Sixteen-year-old Mattie Gustin recently helped the U.S. Junior Reining Team bring home a gold medal at the 2019 SVAG FEI Reining World Championships in Switzerland.
Mattie, a student at Aledo High School, started taking horse lessons when she was 6 years old, getting into reining three years later. Reining is a western riding competition where the riders guide their horses through a precise pattern of circles, spins and stops, all done at a lope or gallop.
“We were at a local show, a reining show, and we ran into my great aunt who had a horse in training with Casey Deary, who is my trainer now, and she told us all about reining and that I should take a lesson,” Mattie said. “I did, and I fell in love with the sport.”
Mattie continued her training and then began competing to get a spot on the U.S. Junior Reining Team through qualifying shows.
“She started trying to qualify in 2018 and they had different shows across the U.S. So she qualified last year, met all the criteria, and then they came back in January and said everyone needed to qualify again,” Mattie’s mother, Aurora Gustin, said. “They ran the qualifying shows up until the first of June, so we didn’t find out that she made the team until three weeks before it was time to go to Switzerland.”
An interesting process they went through was prepping and getting Mattie’s 9-year-old horse, Guns R Spooky, to Switzerland.
“That was kind of the mad dash part because when the U.S. Equestrian Federation picks the team, they have probably four pages of things that have to happen, in order. They turn all the logistics for the travel for the horses to a company called Equiflight [International Horse Transport Services] and they have to get all of the horses papers and passport information and then ship that to the USDA because the horses have to be approved to travel,” Aurora said. “Then we had to sign over the horse to the USEF, so they had complete ownership of the horse and what that did was allow the vet team and crews complete care for the horses. They do special things like put on circulation boots for travel and give them a lot of extra fluids, so they know what they’re doing. They put them in these pods and lift them up on these tracks at the airport and are put in a cargo plane.”
The show was not only Mattie’s first show in a different country, but her first time in another country altogether.
“I’ve barely been out of Texas. It was amazing and a lot of fun,” Mattie said. “I love the people, the atmosphere and the horses, and being able to do what we do on them is pretty amazing.”
In the Switzerland show, Mattie delivered a run score of 217.0, helping the U.S. team dominate the competition — finishing with a total score of 651.0 — and claiming the gold medal.
The team was guided by Jeff Petska who, in a U.S. Equestrian article, said he was proud of the girls.
“The juniors were outstanding. There were some jitters early in the week when we got here, but they performed great,” Petska said in the article. “I am proud of them as horsemen as well as young adults and people they are going to become.”
Being able to bond with her teammates that she didn’t really know was also fun, Mattie said.
“I knew of them and had talked to a couple of them before, but not really,” Mattie said. “That was a lot of fun. We were able to sightsee together before the show started and so we were able to bond and they’re a good group of girls, I like them.”
Mattie said bringing home the gold was “a big honor and amazing” and to gear up for the competition it was just a lot of practice with Guns R Spooky.
“We worked a lot on our turns, our spins, those needed some work and we spent a lot of time on that,” Mattie said. “I try to ride my horses a little harder to make sure their endurance is built up and I usually tweak a few things that I don’t normally work on to make sure everything is right.”
Aurora said she is a proud parent.
“I’m a proud parent. The hard work has paid off and the cool thing was she got the call that she made the team on June 14 and then June 15 was the first day college coaches could talk to her, we didn’t know that, so that was a surprise and she got several invites to come on official visits this fall,” Aurora said.
And that is Mattie’s goal, to become a part of a collegiate equestrian team.
“My goal is to ride for a Division 1 equestrian team,” Mattie said.
Aurora said Deary has been a great trainer for Mattie.
“He’s been like an uncle to her. From the time she was 8 years old until now, he just took her under his wing like his own,” Aurora said. “The cool thing about him is he was a professional trainer when we went to him, but the year after, he started winning the big futurity shows and now he’s in an episode called The Last Cowboy on Paramount Network.”
Deary has been a trainer in Hudson Oaks for 17 years and said Mattie has been his student for eight years.
“She’s been a great student and is a very very well-mannered young lady. She has a great family and rides a horse really well on top of that, so it’s been a real joy having her around the ranch,” Deary said. “It’s always humbling to see your students go out and be successful like that, but from the beginning Mattie has been successful on every horse that she’s had to go show, so I had no doubt that she was capable of competing at that level.”
As she’s grown, Mattie offered some advice for young riders looking to follow a similar path, which is to never give up.
“I would say never give up, keep going, even through the hard times it will get better and just strive for your goals,” Mattie said. “I didn’t think all of this was going to happen for me at all, but I kept working and it happened.”