When Jessica Larson's grandmother gifted her a horse named Bubba, he wasn't broke and seemed impossible to train.
"When I first told my grandma I wanted him, she basically threw a halter at me and said, 'Good luck,'" said Larson.
Five years later, the Pequot Lakes High School senior leads as co-captain of the Crow Wing County 4-H drill team with Bubba by her side.
The drill team performs a series of maneuvers in a routine set to music. It takes concentration and communication between the team as a whole, but most importantly it requires a strong relationship between each rider and her horse.
"It's like you're dancing with somebody, but your dance partner is 1,000 pounds and doesn't speak English," said Larson.
Larson worked with Bubba for a long time before she was able to mount him, much less teach him to perform. She said her aunt helped her begin the training through trust-building exercises from the ground.
"People have told me I would make it nowhere with this horse, that he would do nothing," said Larson.
However, she didn't let that stop her. Through patience, dedication and mutual respect, Larson and Bubba learned to trust each other. Now, when Larson runs, Bubba runs right alongside her. When she stops and turns in a circle, so does he.
"It was a fate thing that we were supposed to be together," said Larson. "It was amazing. It's just something special that me and that pony have."
Larson said she "lives, breathes and sweats horses." She grew up around both work and competition horses. Her father was involved in equestrian 4-H activities, and some of her extended family members rode as well.
Larson joined the 4-H drill team when she was a freshman in high school. She performed in dance line as a child, but said she got tired of that once she started riding horses. Drill team excited her because it combined elements of dance and performance with her love of horses.
The team practices twice a week during the season, which runs from February until September. This year, the Crow Wing County drill team became state champions.
As co-captain, Larson is one of two people to carry a flag during the performance and whistle to signal changes in maneuvers. She also makes final decisions on the routine, which the team creates itself each year.
Being co-captain for the first time this year added a new level of responsibility, and some stress, to Larson's position.
"I'm worried about what everyone else is doing as well, not just what I'm doing," said Larson.
Preparing right before a performance can be nerve-wracking, so Larson said the team prays together before they enter the gate. They do breathing exercises to calm down for both their own sake and the horses' sake.
"The horses can sense if we're nervous, but they don't know why," said Larson. "They realize something is up, so they get tense."
Bubba is just as much a member of the drill team as Larson. She said the girls put in a lot of work, but it's the horses running for hours on end. She said if she misremembers a step and steers Bubba wrong, he will still know to turn the right direction.
"People think I'm crazy, but Bubba knows the routine better than I do," said Larson.
Besides drill team, over the years Larson has participated in other 4-H competitions, such as barrel racing and cow horse showing. She owns five horses, but she has a special relationship with Bubba because he was her first.
Larson and Bubba's relationship has already defied the odds, but Larson isn't done breaking down barriers. After high school she plans to become a farrier, a typically male-dominated profession.
Farriers are craftspeople who work with horses' feet, trimming hooves and affixing horseshoes. The job takes blacksmithing skill as well as some veterinary knowledge.
"If a horse doesn't have good feet, you basically don't have a horse," said Larson. "If I can help people learn, and help them with their own horses, I will feel very good about myself."
According to the 2014 American Farriers Journal business practices survey, only 6 percent of full-time farriers and 10 percent of part-time farriers are women. Larson said that won't stop her.
"I've always just had that mentality of, 'Oh, you tell me I can't? Watch me,'" she said.
From training the "untrainable" horse to picking an unconventional career, Larson continues to be a trailblazer in the equestrian community.