The Unspoken Bond Between A Girl And Her Horse
Paris Starn has been riding horses since the age of 3. Now 17, Starn is making a name for herself as a world-champion equestrian
Walking around Maunawili Farm is much like seeing every childhood fantasy of owning a horse come to life.
It’s quiet and peaceful here —green and somehow secluded, though it’s not far from Pali Highway. Horses lined up in stables relax in the shade or munch on hay. In other corners of the farm, children and teens ride atop trotting horses at an easy gait, while others take advantage of an open field to attempt faster paces and leaps over bushes.
This is where 17-year-old Paris Starn keeps not one, but two of her horses: Le Beau and Ricochet. Starn spends a good chunk of her time with Le Beau and Ricochet — seven days a week — training them or simply tending to their needs.
Riding since the age of 3 and showing horses since she was 9 years old, it’s a talent Starn has been honing that has garnered her critical acclaim.
She travels to the Mainland annually, sometimes more often than that, to compete. Unlike other riders who get to use their own horses, Starn must borrow a horse, putting her at a disadvantage of sorts. Still, she’s fared well.
For the past five years she has qualified to compete on the Mainland in Extreme Cowboy Race Association’s World Championship. In 2012, Starn came in first place in the Youth Division, qualifying “Go Rounds” at the EXCA World Championship, for which she received a Gold Buckle. The following year, she received another Gold Buckle for finishing first place in the Novice Division qualifying “Go Rounds.”
Then, in 2014, she received the Most Colorful Rider Award among all competitors in every division at the EXCA World Championship. Most recently, last year, she came out on top as the Novice Champion in EXCA’s Aloha Region, and placed ninth out of 38 competitors in the Novice Division at the EXCA World Championship.
Oh, and the notion many children may have that owning and bonding with a horse would pretty much be the best thing ever? It’s a reality Starn can attest to, and one she gets to live out every day.
“There are a lot of people who are there for you in your life, but the unspoken bond between a girl and her horse is a lot,” she says. “The fulfillment that riding gives me is definitely everything I’ve ever asked for.”
Riding Le Beau, Starn is the definition of confidence — no easy feat when you consider she’s sitting atop an animal that can weigh close to a ton.
She was drawn to that Western style of riding because of the horsemanship involved — as opposed to timed events that simply measure how fast you can complete a task, Starn says there’s a certain finesse that comes with performance horses.
It took a few years for Starn to grow accustomed to showing horses —something that used to terrify her.
“I used to get to the point where I would cry and sob,” she says with a laugh. “I remember one world final where I literally was sitting there, begging my dad to not make me get into the arena, and I was crying and everybody was staring at me and it was absolutely embarrassing.”
These days, Starn says she’s still prone to nerves before competitions. Now, though, it’s become a source of adrenaline, and she recognizes that it’s sort of what makes the entire experience fun.
In the intermediate level for about three years now, Starn often is going up against older competitors. Sometimes, and not uncommonly, they are in their 30s and 40s.
“I’ve been doing it for a really long time, so it doesn’t really bother me anymore,” says Starn of competing against an older age group. “It kind of feels good to be the underdog and to be doing well, ’cause I still place really well in classes that have older people who have been riding for a lot longer.”
And while winning may have been what fueled Starn in her earlier days of competing, she says it’s losing that now keeps her going.
“You do it so often that it becomes something you’re good at, and then losing makes you learn,” she says.
It’s a comfortable and kindred connection Starn seems to have with her horses —an enviable one, even.
She’s had 8-year-old Le Beau since he was about 4 years old, and acquired Ricochet, now 3, when he was just 2 months old. (At the time, Starn had been playing polo on the North Shore and was given the choice between getting a polo pony or a Western horse. Starn made, she says, the right choice.)
As she and Le Beau speed into a gallop, Starn is fearless, pushing him to go faster. Starn was never really afraid of riding, she says. She’s started colts before — untamed colts that had never felt a person sit on them.
“That doesn’t really faze me,” says Starn. “I like a challenge.”
Ricochet, for example, had never been ridden before coming to Starn, so in many ways, she had to start from the ground up with him.
“It was everything that I wasn’t expecting,” says Starn. “I was expecting something that was going to try to kill me, and he would rather fall asleep in my lap.
“I’ve learned a lot from him; I learned a lot about where my pukas in my training are,” she adds, noting that she’s even gone back and tweaked some techniques with Le Beau.
Consistency, she also has learned, is key. Every day of the week, Starn either works with Le Beau and Ricochet in the arena, takes them out on trails to do some relaxed riding or simply gives them a day off.
And more than anything, owning horses has taught Starn a thing or two about responsibility. After all, without a visit from Starn, she notes, Le Beau and Ricochet would not have regular access to essentials like food and water.
It’s a love for her horses that runs so deep that, when Starn, currently a junior at La Pietra-Hawaii School for Girls, goes away to college, Le Beau will be joining her.
Fun fact: You can FedEx a horse, and so Le Beau will travel to wherever it is Starn ends up. Having Le Beau on the Mainland also will allow her to continue working with him, and the two will be able to compete against others who may be of higher caliber.
Still, as much as Starn enjoys it all, don’t expect to see her going pro —it’s not what she has in mind for her future. Instead, Starn plans to focus her sights on agricultural business in college, with the hope of one day opening her own cattle ranch in Waimea on Hawaii island.
Her uncle owns Rocking Chair Ranch there, which has given Starn some experience in working with cattle.
“It was just jaw dropping — how beautiful the rolling hills are and how lovely,” she says. “You can’t go a day in Waimea without seeing someone hauling a horse down the road that you know.
“That really says something to me because horses are a big part of my life, and Hawaii is a big part of my life, so it’s where the heaven meets the sky kind of a deal,” she adds with a laugh.