As a girl, Karina Kimery would walk out of her family’s horse property in the cover of nightfall to recite the names of neighbors’ horses and wish them a good night’s rest.
Ties to horses run deep in her family bloodline, from her grandparents breeding Arabians to her mother’s dream of owning family horses.
The only thing that kept the Scottsdale Preparatory Academy junior from total devotion to equestrian was money.
“When I was younger, we couldn’t really afford it, just because it is a more expensive sport,” Karina said. “I’d get to do one riding lesson, once a month. Which in terms of schemes of horseback riding is definitely not that many and that would be my Christmas present.”
Although she knew at a very early age equestrian was her passion, her parents encouraged her to try other activities – which is how she ended up on SPA’s swim team.
Karina swims various events for the Spartans, including the 200-yard freestyle, 200 medley relay and 200 freestyle relay. The kindness she showed to horses at an early age spilled over to her character as a teammate.
“She seems really supportive of the team. She’s always cheering for people,” said Mariah Barnetche, a sophomore and relay partner of Karina’s.
Barnetche noted Karina is “outgoing overall.”
Barnetche was unaware Karina competed in equestrian events such as reining and horsemanship.
Despite her unique abilities, Karina doesn’t talk much about equestrian to those outside of her close friends and family.
“I have been labeled in the past as ‘the horse girl’, and so a lot of times that stigma comes along with like the third-grader who has horse posters on her wall and horse stuffed animals and loves the movie Spirit,” Karina said.
“The way I see horseback riding is the same way you see swim team, or tennis, or football. It’s something that’s a part of my life, but I’m not obsessed with it.”
Karina wants to rise above these stereotypes and the best way she knows how is through hard work.
“I think she brings a very goal-oriented personality to the team,” said Nikita Denisyako, coach of the SPA swim team. “She really pays close attention to small details.”
Denisyako wasn’t concerned at all about injuries from equestrian affecting Karina in the pool.
He said each sport progresses body development and physical philosophy in different ways and he slowly learned equestrian was not just a hobby sport for Karina, it was her primary focus.
This head-down, forward mindset landed Karina some great accolades, including scholarships from the Arizona Quarter Horse Association’s Fall Championship in 2017 and 2018.
She also worked closely with assistant Scottsdale Prep swim coach Ted Collins this swim season to fine-tune her freestyle stroke. The stroke has shown a seven-second improvement from her sophomore year.
Karina has a hunger for growth in anything she competes in. She never wants appreciation until she reaches the very top of the mountain.
After her first equestrian national’s tournament in the summer of seventh grade, Karina was unaware she was disqualified for bumping her horse in the show ring despite having what she felt was the performance of a lifetime.
She couldn’t believe she didn’t make the top-10 after her showmanship event.
Karina’s father decided to take her to get her boots shined to take her mind off the whole thing.
She told a friend and mentor of hers, who she bumped into at the boot shining shop, that she got an “almost top-10”, even though in reality she came in dead last.
What followed after this quote was a playful mockery of the word almost by the boot shiner and her dad.
“You can never be almost. That just means you failed and you were close to succeeding, but you still failed,” Karina said. “I never want to be the almost.”
Currently, Karina is searching for a college providing the perfect blend between equestrian competition and her academic pursuits in marketing or entrepreneurship.
Some schools on her watchlist include Baylor University, Texas Christian University, the University of Georgia, and Denisyako’s alma mater, Texas A&M University.
Karina’s dream is to one day start her own breeding program with her younger sister, Annika, 14, following in the footsteps of her grandparents, Jerry and Margaret Ford.
Karina would handle the training and marketing while her sister, who also rides, would assist in the training and handle the breeding side of the business.
Karina managed to make special connections with her teammates, coaches and most importantly, horses, over her dual-sport tenure that started at the age of 11.
Her two most influential horses are Everest, a 5-year-old gelding provided by her grandparents and Prim, a grey who she and Annika currently compete with and see often.
Outside of the sporting realm, you might find Karina rewatching episodes of her favorite television show, Friends, or writing stories in her school’s newspaper club.
Whether it’s in the pool or out on the ranch, Karina is always occupied. She’s focused on forging her own path, by absorbing the knowledge from countless coaches and mentors that have shattering past almost being successful.