Steamboat Springs When Katie Mills' parents took their 6-year-old daughter on a horseback ride at Steamboat Lake seven years ago, they had no idea what they were starting.
"No, my parents are not horse people," Katie said. "I think if they had their way they would sell the barn and move to Tahiti."
But young Katie's enthusiasm for horses was born during that innocent trail ride.
Despite being run into a low-hanging tree branch and brushed off by her horse on the ride, Katie asked her parents if she could take lessons while driving back from the lake.
Her parents agreed, and today Katie has taken her love for horses to a new level.
"You could see that she loved riding horses right away, and she has never wavered," said Katie's mom, Jorene.
Today, the 13-year-old Steamboat Springs Middle School student spends most of her summer traveling from one horse show to another.
She just returned from Parker, where she was named overall champion in the children's jumper class at the Colorado Circuit Preview. The event was June 27-30 at the High Prairie Farm. She won two classes and was second in another class. The young rider tallied enough points to win the overall title.
She also recently finished fourth in the Marshall and Sterling Children's Jumper Classic.
They were impressive finishes for the girl who rides her horse, Vegas, four or five times a week.
"Vegas is my best friend," Katie said. "My horse doesn't yell, doesn't talk back and you can tell him anything."
Katie and Vegas started riding and competing together two years ago.
Before that, Katie rode her mother's horse. It was a horse that Katie was happy to learn on but was too old for competition.
"We were not what you would call horse people," Jorene said. "But Katie has drug us into it and we have learned a lot."
Four years ago, Katie began training with local riding coach Regina Wendler and bought Vegas two years ago.
"My horse is great," Katie said. "I can make some mistakes and Vegas is always there to save me."
In jumping, rider and horse must clear a prescribed number of obstacles in a specific order. The riders are assessed penalties for knocking down rails, not clearing jumps on the first attempt or going too slow. But the idea is to finish the course with the fastest time and the fewest mistakes.
Katie said she started the last show with a strong showing but didn't fare as well in the second half of the show.
The young rider is hoping to make amends July 24 through Aug. 4 in Estes Park at her next show.
But Katie's dreams of riding go well beyond local and regional shows.
She admits that someday she would like to compete in the stadium-jumping event at the Olympic Games.
"That would be so great," Katie said.
It may still be a few years off, but if Katie gets her way, someday she will be sharing an Olympic experience with her best friend.