TOWNSEND -- It's been a chaotic year for Townsend resident Emily Messing, and the ride isn't set to stop any time soon.
After a year of preparation, Messing was crowned the 2012 All American Quarter Horse Congress Queen at the All American Quarter Horse Congress in Columbus, Ohio on Oct. 21.
The horse show ran from Oct. 4 to 27 and was attended by over 660,000 people and 8,000 horses. With her title, Messing won over $100,000 in prizes, from clothes and jewelry to a new horse trailer and a show saddle.
As part of her responsibilities as the Congress Queen, Messing will spend the next year representing the Ohio Quarter Horse Association at several major events, at the American Quarter Horse Youth Association World Show, and at next year's Congress as the reigning queen.
"It's basically like Miss America for horse girls," said Messing.
To add to the achievement, this is also the first time in the history of the competition that a Massachusetts resident has been crowned the national queen since the show began running in 1966.
Throughout the competition, said Messing, she was neck and neck with Meghan Murphy of Michigan.
"I was scared to hope," said Messing.
Then, when they called her name on the evening of the crowning, her initial shock was overcome by waves of emotion.
"Honestly, I cried. All the pictures of me in the moment are terrible because I'm balling," said Messing. "I was really in disbelief. I don't think anybody anticipated it."
Each state has an affiliate through the American Quarter Horse Association. After being dubbed the Massachusetts Quarter Horse Queen in January, Messing became eligible to compete for the national title. The national competition was based not only on horseback riding skills, but also an interview and a written exam; in fact, the riding portion contributes to the lowest percentage of the overall score. After overcoming the combined scores of 15 other contestants, Messing achieved the title. Traditionally, said Messing, contestants from the Midwest have won the title and are generally more copiously involved in the competition circuit. In fact, the last New England competitor to take the crown was in 1989 by a resident of Connecticut.
And preparation was by no means easy. Since winning her Massachusetts title, Messing spent the remainder of the year fundraising for her trip to Ohio and taking a public speaking class at UMass Amherst, where she is currently a junior studying finance and operations management. She also took once-weekly riding lessons with instructor Michelle Carver and is the co-captain of the riding team at her school.
"I just rode as much as I could," she said.
Messing also took notes from the 286-page American Quarter Horse Association handbook, recorded herself reading them out loud and uploaded the tracks onto her iPod so she could listen to them as much as possible.
"By the end, I had 1,500 note cards," said Messing.
But it was worth it. Messing received first place on the written exam with a 96 percent, 15 points higher than her next competitor; the difference in the test score ultimately made the difference in sealing her victory.
Messing has always had a love of horses. She has been riding since she was 6 and participated in 4-H when she was younger. She and her sister both have horses at their home in Townsend, but because the Congress was a national-level competition, she borrowed a competition horse from the daughter of an acquaintance. Now that Messing has won the title of Congress Queen, she won't be eligible to participate in the contest again. But she plans to use the opportunity to its fullest advantage, attending as many horse shows as she can and networking in hopes of being hired as a training assistant once she graduates college. Her favorite aspect of horseback riding, she said, is the self-reliance.
"All of how you do in a competition depends 100 percent on how much you've practiced, how much you prepared," she said. "Everything that your horse does is because of you. It really is what you make of it."