Lacey Balmer of Pine has been at home in the saddle for as long as she can remember.
"I have been riding since I was old enough to hold my head up -- probably even before then in my mom's tummy," she said.
The 19-year-old, who was active in 4-H and the Pine-Strawberry Horsemen's Association, is set to graduate from Scottsdale Community College next spring with an associates of applied sciences degree in equine science.
She thinks her degree, combined with her years of training, will provide her with a variety of ways to turn her lifetime love of horses into a lucrative career.
Balmer also has been trained and certified through Equisage as an equine sports massage therapist.
"One of the vets down here told me it was getting really popular," she said.
Horses benefit from massage therapy much like people do, Balmer said. It lengthens stride, warms the muscles, releases tension and helps them perform to the best of their ability.
"If the horse has had an injury or pulled a tendon, you might try this once to see if it helps," she said. "If nothing else was working, you would want to see if it was related to muscles.
"Performance horses (are massaged) on a regular basis. On the show circuit, cutting and jumping horses use their muscles really hard."
During the summer of 1998, Balmer got a first-hand look at the show circuit. She spent the summer touring with trainer Sue Shea who was showing Arabian horses at regional and national shows.
When Shea had two horses entered in the same class, Balmer was paid to be the second rider.
After showing horses for a season and learning about the training process, Balmer decided to branch out on her own. She bought a 4-year-old Saddlebred-Arabian show horse.
"She wasn't broke yet when I got her a year ago," she said. "I saw a video of her and she moved nice, the price was right to buy her and break her. I wanted something challenging, a project where I could see how well I could get her going.
"She has done really good. It is amazing how fast she learns.
"I like working with young horses -- 2 and 3 year olds -- breaking them out," she said. "I like starting them the right way so you don't have to work though somebody else's problems.
"I don't think I will ever not have a horse," she said. "That's what I like doing most. I will always have some of my own."
And for those who would like to turn their own love of horses into a career, Balmer offers this advice:
"Try and learn everything you possibly can if you want to take on the responsibility of owning a horse. It's a good responsibility, if you don't mind working hard and picking up manure. I'd rather go out and pick up manure than do a lot of other things."