By Laura Boynton
Photography ©Kirstie Marie
The unspoken language and trust between a horse and rider is why Larisa Affeldt loves being in the saddle. She finds joy in the little victories along the journey that come from hard work and dedication to her riding and horses. Larisa’s heart is full of gratitude, and her passion for this sport flourishes with the support of her family.
Some exhibitors feel an impending doom when their youth careers slowly come to a halt when real life starts pulling on the reins. Many are chomping at the bit to take the first steps into college life or to enter the job force. Others are determined to remain in the show pen, adding the title of amateur to their card.
“When my youth career was coming to an end, I didn’t know if horses would ever be in my future. My life was moving in other directions,” Larisa says. “I didn’t know where the road would lead. The journey took me to a life in baseball and traveling the country. This road also led to being a mom to three boys: Walker, age 12; Logan, age 9; and Kolt, age 7. Even though it may feel like there is a time limit, there isn’t one on anything you love. There are moments when life takes over, and horses can’t be a priority. It’s not an end. It’s a pause. I’m so thankful that the road I traveled did end up leading me back to horses.”
With AQHA trainer, Mike Massey, who lives very close to the Affeldt family in the same town of Boerne, Texas, that gives Larisa more barn and riding time. Having her horses so close makes it much easier for her to balance family life with horses. Larisa truly feels blessed to have Mike in her life and is thrilled to have Mike as her trainer. “Mike and I speak the same language. He has a natural talent to start and finish great horses. He gives them a great foundation to take them a long way. There have been so many times when I’ve been at a show with Mike, and he points to an old broke show horse that’s doing their job well and taking care of a novice rider. He proudly smiles at me and says, ‘I started that one as a 2-year-old.’ I can tell by his face that’s why he loves to do this.”
“So many horses that he has started have gone on to have long and successful show careers. Mike gives each horse that comes through his barn a gift, a chance for a bright future. Horses need that solid start to be able to stick around in the industry.”
Mike has been training horses for over 30 years. He started out on his own before training horses privately for Ken and Marilyn Masterson for seven years from 1998 to 2005, before moving to Boerne, Texas. Mike isn’t a boastful man and stays humble with a dedicated work ethic. There’s nothing he’d rather be doing than sitting on the back of a horse. “It’s really fun to listen to Mike when he shares his experiences about the horses he has worked with,” Larisa says. “I remember when Mike told me he trained Brandys Silver Sheik, who happens to be the dam of Snap Krackle Pop. I was so amazed to think how he has truly influenced this industry one horse at a time. I wish AQHA kept stats for everything like baseball does. I would like to be able to look up the exact number of just how many World and Congress Champions Mike has trained through the years.”
Mike is equally as pleased with his devoted pupil. “Larisa shows in all-around events, and I’ve asked her what her favorite event is, or what she would like to focus on. Watching her ride and show this year, I have realized that whatever event she’s showing in at the time is her favorite event,” Mike says. Larisa concurs. “I really couldn’t tell you what my favorite event is. I love them all. Today, it could be Horsemanship. Tomorrow could be Western Riding. It just depends on what I’m working on that day. I could never truly answer this question, even though I have tried. I realize that my answer always changes,” Larisa laughs.
Larisa has an open-mind and willingness when it comes to trying different disciplines. Mike shares a funny story about a certain hashtag- #badtrainer- that his friends and clients use on social media. “We were at a show, and they were doing a Jackpot Barrel Race. Larisa decided that she wanted to do it. I didn’t tell her no, just that it was against my better judgment. We ended up borrowing some Barrel Racing equipment and, of course, after that, she decided barrels were her new favorite event. My other clients at the show just laughed and started the #badtrainer reference, because they couldn’t believe I let Larisa run the barrels.”
But when she’s in the all-around pen, Larisa makes it a priority to create a strong, reliable bond of trust with her two, show geldings. The horses couldn’t be any more different- from their personalities to their strengths and weaknesses- both in and out of the show pen. Fifty Shadez Darker, a bay two-year-old with the barn name “Charlie,” is by Lopin My Best and is Larisa’s newest and exciting challenge. With Mike, she has been able to be a part of his training every step of the way.
“Charlie is an honest horse that’s always happy with his ears straight up and looking for attention and affection. He’s fun to show, because he’s easy, which most likely comes from his deep need to please, which I appreciate. He’s smart and a quick learner, so I find myself throwing new stuff at him all the time just to keep him thinking. He grasped the basics of Showmanship so fast. I almost couldn’t believe he’s never done it before.”
“He learned how to set up in 20 minutes. I kept doing Showmanship because I thought it was a fluke. I’ve started many horses in Showmanship, and they always want to move the wrong feet and are so confused by what I was asking them to do. But, not Charlie. He seriously blew me away with his aptitude. He’s only two, but he has an old soul. Mike caught me riding him bareback in a halter and lead rope the other day, and he just rolled his eyes and laughed,” Larisa says.
Mike admits, “I wouldn’t recommend doing that with most two-year-olds, but Charlie isn’t like most two-year-olds. I know how special he is, and I’m enjoying every ride with him. Larisa told me that she always wanted a horse that would let her lie on top of them while they were taking a nap in their stall, and, of course, Charlie didn’t disappoint.”
Larisa remembers, “I couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t have cared less that I was in his stall with him while he was sleeping. So, naturally, I had to try and sit on him, which quickly turned into me lying across him. I knew these types of horses existed. I just didn’t think I would be lucky enough to own one!”
After her Showmanship lesson with Charlie, Larisa told Mike that she wanted to try doing a flying lead change. Mike agreed that she could attempt it and see what happened. Without knowing what to expect, Larisa just went for it and asked Charlie for a lead change. He did it, with ease, on his first try. “Mike just looked at me and laughed. He said, ‘Well, I think it’s safe to say that he should be ready to show in the new 3-year-old Versatility class next year at the World Show.’”
The Silver Foxx or “GG,” as they call him is Larisa’s six-year-old, 16 hand, gray gelding. “He had a late start and didn’t get shown until he was a four-year-old. GG’s first time being shown was by Dave Archer at the Ohio Madness in 2017. He won the Maiden Horse, Three-Year-Old and Over Western Pleasure class,” Larisa says. “I always joke that GG must be a lefty, like my husband, Jeremy, who pitched in the MLB. In baseball, lefty pitchers peak later than right-handers. GG is just now starting to peak. It’s just a bit later than most.”
GG is so recognizable because of his striking coloring, so everyone comments on how pretty he is. More often than not, people refer to him as a mare. Larisa says, “He is too pretty to be a gelding. He’s honestly the most fun horse I’ve ever had the privilege to swing my leg over. It doesn’t matter what we’re working on or focusing on at the moment, he just gives it his all.”
“GG is an overachiever,” Mike says. “He beats himself up when he makes a mistake. He’s the kind of horse that we just have to continue to build his confidence in the show pen.”
In March of this year, Larisa started showing GG in multiple events. With very limited showing, they became qualified in Open and Amateur Western Riding, Open and Amateur Western Pleasure, Amateur Horsemanship, and Halter. “GG is my all-around horse, so we’re slowly adding more events. Next year, I would love to try Trail and Equitation with him. I also love Showmanship, but I recently had knee surgery. When I run in the dirt in my boots, my knee gets swollen fast. I’m always thinking about what classes I could add. I’ve even seriously thought about one day adding Hunter Hack to our lineup. GG likes to jump.”
Larisa’s dreams are simple. The real journey for her is about developing communication with her horses. “These are amazing animals that connect all of us crazy horse people. When they know us and we know them, when they trust us and we learn to trust them back, it’s such a beautiful thing. At the highest level of competition against the best horses in the world, the thrill of knowing your horse well enough to get the best out of him consistently every ride isn’t just one-way communication. Just as my horses are getting to know me, I’m getting to know them. To feel their moods, to learn their personalities, and become a team with them, for me, that’s my goal. Sure, I want to win some trophies along with way, but my biggest achievements have always been the little victories and the times when I have a great ride that I can be proud of, regardless of the placings. Win or lose, I’m grateful to be enjoying this journey.”