“I’ve always loved horses, ever since I was a little kid, since I could walk. I always had pony rides at my birthday parties,” Anna Lia Sullivan said. “And one summer, we saw a farm with a summer riding camp available. From that moment on, I was hooked.”
The 16-year-old junior from Seneca High School has had a passion for riding these animals for as long as she can remember, and she has gotten quite good at it over time.
After riding competitively for only six years, she has put together quite a resume of accomplishments.
However, according to Sullivan, her most cherished accomplishment is her recent Northeast Paint Horse Championship in Youth Equitation.
Equitation is judged on the rider’s ability to communicate with their horse and their position when riding.
The competition was held at the annual Zone 7 Show in which a series of championship classes are sponsored by the American Paint Horse Association.
“This year, I was lucky enough to finish first in my class of equitation,” Sullivan said. “It was very rewarding.”
Sullivan has also been a part of the 4-H program since she was 9 years old.
The 4-H Youth Development Program offers a vast variety of clubs that use a “learn-by-doing” approach to enable youth to develop the knowledge, attitudes and skills they need to become competent, caring and contributing citizens of the world.
“4-H has benefited my public presentation skills most. Beginning 4-H as a shy 9-year old, it has pushed me to improve my presentation skills,” Sullivan said.
Early in her career with the program, she showed promise by winning the 2010 Most Improved Rider Award.
That potential has panned out, as Sullivan will now be serving as this year’s 4-H New Jersey Equestrian of the Year.
To win this award, she first had to become the 2014–2015 Burlington County Equestrian of the Year. After that, Sullivan qualified for the New Jersey State Equestrian of the Year contest by submitting a resume that included various activities involved with horses and activities outside of riding horses, along with a story about her accomplishments as a 4-H member.
The contest itself consists of a one-on-one interview with the judges and a stage presentation that follows.
There is also a question each of the contestants has to answer. This year’s topic dealt with the equine herpes virus. This question went along with an additional impromptu question that was to be answered on the spot.
The awards were presented at the New Jersey State 4-H Championship Horse Show in August.
“It means so much to me to win this award. It really shows how hard I work to become the most well rounded individual that I can be. It also teaches me that all my hard work and dedication to the 4-H program pays off,” Sullivan said.
As the ambassador of the NJ 4-H Horse Program, some of Sullivan’s responsibilities will now include organizing projects, attending functions, assisting at the next Equestrian of the Year competition and being available to attend county award programs or other significant events where she may be asked to speak or present awards.
Sullivan is still enjoying her time in high school and competing in different shows, but she plans on attending a college with a pre-vet program. She wants to become a veterinarian, but she also wants to make sure the school she chooses has a riding program so she can further her riding skills and pursue her passion.
“I just love the atmosphere; I’ve met so many amazing friends and people throughout my riding career,” Sullivan said. “I love how you can have such a close bond and relationship with your horse. You have to control this 1,200-pound animal with just your hands and your legs. The amount of trust that I put into my horse daily is unbelievable.”