For an update on Thea's performance at the World Championships, visit:

Photos courtesy of Marcello Rodarte

By: Hinsdale Magazine Staff

Most nine-year-olds have only experienced competition against their diminutive peers in gym class, but one Hinsdale resident is ready to compete on a much bigger stage this fall. 

Thea Merlo has grown up on horses, and has learned to share her mother Lesa’s and grandmother Patti Kolewe’s passion for riding.

“As a mother, seeing your child take pleasure in something to such a great extent is such a gift,” Lesa said. “She radiates pure joy when she is on a horse.”

Thea rides at exquisite Northern Tradition Farm in Minooka, about ten miles west of Joliet. Under the tutelage of her mother and accomplished trainer Tom Thorpe, Thea is gearing up for the Equestrian World’s Championships in Louisville at the end of this month.

“Thea came in some four years ago as an awestruck little girl who would stand behind her mom until it was time for her lesson,” Thorpe said. “Let me tell you, you know when she gets to the barn now. She carries herself with more confidence and regard than you would normally expect to see out of a nine-year-old girl. She really lights up when she is in the saddle—it’s her happy place.”

Both Thorpe and Lesa agree that Thea’s veteran horse Hank, owned by Bonnie Kegley of Homer Glen, will aid her odds of showing well at such a momentous event.

“Having a horse like Hank helps to give Thea another level of security,” Thorpe said. “He is a seasoned veteran: been there, done that—and won. I n a sport where there is little external control, it helps to have these little ones on horses that are proven safe and solid. Safety of the child is always paramount, and this is one of the best ways we have to insure that.”

Hinsdale Magazine: Thea, when did you start riding horses?

Thea Merlo: I have been riding horses for four and a half years—since I was five years old. I have been at Northern Tradition Farm the entire time.

HM: What do you love about showing horses?

Thea: I like to show, because you can show other people how you ride, and you have fun.

HM: Do you have a favorite horse?

Thea: No, I have three favorites: Hank, Archie and Dexter.

HM: Tell us about your trainer and training process.

Thea: Tom Thorpe is my trainer. I like him because he is fun and motivates you to do your best. I ride two or three days a week. We work on a lot of the same things over and over again, but that is what makes me good at what I do.

HM: Your mom has been a great support and role model; tell us about that relationship.

Thea: My mom I and ride together at shows and during practice. She is my biggest fan; she always supports me, no matter how I do in a show. We have fun going to shows and showing and riding together. It’s pretty special.

HM: Do you have any siblings, and do they share similar interests?

Thea: I have a twin brother named Jacob and a little brother named Max. Jacob plays baseball and football, and does Taekwondo. He just made the Hinsdale Little League All-Star Team. Max also plays baseball, and we play lots of fun games together.

HM: Tell us about your upcoming competition in Louisville.

Thea: I am excited and a little nervous about this competition, because it’s the World Championships! I have never competed there before, and the competition will be tough.

HM: I understand you have corporate sponsors in Dove and CHT Orthodontics?

Thea: Yes; I am very excited that people and businesses are supporting me and cheering me on and helping me go to the World Championships. It means a lot to me.

Lesa Merlo: We have been so grateful for the overwhelming support from our local and national sponsors. Thea’s orthodontist, Dr. Carrie Thangamani of CHT Orthodontics, was our first local sponsor. MB Financial Private Banking was not far behind, and we are so thankful that these local businesses would help support Thea on her journey. We were thrilled when the Dove® brand wanted to support Thea; it is surreal for Thea to be connected to such a brand. Another national brand, Sharpie®, also came out in force to support Thea and CH Hank Heiron. Words cannot describe Thea’s face when she realized all of these local businesses and brands were coming out in support of her. The list is long on the many benefits riding has had on our daughter. The fact that we can ride together and share such a special bond is something any mother dreams of. Northern Tradition Farm and our experiences showing together have truly been a blessing to this mother and daughter team.


For additional photos of Thea and Lesa at Northern Tradition Farm, click:

For Fashionable Hinsdale, click:

For the August 2012 Hinsdale Woman feature, click:

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