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10-year-old cuts through the competition
GRATIOT - Klarissa Neff may be young, but she can cut with the best.

At age 10, the Gratiot girl is already an old hand at cutting, a rodeo event that features a horse and rider preventing a lone cow from returning to its herd.

Klarissa is so skilled riding horses she recently qualified for the American Quarter Horse Youth Association World Champion Horse Show later this month in Oklahoma.

Cutting is a fun sport to watch, said Kathy Neff, Klarissa's mother. The action is fast, with the horse darting to and fro. The rider is not allowed to use reins, guiding the horse strictly by footwork.

Klarissa is young to be competing at this level, she said.

"Most of the kids she shows against are teenagers," Kathy said.

Klarissa's young, but she's not afraid. Klarissa shrugged off any concerns that she might fall off her horse.

"I just get back on if I do," she said.

That confidence no doubt comes from growing up in an equestrian-centered family such as Kathy and Jon Neffs'. The family has 29 horses it's raising and training.

Klarissa has been riding since she can remember - she competed in her first show at 18 months. Her oldest sister Amanda Devno was Miss Rodeo Wisconsin in 2001 and Klarissa was Little Miss Rodeo Wisconsin in 2006. Her younger sister Gracie, 7, also cuts.

While Klarissa represents the young end of the spectrum for cutting, her horse represents the other extreme: At 26, Tana is considered very old to still be cutting.

"We take really good care of her," Klarissa said to explain how such an old horse can still compete.

It takes a lot of time to be a champion. Klarissa rides and takes care of her horses, spending three to four hours daily.

Raising and riding horses is also expensive. Because of the rise in gas prices this year, it will be difficult for the Neff family to find the money to make the 12-hour drive to Oklahoma City for the horse show.

To help with the family's expenses for the trip, the Neffs are accepting donations. Mail donations to Klarissa Neff, 13142 White School Road, Gratiot, WI 53541.

When she's not riding, Klarissa enjoys playing basketball and volleyball, and drawing, especially drawing horses.

But riding remains her first love and Klarissa is anxious to add roping to her repertoire which includes barrels, poles and working cow horse.

Klarissa plans to keep riding for a long time and has some big dreams for her family's horse business.

"I want to make our little ranch into a big ranch and be a trainer," she said.