Local equestrian Payton Gerst was crowned this season’s Coastal Empire Princess and placed sixth in the state at the 2011 Georgia Federation of Saddle Clubs show in Perry over Labor Day weekend.
Eleven-year-old Gerst, a sixth-grader at First Presbyterian Christian Academy, currently rides and trains at Horse Creek Stable in Ludowici and has competed since she was 6.
The Georgia Federation of Saddle Clubs is comprised of nine associations in the state. Each association is made up of local clubs that compete for points from September to May. The top six highest-scoring riders qualify for the state competition.
“Our top six riders were able to go for our region (Coastal Empire) and out of all of our six riders, Payton scored the highest, earning the princess title for our region,” Gerst’s mom, Aida, said. “She has numerous awards — more than I can count.”
“I was really excited,” the young rider said. “I felt very happy that I was going to be representing the Coastal Empire.”
Aida Gerst said her daughter has made the state competition the past three years, including this year.
“This was her first year as our region princess, the highest title for the 12-and-under class,” she said.
Gerst rides an American quarter horse officially named CI Premium Edition.
“But his nickname is Baron,” Aida Gerst said. “Baron is her baby. Baron is an old man. He is 18, 15 hands high and bay in color. He has his own little quirks. He’ll stick out his tongue and they get along pretty well.”
Gerst said her horse is her buddy.
“He is funny,” she said. “He and I have this little thing, when I come up to the barn I say, ‘Give me five,’ and he licks my hand. He kind of acts like a dog when he wants to be petted. He starts rubbing on you until you pet him. He’s really pretty. He’s a bay with black mane and tail and loves to be around people.”
Gerst said she’s ridden Baron for two years, and it’s the bond between her and the horse that has led to successful showings when she competes in western horsemanship. At the state show, she also competed in English pleasure.
Aida Gerst said her daughter loves animals, and a visit to the state fair a few years ago started her journey to competing.
“As a parent, I wanted her to become a well-rounded person and asked her what activities she wanted to be in, and she didn’t like dance when she was 4,” she said. “We were at a state fair and she did a pony ride and said she liked horses, and so I looked up places that did riding lessons for children.
Since then, Gerst has been practicing year-round three days a week.
“I like to compete because it’s fun and I like being around the horses,” she said. “I wanted to do western because the horses were quarter horses, more pretty.”
And along with her passion for horses and recent title comes new determination.
“She was upset that she only won sixth place … She already said she wants to win princess again next year so she can win the overall state championship,” her mom said.
“I want to be first next year. I wanted to get the dozen roses and a really big trophy,” the younger Gerst added.
She is preparing for a show this weekend at Rocky Creek.