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More than horseplay: Providence senior a dedicated equestrian

Providence High School senior Kali Retzler (left) sits with trainer Heidi Green who is holding Retzler's horse A Juicy Kiss.

Providence High School senior Kali Retzler (left) sits with trainer Heidi Green, who is holding Retzler's horse, A Juicy Kiss. | Supplied photo by Karen Murdaugh

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Updated: November 7, 2013 6:17AM



Kali Retzler felt another asthma attack coming on and, knowing the signs, figured it was from all the dust she was inhaling during the equestrian competition she was in at an arena in Gifford, Ill.

But when Retzler’s throat started to tighten on that day back in January, she knew she was in trouble.

Retzler’s mother, Karen Murdaugh, knew the attack was becoming severe and called 911. But police dispatchers told Murdaugh that because of their remote location in Champaign County, there was no way an ambulance would get there and back in time.

“They said they couldn’t get there fast enough, so I drove her to the nearest hospital (in Urbana),” Murdaugh said. “She went blue.”

Murdaugh drove her daughter to Carle Foundation Hospital, a few miles north of the University of Illinois campus. Emergency room doctors and nurses were waiting for Retzler when they arrived.

“Asthma has been something I have struggled with since I was younger,” Retzler said. “I thought my inhaler was enough, but I was in that arena for five days and it was just not effective.

“I could feel my throat closing and I grabbed my neck. My mom had called the police and they told her to drive as fast as she could.”

The doctors and nurses stabilized Retzler, but she talked them into letting her go back to Gifford and continue the competition.

It didn’t matter that Retzler had to be hooked up to a breathing machine between rounds. The machine was loud and Retzler was embarrassed, but she was alive — and right back on the saddle.

The episode illustrates how dedicated Retzler is to the equestrian disciplines.

She is hoping to make a statement — and hopefully get the attention of some college equestrian programs — when she competes with her horse, A Juicy Kiss, in the American Quarterhorse Congress Show on Oct. 20 in Columbus, Ohio.

It perhaps will be the most important competition of the Providence High School senior’s career thus far. It is also the largest single-breed horse show.

“This is a huge honor,” said Retzler’s trainer, Heidi Green. “She was chosen (to participate) and that is huge and it’s a big deal. She will be in front of tens of thousands of people, and as long as she can handle the pressure, she will be fine.

“A lot of kids dream to make it to this show but they never get there,” Green said. “It’s a big investment in time and travel and expenses. Unless they are winning everything, kids never get to go.”

Retzler ranks among the top two in the latest Midwest Reining Horse Association standings in three different categories.

The Homer Glen resident has been competing in the reining discipline of equestrian competitions for two years. It is one of the hardest equestrian disciplines to learn, and riders do routines set to music with their horses. Most of Retzler’s freestyle routines are done without a saddle.

“I tried reining in eighth grade, and freshman year I really made the move to that (discipline),” Retzler said. “You do a set pattern for each show and there are maneuvers to complete. And the horses need to be willing to do them.”

Retzler trains A Juicy Kiss with Green at Iron Ridge Ranch in Frankfort. Green, who also manages the barn, said Retzler trains with her at least five hours a week but bumps it up to 16 hours a week before a competition.

As a trainer, Green knows how difficult the discipline of reining is and marvels at how Retzler has mastered it.

“It is the highest discipline there is and it’s in the Olympics,” Green said. “Horses really have to trust the rider, and the rider and the horse have to maintain this at high speeds and not get too excited.”

Green said Retzler’s freestyle programs — done without the use of a saddle — have made a huge impact on the sport.

“She has been very successful with that and it really encourages others to be in the sport,” Green said. “The amount of people who get excited about it is huge.

“One of her best gifts is that she listens and she manages her time really well,” Green said. “She’s not afraid to get dirty or work really hard.”

Retzler’s love of horses goes back a long way. It started when she was a toddler.

“I got her a pony for her second birthday,” Murdaugh said.

Retzler is hoping her interest in horses continues well into adulthood. She works as a veterinary technician at the Colonial Manor Vet Clinic in Homer Glen several days a week after school. Retzler wants to be an equine vet.

Retzler also is an honor roll student at Providence, but she said it is difficult to balance academics and training her horse.

“I work five days a week as a vet tech,” Retzler said. “Ultimately, my No. 1 goal is to be accepted to a college riding team. I have my fingers crossed.”



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