She might be young, but when it comes to riding horses 9-year-old Ryan Fralick often displays the qualities that come from years of experience.
"She's a natural," trainer Regina Wendler said. "She has a good feel for how strong or how light she needs to be. It's the type of thing that can be taught, but it just comes naturally to her."
The Hayden Valley Elementary School fourth-grader has been riding horses since she was 2 years old and started showing horses at the Routt County Fair when she was 4.
That year, her mother led her around the fairgrounds on the back of a horse named Soda in the leadline class.
"She won a big blue ribbon and a teddy bear," Medora Fralick said.
Her mother is amazed but not surprised by how far her daughter has come since that day.
Earlier this month, Fralick attended the Grand National and World Championship Morgan Horse Show in Oklahoma City, where she placed fourth in the Western pleasure class and ninth in Western equitation.
"It's a pretty big deal," Wendler said. "When you think of the thousands of people showing horses at that event -- to finish in the top 10 is pretty amazing."
Fralick was asked to show a Morgan horse named Swans Diamond Rio for Victor and Susan Mihal of Meeker.
The couple wanted to market Rio as a youth horse and asked Fralick last spring whether she would be interested in showing the horse at a regional event in Denver.
Fralick spent several weekends last summer getting acquainted with the horse and spent some time working with the Mihals' trainer, Rob Marsh.
Fralick showed Rio at the Circle J, a regional championship Morgan horse show, at the National Events Center in Denver where she finished first in Western pleasure and Western equitation. She was fourth in hunter pleasure and hunter equitation. The placings qualified the horse and Fralick for the national event in Oklahoma City. It was the biggest horse show of Fralick's young career, but she didn't let it show in the arena.
"I was up in the stands wanting to throw up," Medora Fralick said. "But she was calm and cool. ... Sometimes it's a lot harder to watch. I know I was more nervous than she was."
In fact, the young rider said she was never nervous about showing the horse despite the huge crowd and the importance of the event.
"I was just happy and excited to be riding," Fralick said.
At the nationals, she made it to the finals in all four classes in which she showed Rio. In the Western pleasure, where the horses compete in a group and are judged on how well they respond to the riders' commands, she was awarded fourth. She also placed ninth in Western equitation, where the riders are judged on their form and ability to control the animal.
Wendler said the young Routt County rider has a bright future. She thinks Fralick's ability to stay calm, her confidence and her bravery will make her a strong rider for years to come.