatham Hills Golf Club in Westfield, and riding and showing Willy, Estabrook also does some modeling on the side for local boutiques, companies and clothing designers. This summer she also competed in the Indiana State Fair where she won fifth in showmanship and first in horsemanship.
“In showmanship, judges are looking at how my horse and I work together as a team,” Estabrook says. “In horsemanship, I have to do certain maneuvers at certain points and have to make a clean, fluid pattern.”
Though she was proud of her marks, her all-time best memory in competition came a few months ago when she competed in a show in Warsaw. When she arrived, she looked around and was stunned by all of the big trainers and nice horses who were competing.
“I turned to my mom and said, ‘If I place at all among this crowd, that’s a big deal,’” Estabrook says. Ultimately, she took third in the class — performing better than well-known trainers from all over the U.S.
“I have no idea how I did it,” Estabrook says. “Willy did his thing, I did my thing and we rocked it.”