COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
She grew up a horse loving and riding kid in Northern California and put her dream of riding professionally on hold when she enlisted and later commissioned into the Air Force.
It wasn’t until 2013, while stationed at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, that Maj. Andrea Matesick, now an F-15E Weapons System Officer and instructor WSO with the 49th Fighter Training Squadron’s Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals at Columbus AFB, Mississippi, would reach out to the Air Force Sports program. This was when she discovered she could still be an F-15E Strike Eagle pilot in the world’s greatest Air Force and travel the United States competing in professional equestrian events.
“(The process) took me a while to figure out,” Matesick said. “But if you’re competing in an Olympic sport and you’re competing at a certain level, the Air Force will let you go compete for them.”
Matesick is only one of two Airmen that represent the Air Force in professional equestrian competitions, but her journey into competitive horse riding began at a much younger age.
“I was always like that weird horse kid, (I) absolutely loved horses … if there was a horse on the side of the road, I would be like ‘Oh I need to go give it carrots,’” Matesick recalled about her childhood.
She started attending horse camps while in elementary school and began competing in seventh and eighth grade. She continued to compete through high school and college until she enlisted in the Air Force in 1999 as a weapons director. During her first four years in the Air Force, she finished her college degree and then was selected for Officer Training School and went on to fly the F-15E.
While at Mountain Home AFB, she recalled finding out about the Air Force Sports program -- more specifically the equestrian division – luck. The program’s equestrian division offers riders a chance to compete in one of three categories; dressage, eventing and then Matesick’s category of show jumping. According to the program, there are also two people in the Air Force involved in modern pentathlon, in which horse jumping is an event. Since her involvement in the program, Matesick has been a big advocate for the program.
“There’s only a few of us,” she said. “It would be really neat to get more people, because I think there’s actually a lot of people that ride horses competitively in the Air Force and they don’t know about it.”
Since joining the program back in 2013, Matesick said her riding has improved immensely, even more so in the past two years that she’s been at Columbus AFB. While stationed here, Matesick trains locally and also in Collierville, Tennessee, where she’s coached by Michael Tokaruk. Tokaruk owns and runs his namesake stables, where he and his team ride, train, show and sell horses all over the U.S. They also compete at regional, national and international shows at the Grand Prix level.
Tokaruk has coached Matesick for the past year and a half and said one of the things that makes her stand out is that she’s a “self-starter,” and very detailed oriented.
“She has a special level of dedication and ovation,” Tokaruk said. “She’s consistently wanting to improve and is striving for perfection, which is really a never ending pursuit in this sport.”
He also said he has noticed Matesick’s love for the day-to-day stuff of taking care of the horses, and her genuine love for the horses is evident.
Matesick said some mornings she’ll be out in the barn at 4 a.m., taking care of her horse and getting a ride in before she has to fly in the afternoon; or, it can be the other way around, when she has to fly early, then she’ll be out in the barn until the sun goes down. Whether it be early mornings or late evenings, Matesick said she doesn’t mind it at all.
“I’ll have horses till I’m old and someone has to wheel me out to the stall,” Matesick said. “If I couldn’t ride, I would still be involved somehow with the horses.”
This love and care is also important in getting the most out of her partners. They need to be well taken care of in order to keep up with the high athletic demands of show jumping. Matesick typically jumps twice a week, helping keep her eyes keen and saving the horse’s legs for competitions. Other days, she conducts fitness workouts with the horses, which helps keep them in tip-top shape.
Communication between Matesick and her horse is also crucial and according to her, one of the most challenging aspects. The Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals instructor pilot said it’s not at all like flying an airplane.
“You put an input in (an airplane) and 99% of the time it’s going to react the way an airplane is supposed to react,” Matesick said. “Horses, not so much. So, depending on what they’re feeling like that day, you know, you put an input in and they’re like ‘no we’re not going to do it that way I want to do it this way.’”
Persuading a 1,200-pound animal that dictates 100% of the movements and jumps can be hard, but it’s why Matesick trains and it’s what she loves doing, to the point in which she aspires to ride for the United States Olympic Team one day.
This dream could also not be far from reality as Matesick’s success continues to further. In 2016, she was the Air Force’s female athlete of the year runner up. Earlier this year, she placed in the top 10 and top 5 in several competitions in the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida, one of the biggest and most notable equestrian competitions in United States.
However, most recently, she won NAL/WIHS Adult Jumper Classic at the Brownland Farms Spring II Horse Show in Nashville. The prize money awarded for her win, and any previous wins, go toward entry and stabling fees at the show, anything left over goes back to the Air Force Sports program.
Matesick hopes to keep building on her success as she prepares for competitions out west later this year in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and finishing up in California.