Fifteen-year-old Ellen Fargason has been horseback riding since she was a young child, and working with horses has always been a part of her family life, in more ways than one.

Ellen’s mother, Donna, is a psychiatrist and uses horses in therapeutic sessions called equine facilitated learning, helping clients deal with issues ranging from anxiety and impulse control to relationship-building and confidence.

But that, Donna said, is another story.

As a general rule, Ellen Fargason said, she’s been learning the same lessons by working with horses since she was 5 years old.

“I love working with them. Each horse has his own personality, and you have to take that into account to figure out how they think, and how to get the message (of what is needed) across (without words),” she said.

It’s not a far stretch to see how this improves ones’ people skills, she said. In fact, people may be easier, because they involve less detective work — sometimes.

Fargason has been riding an English style of competition called walk/trot/cantor for about the past two years, with Slim Shady, her American Saddle horse.

“Most of the English-style competitions around here are jumping,” Donna said, which is more technically difficult, and also more dangerous.

Walk/trot is a good fit for Ellen right now, she said, and both Ellen and another student at the Marjorie Judd Stables, Elizabeth Sessums, have been competing under Judd’s coaching for the past year.

The pair earned enough points to win the overall performance championship in their age categories at last year’s Texas American Saddle Horse Association, according to the association’s website.

Ellen was named champion in the Academy Walk/Trot Performance 14 and younger, and Sessums won the same honor for the 10-and-younger category.

The competitions are known for the elegance of the horse’s high-stepping gait, how well horse and rider respond to each other, and — Ellen’s favorite part of the competition — the clothes, which include formal riding outfits, including gloves and hats.

“I love getting dressed up,” she said.

The stable has become a second family for everyone who competes there, Donna Fargason said. They all spend so much time together, either riding, or watching, and they make the same circuits of competitions and shows.

“You get to know the people and the horses very well,” Donna Fargason said.

Ellen hopes to continue competing in Saddle Horse competitions, she said.