Ben Noonan leaps into his future of becoming a future horseback rider

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Shannon Brinkman

Senior Ben Noonan rides his horse Keep Kitty in the Tryon International CCI competition. Noonan and his team finished first and Noonan got his first gold medal for horseback riding. “I would say [I’m best at] cross country [riding] just because I really enjoy the adrenaline of it. You can definitely feel the high speeds and just it’s really a fun part of the sport. I placed individually gold and my team placed gold as well. That was really special seeing all your hard work come through,” Noonan said.

Senior Ben Noonan is ready to take the next leap into horseback riding and go to Florida after he graduates in January. In Florida, Noonan wants to practice in similar weather conditions similar to his competitions. He made the decision to move to Florida when he was just 14 years old with the support of his family, and he plans to start his own horseback riding farm after becoming a professional rider at the highest level.

Noonan started horseback riding eight years ago when his parents purchased an equestrian farm. Since then, Noonan has spent two to three hours per day practicing with his horses. 

“I started [horseback riding] when I was very young, I don’t remember a time [when] I wasn’t riding horses. I’ve been comfortable with [riding] since I can remember, but I really remember starting to enjoy it when I was around 12 years old,” Noonan said. “I’m the only kid [in my family] that rides [competitively], but [my parents] just wanted us to have our own place to train. They thought having our own farm would be the best option. They like to watch the horses and watch me ride and compete.” 

For competitions like the Tryon International CCI competition, Noonan trains with his three personal horses, two of which were imported from Germany, a country known for its talented horse breeders. Over six months, Noonan considered more than 100 horses before choosing two Holsteiners— Street Fighter and Million Miler.

“I chose [the two horses] specifically because of their natural talent [and because] we had an instant connection. We got along with each other very nicely. I would say that I understand both of my horses well. They both truly value that I don’t put too much pressure on them, but at the same time, I ask a lot from each of them. They both have personalities that are very trainable, so it is very easy for me to communicate with them,” Noonan said.

Both Street Fighter and Million Miler were shipped from Amsterdam to Chicago and driven down to Missouri. The whole process took more than three weeks. However, Noonan says his success in horseback riding can be accredited to more than his two German horses, but also from observing his competition and their techniques. 

I chose [the two horses] specifically because of their natural talent [and because] we had an instant connection. They both truly value that I don’t put too much pressure on them, but at the same time, I ask a lot from each of them.”

— Senior Ben Noonan

“All of the [other competitors] are from different parts of the country, so you meet a lot of different people really quickly. It’s been fun to meet all those different people and see not only how all high schoolers and college students are similar but also how they’re so different at the same time,” Noonan said. “Horseback riding is a weird sport because you want to copy someone’s technique but you also don’t. They have to have the same body type as you for it to be effective,” Noonan said.

Since many of Noonan’s competitions are in Florida, he must often drive at least six hours to compete. He made the decision to move to Florida to get the high-quality training his opponents are receiving, he thinks that it would be more effective to get to the next level of his potential. 

“When I get down to Florida, I will have a lot of training with my coaches and then I’ll start competing all winter. My goal this winter is to move up [to] the Olympic level, I’ll probably be moving up to Olympic level soon. I also have two (possibly three) new horses coming to Florida. So I will need to get used to them and then get used to me and just build a relationship with them before getting them out and competing,” Noonan said.

The amount of money Noonan would need to adjust to living on his own, paying for training and horse care can be expensive. With the cost to enter competitions ranging from $500 to $1000 that most of the time comes with no prize money; Noonan’s parents decided to take care of the finances for Noonan. 

“Usually people make more money through either selling their horses after they compete with them or they have other people who want to support [the horses] and kind of fund your career. I’m very lucky that my parents give a great deal of support to me, [my parents] are covering all my financial expenses while I’m down [in Florida]. So while I won’t have a job, my parents want me to just really focus on my riding and competing fully,” Noonan said.

For Noonan, college is uncertain as of right now. He fulfilled the needed credits to graduate early, so he could leap into his passion for horseback riding with the best resources available.

“I’m not going to school in Florida. Long-term [me and my family] don’t know if I’m going to go to college. I’m at least going to graduate early and take a gap year, so If I end up deciding to go to college when the gap year is over then I guess we’ll start looking for schools. Mainly I’m just going to be training and riding every day,” Noonan said.

After Noonan fulfills his goals with his horseback riding career, he plans to open his very own horseback riding training farm. Teaching the techniques he has used his whole career to the next generation of horseback riders.

“I do want to try to buy a property to use a horseback riding farm, I don’t know exactly how or when I’ll do it, but I’m going to try to make that goal come true,” Noonan said.