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Rider’s experience guided by love, respect for horses

Meet the Future: Naomi Jacobsen

Name: Naomi Jacobsen
School/Grade level: Grand Rapids Museum School, junior
Passion: Equestrian sports

Grand Rapids — Equestrian Naomi Jacobsen is a one-person, one-horse  team. She and her mild-tempered palomino, Grimmy, last fall maneuvered barrels and poles, and raced in speed events representing Grand Rapids Museum School in competition.

With help from her dad and coach, Jeff Jacobsen, she first established herself as her own team last year to compete in District 19 of the Michigan Interscholastic Horsemanship Association

Naomi, who lives on the west side of Grand Rapids, spends a lot of time practicing and volunteering with the Caledonia High School equestrian team, a powerhouse group of riders who have won the Division A State Championship for the past three years. She competes against other one- and two-person teams, putting in long days at the Barry County Fairgrounds, home turf to competitions.

The horse-lover isn’t just about racing. She also competes in reigning, which involves guiding a horse through a pattern or circles, spins and stops; and show events including Western pleasure, which evaluates horses on manners and appearance, and rides and shows horses year-round with 4-H.

How old were you when equestrian sports became something you wanted to pursue, and what’s the story there? Naomi was 12 when she became involved in competing on horseback, but horses have always been a part of her life. For as long as she can remember, she has loved spending time with the horses at her aunt Cara and cousin Adalynn Masselink’s farm in Caledonia.

“They’ve always had horses. I was taken out there very frequently, so I was exposed to (riding) very early on. It helped me expand my knowledge by learning new things every time I was there.”

Jeff Jacobsen explained further: Naomi and her cousins have been spotted riding horses backward, standing on them and doing other crazy tricks.

From left, Naomi Jacobsen and cousin Adalynn Masselink have been riding together since they were little (courtesy)

What do you love about competing with horses? Naomi competed last season with Grimmy, whom she described as an eager-to-please horse. She will soon compete with Roxi, a speedy, black American Quarter Horse. Above everything else, it’s the relationship with them that she loves.

She’s learned to communicate with horses, picking up on their body language and cues. 

“You’re working with this whole other living creature. It’s about being able to bond and have a relationship with this thing. This is your team: you and your animal.”

“It’s definitely an ‘I come second’ situation. The horse comes first.”

Naomi has a soft touch with the animals, said her dad. She takes her time training them to do things like pivot without lifting a foot, a skill within the sport that requires a lot of work and patience.

“It’s a unique talent of hers,” Jeff Jacobsen said of the time Naomi spends getting to know horses and building trust. “It’s this calm, gentle force — that calm, steady, caring interaction.”

Adalynn Masselink, Caledonia High School rider and Naomi’s cousin; Naomi Jacobsen, Layla Jacobsen, Museum School horse groom; and Jeffrey Jacobsen, Museum School coach, wear their equestrian team shirts (courtesy)

A few related accomplishments:  Naomi is known for pitching in to help clean stalls, clean grounds, cheer on other riders and lend a helping hand in many other ways, which earned her the MIHA’s District 19 Sportsmanship Award. 

She also has earned many ribbons through 4-H.

‘It’s definitely an ‘I come second’ situation. The horse comes first.’

— equestrian Naomi Jacobsen

Who has had a big impact on your interest in this sport? “Definitely my cousin, (Adalynn) and aunt (Cara). Definitely all of the coaches,” she said, looking at her dad. “I wouldn’t have been able to learn any of these skills without them being able to teach me.”

Do you plan to pursue this after high school? “I would like to compete as long as I can, even if it turns into once a month. I do always want horses in my life even if competing stops, even if it’s a companion horse.”

There are ample opportunities to earn money in open shows, Naomi said, and she would consider competing in college, too.

The biggest lesson you have learned from your involvement in riding is… Naomi said she has learned to be cautious and perceptive of her horse’s behaviors, to “look between the lines” and anticipate the animal’s reactions. Horses can get spooked and have unique aversions. 

She’s also learned to look for the good in every performance — a perfect leap, for example.

“I think I’ve learned to push past and not struggle with that. Even if you don’t place in a class or you completely mess up in a pattern, you have to look for something good.”

What are you hoping to pursue as a career? Naomi, who is enrolled in the Kent Career Tech Center’s Criminal Justice program, is interested in working in dispatch, with a canine unit or as a mounted police officer. She is earning college credits through Ferris State University as well.

Outside of riding, what are your other hobbies and interests? Naomi is fast on her own feet, too, as a sprinter on the Union High School track team (which includes Museum School students). She also enjoys reading and traveling.

“If liking to go on vacation is a hobby, I will count it,” she said jokingly.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013, and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio


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