Local teen’s passion for horses earns her national recognition

Sixteen-year-old Emily Freise, of Majenica, runs a barrel pattern with her horse, “Jaguar’s Blazing Coco,” or “Jag” for short, at the Chief LaFontaine Saddle Club, in Huntington. In addition to being a horse trainer and riding instructor, Freise competes in the rodeo event of goat tying and currently holds the top ranking nationally in her age range.
Sixteen-year-old Emily Freise, of Majenica, runs a barrel pattern with her horse, “Jaguar’s Blazing Coco,” or “Jag” for short, at the Chief LaFontaine Saddle Club, in Huntington. In addition to being a horse trainer and riding instructor, Freise competes in the rodeo event of goat tying and currently holds the top ranking nationally in her age range. Photo provided.

It’s 5:30 a.m. The alarm blares. Emily Freise blindly paws at her clock until it finally becomes silent. She climbs down from her bunk and gets dressed.  Horse figurines of all shapes and sizes fill the shelves that line her walls.
Her chores for the day begin.

Check the weather. Go to the barn. Feed the horses, then the goats. Come back into the barn, let the horses out into the pasture. Check everyone’s water buckets, fill as needed. Go back inside. Feed the indoor animals. Eat breakfast. Go to work.
At just 16 years old, Freise doesn’t follow the typical teenage routine. Because she is home-schooled by her mother in the tiny, no-stoplight town of Majenica, south of Huntington, she has what would appear to be a much more flexible schedule than other kids her age. But every spare second is used to work with her beloved farm animals, especially her four horses: a quarter horse, a saddle bred, a quarter pony and a paint.

“I can make free time whenever I want,” Freise says. “But I won’t use it. If I have a free half-hour, I’ll go clean the barn or go practice goat tying. I’ll do something that will help me improve or just get ahead for that night’s chores.”
Since the age of 5, Freise has obsessed over horses. Her sister, Erica Eder, can remember when Freise’s love of riding first started.
“We all thought that riding horses was just going to be a phase,” Eder says. “But clearly we were all wrong.”

That “phase” that Freise went through has carried her far. At 16, she is currently ranked No. 1 in the nation for her age range in the event of goat tying, an event that involves riding to the center of the arena, dismounting your horse without stopping, catching a goat and then tying three of its legs together. So far, she has qualified for the National Little Britches Rodeo Finals competition three times and is working on her fourth qualification in a row. She hopes to someday bring home a world title.
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When she is not working at home, Freise trains horses, cleans stalls and completes chores at several other facilities in Huntington County.
One of the people she works for is Shannon Hughes, of Roanoke. Hughes has owned horses for 34 years, and has been training horses since she was 16 years old. To further her skills, she earned an associate’s degree in equine training and management.
Hughes and her employees are responsible for training and caring for 35 horses. Like Freise, Hughes realizes that life with horses isn’t easy.
“It really feels like a 24-hour-a-day job,” Hughes says. “They [the horses] really get around-the-clock care. We work until the job is done.”
Hughes knows that Freise also shares the passion, attitude and work ethic it takes to be a good stable hand and horse trainer.
“She is very reliable, always on time,” Hughes says. “Emily uses her time wisely in order to complete all tasks. She never gives up and is honest and trustworthy.”
On her own, Freise also gives the occasional riding lesson to children she’s met through church or through her parents. Eight-year-old Ruthie Stout, of Huntington, is one of those riding students.
“Trotting hurts, but it’s still fun,” Stout says. “I got to ride Yogi once. He’s really good at listening.”
Of all the animals at the Freise farmstead — 17 of them, to be exact — four of them are horses. Jag, Beethoven, Stitch and Yogi.  In 2016, a tendon in the leg of Freise’s first horse, Jag, gave out.
Freise thought that the injury was a death sentence. The vet determined the tendon was bowed, meaning “basically it had a huge hole in it,” Freise said.
“That was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through in my life,” Freise says. “Most people would say, ‘Oh, your horse got hurt. Oh well.’ But to me … that horse isn’t just my rodeo partner, he’s my best friend.”
Jag would need almost a year of recovery, and there was still no guarantee that he would ever be the same.
“I cried,” Freise says. “I was hysterical … because that horse is my life.”
By limiting how much physical exercise Jag got and by keeping his legs wrapped in protective gear, Jag was able to mend over a 10-month period. Freise got her best four-legged friend back.
But in the same year that she was struggling with Jag’s injury, Freise lost two very important men in her life. Joe Eisenhauer, a member of her church, died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 56. Three months later, her 4-H leader, Phil Kreider, died of a stroke at the age of 63.
Eisenhauer, a Huntington native, met Freise at Bible Baptist Church and recognized her love for horses. During Huntington’s annual Pioneer Festival, Eisenhauer would use his Haflinger horses to pull a cart around the 4-H grounds and offered cart rides to patrons of the festival. Eisenhauer asked Freise to assist him because of her experience with horses.
Through their time together, Freise and Eisenhauer got to know each other better and had plenty of time to talk about life and Freise’s goals. Though he couldn’t provide her with tips about rodeo life, Eisenhauer still heavily impacted Freise’s life.
“He believed in me,” Freise says. “He didn’t teach me, but he supported me. He said, ‘I know you’re gonna be a big deal one day. I know I’ll see you on the big screen one day.’”
Kreider often watched Freise during the 4-H horse and pony shows. He would give her pointers about how to sit in the saddle or how to place her equipment in order to improve her patterns and times. Like Eisenhauer, Kreider also provided Freise with a lot of support through the years.
“I’ve never seen someone believe in somebody so much,” Freise says. “He did this thing where, when I was riding, he would just yell ‘Ride ’em!’ That was his thing.”
Many have tried to mimic the deep, ear-piercing growl of Kreider’s cheer. Its absence is noticed in the arena. Freise does, too.
Though Freise has come a long way since the death of these two supportive men in her life, it took her a while to get there. There was one point where she considered giving up.
“When Joe died, I told myself it was gonna be okay,” Freise says. “And then Phil passed away, and I didn’t think I could do it anymore. I was thinking to myself, ‘Wow, he was my biggest support, what am I gonna do?’ I struggled with that for about a year, actually.”
But she also has her ways of dealing with it.
“I would like to think that they’re up there and they’re watching,” Freise says. “That they’re saying, ‘You’ve got this, kiddo.’”
Freise’s drive and the support she receives from other loved ones has helped her succeed. Her parents, Ed and Carrie Freise, have embraced the rodeo life over the last few years.
“I have become a huge rodeo fan over the last few years,” Ed shares. “Do I necessarily truly enjoy driving for eight or nine hours on a weekend? No. Not at all. But the sport is just good, solid people. Gives us a little hope for this country.”
Something the Freise family has expressed gratification for in rodeo life is the attitudes that are expressed in the sport, because they reflect their own views and values.
“You always have prayer at any level,” Ed explains, “Including professional national world finals. You always have prayer and the honoring of God and country.”
Even in some of the scarier moments, they find a way to laugh.
“There was one time when she was competing in flags,” Carrie remembers, “where they [Emily on Stitch] completed the pattern and then he came over and just started bucking. She made her dismount and when she got off she just did this really graceful bow and everybody just died laughing. Funny, funny, funny!”
Emily Freise’s goals are never-ending. She hopes to make the short-go in all of her events at the July 2019 national competition, which means she would have to be in the top 20 of the approximate 2,000 competitors in her age range.
Freise’s hope is that she will someday bring home a world title, and has also considered going to college for equine science and training.
Katelynn Farley is a senior at Huntington University majoring in journalism.