By Alyssa Duetsch, online managing editor

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KISSES: Skudlarek and Trixie play outside the barn.

As Jes Skudlarek comes up the center line and finishes the test, she does her final salute and is beyond proud of her and her teammate.

“I’m just like, ‘that was amazing and I have someone to share it with,’ but that person that I’m sharing it with … it’s not a person. It’s one of those things where they know they did a good job; you know you did a good job; and you’re really proud of everything that you’ve done,” Skudlarek said.

Ever since Skudlarek was four years old, her teammates have been horses. Her relationship with horses began when her mom took her on pony rides and Skudlarek fell in love. She realized she wanted to take control of the horse, and in order to do so, her mom wanted her to take lessons. This led Skudlarek to take her first lesson at Palatine Stables.

“I liked it because it was like you had to be in control, but totally let go of everything all at the same time,” Skudlarek said.

CLOSE UP: Trixie, Skudlarek's horse for nine years

CLOSE UP: Trixie, Skudlarek’s horse for nine years

She met her first horse trainer when she was five, and when he semi-retired to Wisconsin, she followed him to continue taking lessons. This led Skudlarek to continue taking lessons and elevating her skill level.

Her current horse trainer, Jennifer Howlett-Rousseau, helped her to find her own horse, Trixie. Although Skudlarek owned another horse beforehand, Trixie has been her main horse for nine years now. After searching on the internet and trying out horses, Skudlarek found Trixie and fell in love right away.

Although this connection was strong, the two went through roadblocks. There was a time soon after buying Trixie when Skudlarek thought she was going to have to sell her. Trixie was uncontrollable and too large for Skudlarek. However, that did not stop them.

“I fought and I kept her, and now I’m obviously big enough to control her,” Skudlarek said.

RASTA: Skudlarek's main competition horse standing in her barn stall.

RASTA: Skudlarek’s main competition horse standing in his barn stall.

Another struggle the pair encountered was when Trixie got injured and they realized she could no longer take part in all types of competitions Skudlarek wanted to participate in. Because of this, Skudlarek found another horse, Rasta, that she trains with for the larger competitions.

In these competitions, Skudlarek practices with Rasta with Howlett-Rousseau. Skudlarek goes to these lessons every Wednesday. Some of these days, they practice flat and other days they practice jumping. The trainer picks what she wants to work on and the class focuses on that for the hour lesson.

“Jes is a very hard worker and a very good practicer, and she almost instantly tries to implement what I ask her to do, and that’s very rewarding for a teacher,” Howlett-Rousseau said.

DOWN TO BUSINESS: Skudlarek and the other girls in her class gather to listen to trainer.

DOWN TO BUSINESS: Skudlarek and the other girls in her class gather to listen to trainer, Jennifer Howlett-Rousseau.

On top of taking lessons, Skudlarek drives to her current barn, Wayfarer Stables in Wauconda, Illinois where she keeps her horses. Skudlarek drives there every day after track and on some weekends. On most of these days, she rides four different horses each for 45 minutes, depending on how much exercise they need.

Horses have become Skudlarek’s life. This extent of

time and dedication has also become a large expense for Skudlarek and her family. They do not go on vacation, go out to dinner or take part in other expensive activities because they budget all of their money for horses.

“It’s worth it because we go to these horse shows and it’s like you’re competing, doing something you really love, and that’s kind of a vacation in itself,” Skudlarek said.

To find out more about Skudlarek’s passion for the reigns, watch the video below!