When Laney Lonchar of McHenry was 10 years old, a trainer told her she was uncoachable and would never be able to ride and show in horsemanship events.
Lonchar, now age 18, had problems concentrating on her equestrian training, she said. Later, when she was in 7th grade, she was diagnosed with ADHD.
“That was horrific to hear as a 10-year-old. It made me want to stop going to the barn for a long time,” Lonchar said.
But riding horses for competition runs in her family and she kept at it. After eventually finding a trainer who understood Lonchar’s “raging ADHD” her work paid off, she said.
In July, Lonchar joined an international team of riders from Canada, South Africa and Namibia. The team took the gold medal at the International Saddle Seat Association’s World Cup in the five-gaited equitation event.
Lonchar’s grandmother grew up on an Iowa farm with horses. Her mother, Jennifer Lonchar of McHenry, rode competitively herself as a teen. Their family still has horses in McHenry County, Jennifer Lonchar said.
Laney has been riding since she was five years old. “I came out of the womb and got on a horse,” she says. Over the years, she rode and trained with horses at barns all over the region, looking for a trainer that could understand her ADHD.
She didn’t understand how her own brain worked either, Laney said.
What she did know was that she had a habit of thinking about the next step of the ride and not the part she was currently in.
“I would think about what I have to do next versus finishing what I have to now,” she said. “I would think about the trot before finishing the canter.”
Laney went to a trainer in Indianapolis before the three-hour drive a few times a week became a strain. That trainer directed her to Scott and Carol Matton at Knollwood Farms in Hartland, Wisconsin, now an hour-and-a-half away.
It was Scott Matton, Laney said, who told her to take a breath and focus on what needed to happen now.
Laney specifically wanted to do equitation, a kind of horsemanship that relies on the rider’s ability to guide a horse, often one they do not know.
“It is like a dance” with the horse and rider moving as one, she said.
In her event, riders are given a diagram of the paces they must take a horse through on the day they do it. The pattern involves taking the horse through five different gaits; walk, trot, and canter, slow gait and a rack, Jennifer explained.
The rider walks the pattern, determines where she and the horse must change directions and gaits, and then does it for the first time in front of judges.
Laney had wanted to try out for the saddle association’s annual world cup, but COVID-19 sidelined the event in 2020 and 2021. Then in December 2021, with the pandemic easing, a mock world cup was set for New Orleans. Anyone in the U.S. who wanted to ride was invited, Jennifer said.
Once there, teams and horses were drawn out of a hat. “You get five minutes to warm up, understand the horse, and do the pattern,” Laney said.
She ended up with the top score.
Then, in February, the saddle association decided it would host a 2022 world cup in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, allowing those who had qualified in 2019 to compete. But with young people graduating high school and aging out, not all of the countries could field a full team. Based on her New Orleans showing, Laney got a spot on a newly formed international team.
Her team out-performed the U.S. and South African competitors, she said.
Now, set to start her second semester of college at the University of Colorado-Fort Collins, Laney knows her competition days have come to an end. She is studying equine science and wants to either become a veterinarian or a breeding specialist.
In the meantime, she’s been training young riders at Knollwood Farms this summer. She has seen young riders gain confidence in their abilities this year, Laney said. She also has seen how her own experience can help her better understand what the young riders need.
“They way I learn is so unique, and I can see the differences because I have gone through so many teaching styles. I can see how kids’ brains work. I can show them that I understand what they are going through,” she said.
“I know what doesn’t work and can tell them, ‘Here is how you fix that.’ ”