SOUTH PLAINFIELD, N.J. -- When you think of sports, you think of baseball, football, basketball, hockey, tennis, or golf. Not many think of equestrian - or horseback riding.

But Jelinda Montes did.

Montes, currently a junior at South Plainfield High School, got her start riding horses when she was 7 years old. Her mom, Lisa, on her way to work nine years ago, passed by a location that offered a summer camp for horseback riding. So, before that summer, Jelinda took some lessons and the rest is history.

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“I haven’t stopped since,” she said. “What I like the most about horseback riding is that you can never stop learning and moving to the next level. Even the best riders I’ve been around can learn something new and sharpen their craft each time they get on.”

About four years ago, Montes began competing in shows. She participates as a “jumper” as well as a “hunter” with a concentration in equitation.

According to Wikipedia, “Hunters are judged subjectively on the degree to which they meet an ideal standard of manners, style, and way of going. Conversely, jumper classes are scored objectively, based entirely on a numerical score determined only by whether the horse attempts the obstacle, clears it, and finishes the course in the allotted time. Jumper courses tend to be much more complex and technical than hunter courses because riders and horses are not being judged on style. Courses often are colorful and at times, quite creatively designed.”

Montes, who rides at Farrington Farms in North Brunswick under her trainer Sue Ippolito, placed in all her shows this past season which ended on Nov. 31. She won multiple championships and is currently in 7th in the NJPHA for beginner equitation. Montes moved up in class in the middle of the season and as of now is jumping 2 feet 3 inches and hopes to reach 2 feet 6 inches soon.

Last year, she took third overall at the USHJA Walk/Trot/Canter and Champion in outreach Hunters.

In order to make her riding and shows happen, like any sport, there’s a lot of practice involved.

Montes practices two or three times per week all year round. Thirty minutes is set aside for preparing the horse, and then she rides for over an hour. Afterwards, she takes care and grooms the horse.

The day prior to a show, she cleans all her tack and make sure that she has everything that she needs, and she washes the horse. Montes puts in the work and arrives to the barn at 5:00 a.m. to get ready.

Right now, Montes is riding an 8 year old Bay Thoroughbred named Little Drummer.

“I hope to continue riding throughout my entire life,” Montes said. “One of the best things about this sport is that it isn’t limited to high school or college. My goals are to keep showing and win overall championships in the higher divisions that I’ll eventually move into.”

Outside of equestrian, Montes volunteers at an animal shelter  in Ramapo and has participated in walk for Breast Cancer Awareness and Diabetes. Montes maintains a 4.0 GPA and is currently in Model UN and achieved best delegate at the SPMUN Conference as well. She was elected as Secretary for the French Club at SPHS and has been a member of Chamber Choir for three years. Montes also has been dancing since she just over a year old.

Montes attended Brown University this past summer for a leadership conference and took two classes - public speaking and political science - at Middlesex County College and aced both.

 Once she graduates from high school, Montes wants to have a career in politics and continue riding.

“I’m definitely starting to look at colleges. Hopefully my goals to continue riding throughout college can be achieved to some capacity. Whether it be a varsity, intramural, or club sport I look forward riding in college,” Montes said. “Specifically, I’m interested in schools around the Washington D.C. area because of my interests in Public Policy, but my dream school is Brown University.”

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Follow Chris Nalwasky on Twitter @ChrisWasky.