Emma VanTongeren finds thrill in riding her horses


Emma Van Tongeren

Emma poses with her two horses: Vinnie and Remi

As unexpected as it may seem, freshman Emma VanTongeren’s horse, Vinnie, claims Poptarts as his favorite food. 

Emma has been riding horses both for fun and with the intent of competing for about four years now. Vinnie and Remi, Emma’s horses, are housed at a barn in Lowell, Michigan called Meadowview Farm. There, Emma spends time grooming, spending time with, and taking care of her horses. 

“I’ve met friends through [horseback] riding,” Emma said. “Just getting to spend time with my horses and [being able to] hang out with them [is what I enjoy].”

Thanks to a good friend of Emma’s, who introduced her into the world of horses via a horse camp she participated in about four years ago, she’s been passionate about the sport ever since. 

Emma can be found at the barn about five times a week—most likely preparing them for an upcoming competition as she takes Vinnie and Remi all over the Midwest for shows. 

“I enjoy [participating in shows],” Emma said. “It gives me an opportunity to kind of show off all my hard work, have fun, and get feedback. At shows, my barn trailers the horses for me.” 

It gives me an opportunity to kind of show off all my hard work, have fun, and get feedback.

— Emma Van Tongeren

Though most of the competitions are only weekend trips, sometimes the more advanced shows are a little lengthier. The farthest the show schedule has taken her is the southern Ohio region, but she has also participated in many competitions closer to home such as Traverse City. Everywhere she goes, she not only gets to enjoy horse riding but also the local scenery.

“We went to the beach when I was up there,” Emma said, “[and we] went shopping [in] downtown Traverse City; it’s fun to go to different places.”

And as fun as Traverse City was for shopping and seeing the town, it also resulted in Emma and her horse earning some exciting results during the competition. 

“This summer, when I was up in Traverse City,” Emma said, “my horse and I got quite a few first place ribbons, and that was really exciting because it was a really big show. [It] was a big accomplishment.”

A typical show includes two parts. First, there is a flat class where multiple riders are in the ring, and the judges then ask the riders to perform certain skills all at the same time. The other component consists of jumping over hurdles and obstacles. 

Emma’s favorite is the latter.

“I like jumping better [than flat class],” Emma said. “I think it’s more entertaining.”

When picking out which horses to call her own, Emma considered both physical ability and personality traits while making her decision based on these competition events, specifically jumping

Both of Emma’s horses have their own unique personalities alongside their abilities. She can’t pick a favorite, but she adores them both for different reasons. 

“For my first horse,” Emma said, “I just wanted a really steady one that wouldn’t freak out or get crazy—one that was well trained and knew his job. That’s how we ended up with Remi.” 

With his calmer demeanor, Remi is a sweet horse that both Emma and her mom enjoy riding and simply spending time with him.

“Remi is super sweet and super funny,” Emma said. “He has giant ears so he kind of looks like a donkey. He [also] likes to stick his tongue out when he’s riding. He’s just a funny horse, but he’s really sweet and loves cuddles.”

Remi is an older horse—21 years old—and doesn’t participate in competitions anymore due to his inability to jump as high. Just because Remi isn’t a competitor anymore doesn’t mean he gets any less attention; both Emma and her mom enjoy riding him for pleasure. 

“I enjoy getting on [Remi] and having fun and hanging out with him,” Emma said, “even when I’m not riding him.”

Though Remi doesn’t get time in the limelight anymore, Emma’s other horse, Vinnie, is always up to the challenge. 

“[Vinnie] is advanced,” Emma said, “and really fun to ride because he has a lot of different things I can ask him to [perform]. It’s fun figuring out all the things he can do.” 

Vinnie, with all his abilities, is able to take Emma further and give her a bit of a challenge while Remi was chosen for his calmer spirit.

“Vinnie is kind of grumpy some days,” Emma said. “I refer to him as an alligator sometimes, but he’s really fun, and he loves to jump. When I give him treats, he reaches out with his lips, [so] it looks like an alligator trying to bite your fingers off.”

Riding Remi and Vinnie gives Emma both the exhilarating thrill of jumping but also the sense of peace that comes with riding horses.

“I think it’s a bit [of a stress-reliever] because it’s super fun,” Emma said. “I guess it’s a little relaxing, but it’s also kind of an adrenaline rush because you’re moving super fast.”