March 1, 2017 by
Photography by contributed

This article appears in the program book for the FEI World Cup Finals, produced by Omaha Magazine in March 2017.

Picasso is a player. He flirts, shakes his head up and down to get the ladies’ attention.  He isn’t above begging for a few cookies by looking cute and innocent with his long lashes and deep brown eyes. Although confident in his manliness, Picasso is an orderly sort of fellow and even a misplaced blanket may upset his night. 

Lola believes she is all that. Small and slightly on the plump side, Lola proudly shakes her behind in front of crowds. In fact, this princess adores attention. It doesn’t matter if everyone else is bigger, faster, or stronger because this little gal is all about working hard.

Cerdi is a hot foreigner from the Netherlands. He is strong and athletic. Cerdi is like a linebacker, but a running back he is not. His personality reminds people of a Labrador Retriever, loyal and happy. And oh, does this boy love to have fun.

A blind date with any of these larger-than-life personalities could make someone all nervous and sweaty in either a good or a bad way. One date could equal a total disaster. Or it could be easy and comfortable.

Finding a horse is just like dating. The rider needs to be matched with the right horse­­—like Tinder without all the swiping. And when someone finds a perfect connection, it just clicks.

“It’s kind of like a husband. This horse,” Karen Ensminger says, watching her daughter’s friend Alyssa Politi ride. “He and I wouldn’t get along.  He’s too excitable.”

Ensminger’s true love was evident earlier when her own horse, Picasso, nudged her with his large white and brown nose, hoping for yet another cookie. She gave in and scratched him behind his soft ears.

“That wasn’t a monster out there, no it wasn’t,” Ensminger cooed. She tried to take him out riding, but a blanket on the bleachers was distracting.

Ensminger owns five horses and is planning on adding two more Argentinians to the stables. Picasso, a paint horse, was “a bribe” from her husband. She then bought a large pony, Lola, to share her love with her two daughters. 

Ensminger soon after purchased Cerdi, whose father was a Dutch Warmblood, for her youngest daughter, Jenni Lanoha, a junior at Marian High School. She has been riding horses since day one, literally. Ensminger was in the saddle while pregnant with Lanoha.

Lanoha, like the other trainees at Elkhorn Hampton Ridge Equestrian Center, started out in equitation. After that, Lanoha moved on to hunters, then graduated to jumping. Tall and thin, she sports tan riding pants, a light gray vest, and a black helmet as she rides Cerdi, schooling him over white picket fences in the dirt-filled practice arena.

“Go out, right heel, half halt,” her trainer yells out as Cerdi takes a tight turn at Lanoha’s command, long black tail flowing behind him.

Her mother doesn’t worry about her daughter falling. Anything could happen, but Ensminger has been watching her daughter since she was trotting over poles on the ground.

Sybil Greene, a trainer and rider at Wynmore Farm in Lincoln, says people do have misconceptions that horse riding is dangerous. However, she adds, other sports such as basketball or football are just as risky with concussions
or injuries.

In fact, the National Trauma Data Bank reported contact sports were the leading cause of traumatic brain injuries while equestrian sports
were third.

“It is safe and rewarding if you match the rider and the horse,” Greene says.

Politi’s turn is next and her horse likes to dive, causing her to slip forward.

“He’s just a little fresh. Happy to be out,” Politi, a senior at Omaha Central, explains.

Politi and Lanoha compete against each other, but there is unity in barns just like there would be on a school track team. The girls laugh, recalling a rotating pairs relay when they dressed up as Superman and Wonder Woman.

“Our plan was bad, really bad,” Lanoha jokes.

She loves to compete in the jumper division, but her mother persuaded her to compete in the hunter division.

“I live vicariously through her (Lanoha) and her skinny thighs,” Ensminger says, laughing. 

The gamble paid off. Lanoha competed at regionals and qualified for nationals at the ASPCA Maclay Final, earning her a 19th place finish.

Lanoha has grown to appreciate hunters, but still needs to balance her time as a student and a competitor. It means late nights and hard work, but Lanoha still makes it to her hour-long practices twice a week. Plus, she gets to see her “good friend” Cerdi.

Training is different depending on which barn someone attends. At Elkhorn, a novice can show up in jeans and cowboy boots. A horse can be leased or he/she can use a school one. Helmet, jacket, and equipment can all be borrowed. From there, it is a matter of how dedicated a person wants to be.

Ensminger, though, feels it is all worth it.  As she explained to her husband when her girls first wanted to get involved, sometimes it comes down to choices.

“Do you want them kissing the boys or the horses?” she asked him.

Luckily, the horses won out.

Jenni Lanoha rides her horse Cerdi