The city of Tucson, and it’s always sunny climate, allows for a plethora of outdoor sports options for military families to participate in, such as soccer, football, tennis or hiking.
However, some Davis-Monthan families have found their niché in the less common, but also accessible, sport of horseback riding.
Keegan Rawls is one of those few; the daughter of Col. Trey Rawls, 355th Fighter Wing vice commander, and his wife Scotta, she began riding eight years ago and now competes in jumping shows throughout the state.
“I started riding when I was seven years old in New Mexico. I rode an old quarter horse in a little western barn, and I’ve loved it ever since,” said Keegan. “It’s different every time, normal sports can get repetitive, so I love that this is a challenge and always exciting.”
She rides at Ashbrook Farm here in Tucson. It is owned and operated by trainer Ashley Stannard and is home to a variety of riders, from young children to adults, Western Pleasure riders to English jumpers.
Keegan is not the only military rider at Ashbrook. Senior Airman Jessica Morris, a weather forecaster with the Arizona Air National Guard, as well as the daughters of Lt. Col. Scott Banning, a Reserve A-10 pilot with the 47th Fighter Squadron, and Maj. Michael Pickett, an A-10 pilot with the 354th Fighter Squadron, also ride at the barn.
Gianna Banning has been riding for approximately four years, and Lauren Pickett for more than three. At just eight years old, they’re taking care of their horses on their own.
After their ride each night, together the girls unsaddle, wash, dry, and lead their horses into their stalls for the evening.
“We like the lessons of work ethic and taking care of an animal that came with horseback riding,” said Lt. Col. Banning. “At Ashbrook Farm, you’re part of a team. It’s like a tennis team – individual competition and team results, but it requires a lot of practice, learning, growing and competing to get better.”
“Tucson provides the perfect outlet for riding, not only because of the beautiful weather for the outdoor sport, but also because of the abundance of horse shows in the area,” said Maj. Pickett.
“While I was deployed in 2011 from Moody Air Force Base, my daughter started taking Western and English lessons at the age of five,” Maj. Pickett said. “What started out as something to keep her busy, ended up being her favorite sport and activity. Hanging out with the horses, grooming, cleaning out hooves and mucking stalls became her passion.”
These families have discovered it’s possible to explore other sports options for children, even with the challenges of being a military family.
In fact, while one might think being in the military, with the consistent moves every few years, would make riding difficult, Keegan has actually found it advantageous to her riding career.
“I actually think I benefit more from it, I get more experience with different trainers,” Keegan said. “I can go to another place and gain more knowledge, so I’m not just learning from one trainer.”
While it may still be a few years down the road, Keegan has long-term goals of eventually competing at the national and international level. She rides each and every day to reach that point, and is well on her way with the level of competition she is participating in now.
“My big goal is to make it to the Olympics one day, that’s what I’m really aspiring toward,” she said. “I’m working really hard so hopefully one day I can make it there.