By Jim Sullivan
---- — If Kansas State University equestrian rider and Byfield native Larissa Laffey leaves the door open on occasion, it’s because she was indeed raised on a farm.
Growing up on the Evenstride LTD, Laffey has been riding since she was 2 years old and riding for show when she was 4. But her first memory of riding was not what people might think.
“We went to ride the horses on the beach in the winter, and I was on a pony. She stopped at a tidal pool and shook me off into the water,” says Laffey. “I couldn’t have been more than 6. That would be my first memory.”
In true Laffey fashion, Larissa got right back on her horse, or pony as the case may be.
“That’s something I inherited from my parents,” Laffey says of her mother, Olana ,and father, Scott. “If something is a challenge, you keep going and you get back up and you try again.”
Laffey has been trying and excelling ever since, having just been was named the Most Outstanding Player for the month of October by the National Collegiate Equestrian Association for her performances in Equitation on the Flat, a set pattern of maneuvers in a set area where the goal is to execute perfectly.
“I basically ride around the ring in a set pattern,” explains Laffey. “And they will have different movements (set up). Different gates or different obstacles that are difficult to get the horse to maneuver.”
All that is tough enough, but since Kansas State joined the NCAA, the rules have also changed.
“What’s challenging in the NCAA is that you don’t ride your our horses. You ride the hosting school’s,” explains Laffey. “You get on a horse and you have four minutes to figure out how that horse goes, and then you have to show. It’s about getting on a horse and figuring out, right away, its buttons. If something really triggers that horse that you need to avoid, you need to figure that out in four minutes. It can be very challenging. And it can mean the loss of your points for your team if something unexpected goes wrong.”
In this situation, Laffey relies on a combination of patience and the experience of her upbringing in Byfield where she learned human/animal interaction and communication without words.
“It’s a little different because you don’t have as much time to get to know a horse,” Laffey says of the contrast between her current competitive life and her past. “You only have the four minutes before you go into the show ring.”
The 2009 Triton grad seems to have met the challenge head-on, finishing the fall season with an overall record of 7-2 and holding a perfect 4-0 in October. She also earned two Most Outstanding Player awards and holds wins over riders from Baylor, New Mexico State, West Texas A&M and South Dakota State. Laffey was also key in helping K-State go on a six-meet winning streak from September to the end of November.
“It’s been a really rewarding experience,” Laffey says of her K-State experience where she currently studies chemical engineering. “And it’s been a really different challenge than what I competed in during high school. It’s been different because equestrian is always very individually focused, and it’s a team sport now for NCAA, and that’s a really cool change.”
Until the spring season begins, Laffey will ride her 11-year-old thoroughbred, Hepburn, and will continue to study engineering.
“I always loved playing with building things and figuring out how things worked,” Laffey laughs about her studies. “And I have a really big math brain. Very orderly and organized. Everything has its order (and) riding has really helped (in that) because it has taught me how to communicate with all different people and to really interact and be able to explain different things to different people.”
Whether it be a future in engineering or a future in riding, Laffey knows she can always come home to the farm.
“They couldn’t get me away from the barn,” admits Laffey. “From the moment I left the barn, I would ask to go back.”