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Ivy Strickland, a sixth-grader at Heritage Christian Academy, recently won a state barrel racing championship in the 12 and younger age group.

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Many girls dream of owning a pony, but 11-year-old Ivie Strickland is one of the lucky ones who actually does.

She is responsible for its upkeep, including brushing, saddling and exercising her pony, Ellie May, every day.

It’s the exercise part that has paid off for both pony and rider.

Ivie recently won the Georgia Federation of Saddle Clubs 2017 Pony Cone Championship in the 12-and-younger age group in Perry.

The Heritage Christian Academy sixth-grader has competed since she was 5 years old and winning a state title has always been a goal.

During the competition, the pony and rider are required to complete a pattern around preset cones in the fastest time. It takes physical strength and a close bond with the pony to complete the course without making mistakes.

“You have to be focused,” she said. “It’s pretty hard.”

Ivie, a member of the Pony Division, Coastal Plains Saddle Club, said she competed about once a month at events throughout the year to accumulate enough points to qualify for the state championships. She was among more than 80 boys and girls that competed against each other.

It takes stamina and mental toughness to compete at a high level, said her mother, Tommie Crum, owner of Three Oaks Farm on Jekyll Island where her daughter trains.

“You’re running as hard as you can,” she said. “You have to have balance and precision. You have one shot. If you mess up, you’re out.”

Crum said her daughter’s pony is “really high spirited.” And high-spirited ponies can be a challenge to control.

“Ponies are a lot like people,” she said. “You have to be careful if they’re having a bad day. Ponies choose who they like and don’t like.”

Ivie said she recently got a horse and plans to continue to compete in higher age groups.

She said it takes about a year for horse and rider to work confidently together in competitions.

“I’m already starting to get my horse in shape,” she said.

Ivie plans to continue competing for many years, perhaps professionally one day. She knows someone who recently competed at 76 years old, she said.

She does have a backup plan in case she doesn’t compete professionally on the rodeo circuit, Crum said. Her daughter knows it’s an expensive hobby, even though riders can win cash prizes.

“She wants to be a criminal forensic entomologist,” her mother said. “She wants to have a job to support her horse riding.”