Tough as nails.

That's how 7-year-old Avery Bowling's trainer Ruth Nicodermis describes the young equestrian.

"She's one of the bravest 7-year-olds I've ever met," said Nicodermis, who has been working with the South Elementary School second grader since November. And on Sunday, Avery's walk-it-off mentality was in full force.

She earned a blue ribbon at the Ox Ridge Horse Show after placing first in the short-stirrup division of the walk-and-trot competition, an event with about a dozen other up-and-coming athletes.

This marks the first time Avery has earned a first-place ribbon at a "AA" rated horse show, according to her mother, Theresa.

But horse shows are a win-some, lose-some event, a lesson that Avery has already come to accept, according to her mother and Nicodermis.

"Today was a horse show in a nutshell," Nicodermis said Sunday morning. "You win one and you're in the dirt in the next class."

After earning her blue ribbon, Avery competed in the short-stirrup jumping competition, and fell of her horse. But she didn't let that stop her.

"I'm not hurt," she said, matter-of-factly. Moments later she was literally back in the saddle, working with her trainer.

"Ruth wants her to end on a good note with the pony," Theresa Bowling said as she watched her daughter walk, then trot on "Eyes on the Prize," the black pony Avery rode early in the day. "This sport is a lot about confidence. She's got to get back up."

Eyes on the Prize is one of two ponies Avery rode throughout the week-long competition. She also worked with a 17-year-old, gray pony she calls "Bella."

The ponies Avery works with are an important part of her pathway to success.

"People think this isn't a team sport, but it is," Nicodermis said. A horse team is comprised of the rider, her horse, the trainer, the groomer and other additions, Nicodermis said.

Avery has respect for this dynamic, her trainer said. And according to Avery's mother, the 7-year-old loves and respects her ponies as well.

Avery loves animals, she said. When she grows up, she hopes to be a small-animal veterinarian.

"She truly loves her pony, which is very important," Theresa Bowling told the New Canaan News last Wednesday.

Working with two ponies in one day can be quite the task, according to Nicodermis, but if it's hard for Avery, she doesn't show it.

She's calm when she's on the horse. Centered. Focused.

"Talking to Avery, and working with her, is like talking to or working with an adult," Nicodermis said. "That's not necessarily the norm. Usually kids have to grow into that."

And if it weren't for the big blue bows that fastened the end of the two braids popping out beneath her helmet -- and of course, the short stirrups -- one might think they were watching Nicodermis work with an adult as Avery schools he horse in the ring next to the competition center.

On Sunday she focused on form and accuracy as she and Eyes on The Prize worked toward making it through the obstacles in the competition without knocking over any of the kid-sized rails. And that's her favorite part of the sport, she said.

"I like jumping, it's really fun. And I like going really fast," Avery said.

And someday, when her legs are longer, she plans to be jumping and speeding through the show's Grand Prix, and take home yet another blue ribbon.