Libby Onsager and her horse, Rye, are ready for their turn in the show ring at the National POAC Congress held in July of this year.
Libby Onsager and her horse, Rye, are ready for their turn in the show ring at the National POAC Congress held in July of this year.
When one first sets eyes on Liberty Onsager, it is hard to imagine that this small, young woman is already a seventh grade student at Fillmore Central. Yet, when talking with her, one is immediately struck by her poise, her confidence and her maturity.

Libby, as she is affectionately known by her friends and family, has earned a great deal of success in her short life, working hard to pursue her dreams by working with horses on her farm just northwest of Harmony.

Her mother, Melissa, explained how Libby does her own chores, saves her money and invests in her own horses to train.

Her most beloved horse at the moment is Dutch Rhythm 'N Blues, otherwise known as Rye. She purchased him from Sweet Memories Stables in Decorah after instantly falling in love with him. Libby explained he has a great personality. He's also an attractive horse and is registered as a black POA (Pony of America) though Melissa said he fades to more of a black/bay color in the summer.

The girl and her horse have been working together for about two years. "I bought him as an unbroke horse," explained Libby.

"She has trained him virtually all by herself," added Melissa.

"With a little help," Libby added humbly.

Libby is eager to share her success with her teachers and her mentors, recognizing that many have helped her get where she is today.

Dan Solberg owns the barn where she boards her horses and rides in the winter. He helped her start training Rye and Melissa said he has taken Libby under his wing. "He's wonderful with kids," she said about Solberg. "He gave her countless hours of suggestions, coaching and guidance, all the while letting her find her way and train the pony herself."

His daughter, Becky Solberg, has also helped Libby a lot by riding with her and serving as a good example of what good horsemanship is all about.

"Then there is Taylor Coyle," Libby added. "If anyone can stay on a horse, he can."

"Maybe that's where you get your sticky seat," Melissa replied with a laugh.

It was Taylor's parents, Teresa and Randy, who first took Libby under their wing and gave her a great start, Melissa said.

"They helped her find her first POA, Shez No Kid, and helped Libby and 'Giggles' become a team over the next three years," she continued. "It was through that confidence that she was able to start training ponies on her own at the young age of 9. Teresa helped Libby through training that first pony and it was onwards and upwards from there."

Melissa added she had actually tried to talk Libby into purchasing a different horse when they were looking in Decorah, but Libby was bound and determined that Rye was the one.

In their first year as rider and pony, Libby and Rye found great success, the accolades, trophies and prizes too numerous to mention. However, Melissa admitted, Rye surpassed everyone's expectations, except those of Libby, who knew her horse would shine.

All of that success, however, does not come without hard work. While most 12-year-olds are spending their spare time watching television, playing games or just relaxing, Libby is up early before school doing chores and working with her ponies after school. She is also busy with band and choir and other activities at Fillmore Central, but horses remain her true love.

She tries to ride at least three of her horses each day. Once Libby completes her homework, there is little TV time before she has to go to bed and rest up for the next day, she added.

"She is out there sweating in the heat or freezing in the winter," Melissa added. "No matter the season, the ponies need taking care of. Anyone who has said, 'Horseback riding must be easy, the horse does all the work,' needs to spend a day in Libby's shoes."

Going to Congress

One of her goals was realized this summer as Libby showed Rye at the Pony of America Congress in July at Lake St. Louis, Mo.

Competing at the POA Congress was a challenge that Libby faced with confidence and determination. She did not let her age or her lack of fancy equipment deter her.

Melissa explained that many youth who show at Congress come from large, professional stables. Her pony was one of the few in Libby's classes that was trained by a 12-year-old, showing in hand-me-down clothing and ridden in a saddle that cost less than a house payment. She was one of the few kids without a full-time trainer and quite possibly the only one whose pony arrived in a stock-type trailer instead of a fancy horse trailer with living quarters and dressing rooms.

"She is probably the only rider who works with five to eight ponies a day, riding, training, cleaning stalls and feeding her own ponies," Melissa added.

Melissa added that the Midwest competitors are the toughest as are those from Oregon and Oklahoma.

"I made a couple of new friends from Oklahoma," Libby said. "There was also a group of people from Wisconsin who we hung out with."

Libby showed Rye in several classes, including Western Pleasure, Showmanship, Equitation, Trail and Reigning, plus five or six other classes.

She noted her favorite is Showmanship as it is more about the person and her connection to the horse. She also enjoys Reigning as "you can speed up a bit."

Libby earned a reserve champion ribbon and jacket for Western Horsemanship and a third-place finish in Equitation.

More horses to train

The show season winded down in September, but Libby has more horses to work with over the fall and winter. Her brood includes Rye's full sister and mother, who is expecting another foal in the spring.

"I'll be starting to work with Cutie, Rye's sister, who is a yearling," said Libby.

What she has learned

Libby acknowledged that she has learned a great deal from her experiences working with horses. She has definitely learned patience as her beloved horses don't always do exactly what she would like them to do. However, these challenges have helped her develop her skills and have given her confidence when she has worked through them and learned how to better handle these situations in the future.

"Libby used to be a bit shy and timid, but working with horses has given her confidence," Melissa agreed. "She has really blossomed."

Libby also enjoys being the only one in her class who knows about horses and how to train them. "It's something that only I do," she added.

Libby and Melissa agreed that working with horses and riding them is something their whole family can do together. Libby's younger sister, Sophie, is in the early stages of horsemanship and her father, Shannon, is their "numbers guy and cook."

"It's not really his thing," Melissa explained, "but he's very supportive of our love for our horses."