When Amanda LaRoe steps into the stirrups and puts herself into the saddle, the spunky fourth grader transforms into a professional athlete.
The 9-year-old, who attends Wylie Elementary School in Dexter, has been practicing all year in anticipation for her first national equestrian competition.
The work paid off, and Amanda placed in five of six classes at the American Haflinger Registry National Show in Springfield, Ohio in September.
"It was fun seeing all my friends and watching all the classes," Amanda said about the experience.
The fourth grader competed in the "Youth 18 and under" category in hunt seat riding and showmanship.
"To score points for showmanship, you have to lead the horse around in a specific pattern and present it for evaluation to the judges," she explained.
No stranger to the world of equestrian sports, Amanda has been riding since she was 3, and practices at her family's farm in Dexter with two American Haflinger horses aptly named Lucky and Covergirl Bob.
Amanda credits her love of the animals to her mother, Lisa, who also competes in equestrian shows across Michigan and Ohio.
"We try to get to one show a month May through September," Lisa LaRoe said. "It's a lot of fun having my daughter share my hobby and see her do so well."
Amanda admits that, while riding is fun, it comes with a lot of responsibility.
"I have to get up at 5 a.m. every morning to feed the horses and make sure the stables are clean," she said. "At shows, I have to take my homework with me and do it inbetween events."
When she isn't competing in shows, Amanda said she likes to hang out with friends, play sports, and take care of her other animals, which include a dog and two cats.
"All of my animals are my brothers and sisters," she said with a smile.
Though college is several years off, Amanda said she is already thinking about studying horsemanship at Michigan State University. For now though, she said she is content living close to home and training to one day try out for the Dexter High School equestrian team.
"With the colder weather approaching, the horses will have a few months off to do what they do best, and then in the spring we will start getting them ready for shows again," Lisa said.
The results of the American Haflinger Registry show are available online.