BYRON -- The rain came down, but it didnt stop Shannon Martin from practicing.
Although she wont have to ride outdoors when she shows at the Interscholastic Equestrian Associations national competition in Syracuse, N.Y. on April 19-20, Shannon knows practice pays off when it comes to riding.
Saddle time is so important, said her trainer Jennifer Mastronardi, who owns Pleasant Oaks Equestrian Center and manages the Middle Georgia IEA team.
A team member is required to ride at least two times a week. During the week of an IEA show, the members might ride every single day.
Its not just showing up and riding, Mastronardi said.
Shannon, along with her teammates, feeds horses, cleans stalls and does other barn chores.
A few of her fellow teammates who did not qualify will head to the show in New York in a travel trailer to support Martin.
Its like a barn family, said Mastronardi.
Shannon, a ninth-grader at The Westfield School, has been in the saddle since she was 4 years old.
She never played with dolls, said her mother LiAnne Martin.
The only thing Shannon wanted to do was ride her stick horse.
She got the nudge to start riding English, which includes jumping, a smaller saddle and using two direct reins to steer the horse,after her horse jumped on a trail ride.
I want to jump now, she told her parents.
Martin will compete in the Junior Varsity category on the flat and crossrails over fences.
With two horses to choose from, Martin recently saddled up her 16.3-hand chestnut warmblood gelding, Weatherby, in the barn and headed to the riding arena to practice during the rain shower.
The horse is special because they share the same birthday, down to the year. Both turn 15 Wednesday.
In the IEA, the playing field is leveled because students do not end up riding their own horses. Horses are drawn randomly.
Shannon is Mastronardis second student in so many years to qualify for nationals.
To qualify, a rider must earn enough points during the season for an opportunity to ride at a regional competition, which was held in Conyers. After placing first in jumping and third on the flat, Shannon went to zones at Middle Tennessee State University and was a little worried.
Mastronardi calmed her fears and helped her overcome a difficult draw for her over fences round.
To me, as a trainer, it doesnt matter whether or not any of my students places, they made it to a once in a lifetime opportunity, she said.
In the past year as a rider for the team, Shannon has made significant progress.
From earning just 24 points last year, she had 46 points total for the 2012-13 season.
Her mother credits Mastronardi with turning her daughters riding around.
Her confidence has improved during the time she has been riding at Pleasant Oaks.
Jen (Mastronardi) has changed her riding, LiAnne Martin said.
Shannon isnt placing any unrealistic expectations on herself at the national competition.
Her trainer has taught her about more than just riding and winning.
Its not just about the ribbon, its about the journey, Martin said.