Staying Focused

Staying Focused- September 2022
September 1, 2022
Life On The Farm
September 1, 2022

The most valuable investment a parent can make is in their child’s education. What began as an effort for Jenna and Hunter Parra to increase their daughter’s attention span developed into a life-changing experience for the family. Thirteen-year-old Ava Parra began her eighth grade year at Vandebilt Catholic High School on Monday, August 8th. The young scholar just returned from Perry, Georgia where she competed in the Southern Regional 4-H Championship. 

Ava’s journey began in the first grade when her parents noticed she was having trouble focusing in school. Jenna shared her concerns with her mother in an effort to find a solution. The two began researching interactive activities to increase a child’s attention span and ran across horse therapy. 

After conducting research, Jenna discovered a host of life-changing benefits equine therapy has on children and adolescents. The family decided to give it a try and Ava’s grandmother gifted her horseback riding lessons that year as a Christmas present. Jenna said she gradually witnessed the impact horseback riding had on Ava’s character and academics. “This absolutely made a difference in Ava’s life personally and academically. I noticed she began concentrating and focusing more. Once she started taking lessons she really turned her school work around and began doing really well,” Jenna shared. 

By the time Ava entered fourth grade, she had developed a passion for the sport, taking lessons with a family friend to perfect her skills. After years of making a 30-minute commute to a barn in Bayou Blue, Jenna and Hunter decided to pack the family up to move to the county, allowing Ava to practice and care for her horse on a daily basis. The family left their residential neighborhood and built a home in the Bayou Blue community. After years of taking lessons with an older horse named “Kissy”, Jenna and Hunter promised Ava if she made the honor roll they’d purchase her a personal horse. Ava ultimately met the challenge and was gifted a new horse, named Baby.

Five years later, Ava has dedicated herself to horseback riding, competing locally and regionally. She began competing in 4-H shows in May, practicing 30 minutes a day. In June, she was named the high point champion for the district and came in second place at the state 4-H state show. Illustrating her skills, Ava qualified to compete in the Southern Regional 4-H Horse Championship. 

In preparation for the competition, Ava and Baby set goals for daily practice routines. “For regionals, me and Baby would ride around the pond in the back for about 30 minutes. Our routine includes five minutes walking around the arena, 10 minutes trotting, and then five minutes of loping and galloping around. We wrap up our routine going over the barrels and poles,” said Ava. 

The competition took place August 2-7 at the Georgia National Fairgrounds. The event consisted of three categories: poles, stakes, and barrels. Ava won first place in the preliminary pole competition, defeating riders from across the country between approximately 10-17 years old. “It was two shows in one day where you ran the first show and you’d have to qualify for the finals which were that day. I won first in poles and went to the finals, but we were disqualified in the finals because she turned too early, which we’ll have to work on. But we placed first for the preliminary show!”

Ava and Baby returned home from the championship on Sunday, August 7th, with a grateful heart and a lot of experience. Jenna reflected on her daughter’s journey to the championship and witnessing her growth both personally and academically.  “It’s pretty impressive, neither I nor her dad knows anything about horses. This is not anything we grew up doing so anytime she gets on the back of that horse I am extremely nervous. We’re so proud of her for coming so far and sticking with this for so long. She and Baby have come so far together; it’s pretty impressive to watch, especially at such a young age. She competes against so many people, including adults. This is the first time she’s gone this far and we’re extremely proud.”

Jenna said Ava’s little sisters, Ella and Mia, are her biggest fans, cheering her on at every show. “Her sisters are always so happy and proud of her. They sit through her shows and are always there to cheer her on through competitions.”  

Ava said she plans to participate in a recreational riding program in high school and compete nationally. Following high school, Ava says she aspires to develop her childhood passion into a lifelong career, pursuing a career in equestrianism, and participating in the pro-rodeo.

Jenna encourages parents whose child may have trouble focusing in school or was diagnosed with ADHD to learn more about equine therapy and its benefits. “Anyone who is having a problem with a child who has an attention disorder I highly recommend horse therapy. I encourage people to research it because it has been a life changer for Ava and our family, early on.”