WELCOME - Taylor Hilgendorf is a junior at Martin County West, and her time at school is probably the only time she isn't seen with a four-legged friend.
"She broke her first pony at age 6 or 7," her mother Tammy Hilgendorf recalled. "Both her dad and I have been involved with horses for a long time, so she came by it naturally."
Year-round, Taylor participates in competition for show horses, barrel racing and pole weaving.
Taylor Hilgendorf rides her horse Wimpy in a barrel racing competition in Mankato earlier this year. Hilgendorf and Wimpy will be competing in a national barrel racing competition in July 2014.
"I enjoy barrel racing the most," Taylor says. "I qualified for Youth World, which is a national barrel racing competition with the NBHA, the National Barrel Horse Association. So we're going to Georgia in July."
Along with the NBHA, Taylor competes in the Cowgirl Tough and Western Saddle Club Association circuits.
When she's not competing, she's still working with the horse through volunteer work. In 4-H, she is a junior horse leader. As part of FFA, she has helped with programs that allow children with disabilities to ride horses. She also volunteers her horses for the annual Fairmont Area Kinship ride, and has helped train other people's horses.
"I do some training, but probably not as much as most people do," Taylor said.
All the time with horses means giving up more "normal" teen activities. Track is the only sport in which she participates. And in the summertime, the only friends she sees are ones who also show horses.
"While all of her other friends are out at the lake, she's grooming and taking care of her horses," Tammy said.
Horses also play a major role in where and what Taylor will do in college. She is already taking a college animal science class that is worth college credit from the University of Minnesota that will transfer to most colleges or universities.
"I"d like to do college rodeo," Taylor said. "I've narrowed down to the University of Wyoming and SDSU in Brookings. I plan on studying equine science and equine massage."
Taylor currently has four horses: Wimpy, Chevy, Smarty and the baby, Harley. Wimpy is her go-to horse for barrel racing while Smarty is her backup and in-training. Chevy is her show horse, and Harley is still a colt.
"Me & my horses have a relationship," Taylor said. "We understand each other, and when working with other people's horses, they don't always understand what I want them to do."
This is due to Taylor training all of her own horses, which she described as "a lot of hard work and tears."
"Wimpy was four years old and only halter-broke when we got him," Tammy recalled. "But in the three years she's had him, she won many awards. It's to the point that he just knows what she wants him to do with the way she leans her body."
"I was ready to send him to a trainer once or twice," Taylor admits.
But that bond between Taylor and Wimpy became tight. This past summer, it was cemented when both took a fall during a barrel race.
"The horse fell and landed on my left leg," Taylor said. "I couldn't move because he was on top of me, but I finally was able to get free, and only after I was able to stand up did he get up."
"Horses don't lay down; it leaves them vulnerable," Tammy added. "The fact that he waited for her to get up was a magical moment to watch."
Does she ever take a break from her horses? Not really.
"Our vacation every year is trail riding in the Black Hills, and it's a vacation for the horses too," Tammy said. "We enjoy going out there with our horses and our trail friends. They know this is their relaxed time."