Conway teen rides her way to excellence

by Renee Hunter

Things seem to come easily to Ali Mathis.  

Ali Mathis enjoys a variety of interests from equestrian events and 4-H to community service. (Mike Kemp photo)

The Conway High School senior won the only beauty contest she ever entered. And she has a drawing award, a 3.5 grade point average and dozens of equestrian trophies. She runs hurdles in track and finds time for community service.

But Ali’s mother points out that Ali works hard at everything.

“Ali’s not a quitter,” said Anita, Ali’s mother.

It wasn’t Ali’s idea to enter the 2012 Miss Conway Beauty Revue. “My classmate voted me on there,” she said. “That was really cool.”

Ali got through the formal- and casual-wear portions to become one of five finalists, and the judges liked her answer to the interview question: “What do you want to be remembered for?” 

“I really want people to remember that I have great sportsmanship.” 

Ali won the CHS Outstanding Artist Award in the ninth grade.

“I love to draw,” she said. She got this talent from her dad, Keith, and has taken one drawing class, but her AP classes don’t leave much time for other courses. She hopes to take studio drawing this year.

Ali joined the track team in seventh grade. She has on occasion hit a hurdle and, bleeding, has picked herself up and finished the race.

But Ali’s first love is horseback riding, and that also wasn’t her idea, at least at first. 

For Ali’s fifth birthday, Anita arranged for Janice Thessing to give Ali a riding lesson.

The gift was a huge success.

Ali has been going out to the “barn,” as she calls it, ever since.

“I would wear my boots to kindergarten, I was so excited about it,” Ali said.

“Who knew that it would be the gift that would keep on giving,” Anita said. 

Eventually, Ali got a pony of her own, Minnie Chip, which she was told would be her sole responsibility. If she didn’t care for it, she wouldn’t be able to keep it. Care for it, she did. 

In 2005, competing on Minnie for the Shamrock Horseshoes 4-H Club at the Arkansas State Horse Show, Ali won her first riding award. She was 7. 

Ali is still active in 4-H. She has participated in service projects such as a “sock drop” for low-income kids, a “Saddle-up for St. Jude” and trail rides for kids. She helps pick up trash along a county road and visits nursing homes.

Ali now participates in equestrian events as a member of Faulkner County Saddle Club. She also belongs to the Arkansas Quarter Horse Association.

Ali spends several hours daily at the barn. 

“I have a barn family, as well as a real family,” she said. Her “real” family consists of her mother and dad, a brother, Brandon, and sister, Bridgett. Her “barn family” includes Jessica Thessing, Kim Lacy and Hannah Longing. The group has “pretty much grown up” together at the barn.

“Those girls do a lot of checking on each other, not just on horses, but morally, socially and how you live your life,” Anita said. 

By age 11, Ali was ready for a quarter horse, so the Mathises bought 3-year-old Tess. Because Ali was there when Tess was born, the two had already bonded. They won a few trophies together before Tess developed a hoof abscess that needed to heal. Because she couldn’t ride her own horse, Ali was asked to exercise Dillon, Janice Thessing’s horse, because Janice had broken a hip and couldn’t ride.

Again, horse and rider clicked. 

“They had never seen him so comfortable with a rider,” Anita said.

On Ali’s 16th birthday, she was given a choice: She could have a car of her own or Dillon. 

She chose Dillon. 

The two won the Western pleasure event at the 2010 Dixie National in Jackson, Miss.

The Mathis living room is filled with Ali’s awards. She has 13 state trophies in the following categories: horsemanship, Western pleasure, walk-trot and showmanship. A requirement of all these events is that horse and rider make what they are doing look easy. 

“You’re trying to look like you’re doing nothing when you’re really doing about 30 things,” Ali said. 

In 2011, Ali was chosen as the Justin Boot Arkansas Rookie of the Year and qualified for the Youth World Quarter Horse Show in three categories. Her most recent trophy is for the youth-all-around in the 2012 Louisiana Quarter Horse Association’s spring show in West Monroe, La. 

After graduation, Ali wants to study to be an occupational therapist, and she wants to do it at a university where she can join an equestrian team. That limits her choices. 

But there is no doubt she can make it happen.

And she will make it look easy.