By Lauren R. Giannini
Alex Banks discovered her passion for horses at the tender age of 3. She could sing the entire soundtrack of the animated movie, “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.” Karen Banks, her non-horsey mother, put Alex on a horse for the first time — totally clueless that she too would embark on a wild ride while her daughter followed her heart’s desire.
“My horse interest came as a bit of a shock to my mom,” said Alex. “The only person in my family who had anything to do with horses was my paternal grandmother, who bred Arabians. I only visited her maybe three times in my life before she died, but I have loved horses — animals in general, really — since I can remember. My mom’s been so supportive. She goes to all my shows. I don’t know if she’s really coping with me being horse-crazy, but I think she’s learning to like it.”
Today, Alex is an event rider, photographer and US Equestrian Ambassador. Only 17 and a senior at Kentucky Country Day School in Louisville, Alex is living some seriously good dreams.
In 2013, she became a first-time horse owner and opened an Instagram account in honor of Made Ya Look, who lived up to his name in ways that the young teen never expected. Borrowing her mother’s digital camera to take and post photos of horses and riders led to a serious interest in photography and her own camera.
“I started taking pictures because I loved the look of beautiful photos,” said Alex. “I was surrounded by horses so, of course, I began my photography journey taking pictures of horses at my barn. I love the power of horses and their beauty and I find it incredible that I can capture those qualities with a camera.”
Sharing the Excitement
In early 2015, with the acquisition of Continious, aka Finn, Alex changed her Instagram user name to aebphotography, which blossomed to 50,200-plus followers and more than 200,000 combined supporters. Alex’s social media statistics caught the attention of US Equestrian, who invited the high school student to be one of nine hand-picked ambassadors to help promote USEF’s rebranding and the Joy of Horse Sports campaign.
When US Equestrian messaged aebphotography on Instagram asking if she would be interested in being one of their ambassadors, Alex was thrilled.
“I never thought that my Instagram photography account would grow so big or that I would get the recognition that I do,” she said. “It’s an incredible honor to be selected by US Equestrian. I’m happy that I have the opportunity to show the joy that is a huge part of this sport and I’m flattered that I made such a positive name for myself on social media that they chose me to represent them in their Joy Campaign.”
Alex started with saddle seat lessons after she turned 5. Six years later, she changed barns to do something different. “When I did saddle seat, I didn’t own my own horse and I just did fun shows, hoping to win a blue ribbon,” said Alex. “For a while, I wanted to barrel race, but never got around to it. Then I wanted to jump. So I did hunters for a year or so before buying Mac [Made Ya Look] when I was 12 or 13 and that’s when I switched to the eventing trainer at the same barn. A year later, I sold Mac and changed barns again. Carrie Barrick has been my trainer and she’s by far the most influential horse person I have had in my life. She’s the one who found Finn and brought us to where we are now.”
Alex and Finn have come a long way since they started out at Baby Novice in spring 2015. “We were definitely green on green, but Finn was so green he was like a rubber band — he couldn’t stay straight,” said Alex. “I had just changed barns and Carrie was looking for horses for other girls. She thought Finn was going to be amazing. He’s probably the best horse I’ll ever have. He’s going really well now, but when we started — we went from Baby Novice to Training in six months — it was insane.”
Green but Talented
Finn is a 16.2-hand Oldenburg (2009) gelding imported from Germany whose experience, when he teamed up with Alex, consisted of five Novice and two Training Level events at USEA-recognized horse trials. He was green, but very talented.
“I knew what Finn could be,” said Carrie Barrick. “I rode him a few times, trying horses for other students, and I loved him, but I didn’t have the right person for him. When Alex and her mother started looking for a horse, Finn was still available. Alex’s greenness comes from her tendency to over-think. She just needs to focus, keep a cool head and not get rattled when things aren’t totally perfect. Alex is very sweet, but she knows what she wants and she’s willing to go after it. She’s got the moxie for a horse like Finn. She’s a go-getter.”
Alex has to be. Last September, she and Finn moved up to Preliminary, the gateway to upper-level events and FEI competitions. Alex juggled school, lessons with Carrie, and commuting to Ocala where Finn wintered for training with Bobby Meyerhoff. When Alex first got Finn, she rode in a clinic taught by Bobby at Carrie’s farm, and their teacher-student relationship developed parallel to the one she has forged with Carrie.
Ups & Downs
“The biggest lesson I have learned is perseverance,” continued Alex. “During the first year and a half of owning Finn, I was so discouraged. My mom told me we could sell him and get another horse, but the thought of parting with Finn made me so upset and I cried thinking about it. When you’re constantly at the bottom after dressage, it’s disheartening, but I stuck with him because I knew we were going to get it together. We have placed near the top after dressage in every event so far this year, except for the FEI one-star. I’ve always known we could jump, but dressage has been hard for both of us. Two and a half years later, here we are.”
In September 2016, after Alex and Finn moved from Training up to Preliminary, she set her sights on qualifying for the Area VIII eventing team that would travel in July to Rebecca Farm in Montana for the North American Junior Young Rider Championships (NAJYRC). The Junior team would compete in the CCI*, the lowest FEI level of eventing. In order to be eligible, Alex and Finn had to earn a Certificate of Capability from US Equestrian by completing a CCI* with zero jumping faults on the cross-country.
In April 2017 at the Ocala International Three-Day Festival of Eventing, Alex and Finn completed their first CCI*, but picked up 20 jump penalty points on the cross-country. She redirected her energies to focus on one last chance to qualify in late May at the Virginia CCI*. Alex prepared at home in Louisville by taking lessons on Carrie’s horses and trekked to North Carolina to ride Finn with Bobby, who had him in training.
Life with horses is full of ups and downs and can be very humbling: Alex’s quest to qualify for the Area VIII Junior team ended at the Virginia Horse Center when she had a fall on the CCI* cross-country, which resulted in immediate elimination. No injuries, but it was a crushing disappointment and she’s more determined than ever.
“Finn is the sweetest horse on the ground,” said Alex. “He’s so talented, but he can be difficult. I just want him to be consistent. He’s perfect at home. I want us to get our act together when we’re at a show or away from home schooling. We competed in Tryon at the American Eventing Championships. We qualified for the Training Junior Rider championship.”
Alex has her heart and mind on riding and competing Finn. Now in her senior year of high school, she’s considering options about what she wants to do when she’s older. She’s very keen on photography and said, “It gives me a chance to create something beautiful with my own style incorporated.” She’s also interested in filmmaking, but has been considering how a business major might help with horses. She figures she has plenty of time.
“I know that I’m going to college, but I’m not sure where or for what,” said Alex. “I’m considering University of Florida in Gainesville because it would be so easy to ride in Ocala. I definitely want to keep riding while I’m in college.”
Photos by Logan Webb, unless noted otherwise