Larry LaRue

A Lakebay teen and a horse called Moose face their last test together

It’s hard to imagine anyone describing Cadence Michel without mentioning horses.

She’s 17, just graduated from the Tacoma School of the Arts and has been accepted at the University of Portland. The Key Peninsula resident describes herself as “an old soul” and says she’s “a social moth, not a social butterfly.”

“I have a core group of friends and my family, but my sport has forced sacrifice — and I’m committed to it,” she said.

Her sport is called Eventing, a three-stage competition on horseback made up of dressage, cross-country and showjumping.

And Cadence is good at it.

When the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships are held in Kentucky in mid-July — they’re considered the junior Olympics of the sport — there will be a total of 50 competitors representing the United States, Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico.

Cadence is one of them. The Lakebay teen is considered the anchor of a three-woman team that will represent the Northwest in Lexington.

“What they told me when they announced the team was that my horse and I are the rock of the team because of our consistency and stability,” Michel said. “Moose and I always do well. We never fail to finish and place well.”

Moose is the nickname of the horse she has ridden for the past three years. His real name is The Rock. At 17 ½ hands high, he’s uncharacteristically large for Eventing, where horses are usually smaller and faster.

“We took out a three-year lease on Moose, and Cadence has made it work,” said her father, Mark Michel.

A pilot for Alaska Airlines, he and his wife, Traci, have hauled one horse or another and their only child to lessons and competitions since she was four.

“I remember my first vaults,” Cadence said. “It was like gymnastics on horseback.”

Four years after talking to one of her three trainers about the junior Olympics, Cadence made it her goal to make the team. Now the question is: How well can she and Moose do, as part of the team and in individual standings?

“The awards go to the top 10 riders, the top five teams,” she said.

Dressage is likely their biggest challenge. It is, to put it simply, a competition in which horse and rider go through a series of predetermined movements to test their combined abilities.

“Moose is so big, he’s not naturally inclined to dressage,” Cadence said. “His performance is very correct, accurate and he looks great — but he doesn’t have the pizazz some smaller horses have.”

But strength, endurance, personality? He has that in spades.

“Everywhere we go, Moose is a barn favorite,” Cadence said. “He has a big personality. He’s a great pal.”

While his strength makes him a wonderful jumper, his size complicates things on the course.

“An average stride for a horse is 20 feet. Moose has a 26-foot stride,” Cadence said. “There are times it’s difficult for him to make one jump, then quickly make another.

“It’s like trying to turn the Titanic.”

The Michel family will spend the next week or so in Gilroy, California, where one of Cadence’s coaches lives and trains. From there, they will fly to Lexington. Moose will follow — on the road, in a trailer.

This will be the last competition for Cadence aboard Moose.

“Our lease expires, and I’m going to Portland in the fall,” she said. “It’s sad, because I have ridden him every day for most of the past three years, with him getting every 10th day off.”

No matter what happens at the junior championships, Cadence plans to ride on, and her parents are helping her make a major investment in that future.

“Later this summer, I’m going to Ireland to buy a horse,” she said.

Why Ireland?

“Their breeding program is government-regulated, and they have the highest quality horses in the world,” Cadence said. “If you spend $10,000-$12,000 on a horse there, then $10,000 to fly him here, the horse is worth $60,000 the minute he touches ground.”

In college, she plans to major in physics and neuroscience. But her future won’t be complete without training and competition.

“I want to go the Olympics, compete internationally,” she said. “It’s what I live for.”