From Israel to Oklahoma, Marietta's Baruch qualifies for World Equestrian Games.
The gate swings open and an otherwise silent Hardy Murphy Coliseum is filled with the soft echo of hooves thumping loose dirt as Marietta-based horse trainer Yonathan Baruch leads his horse through its paces.
Baruch, despite hailing from the Middle East, reins western-style at the FEI World Equestrian Games qualifier in Ardmore, using a lazy one-handed grip to coax his steed from trots to 360-degree spins and sliding stops.
A panel of judges jots down notes, analyzing every twitch and turn to see who will earn a chance to represent their country in North Carolina come September.
But Baruch and the horse beneath him are lost in their own world, consumed in the intimacy of a silent conversation as they breeze from maneuver to maneuver.
For Baruch, the saddle is the most comfortable seat in the building.
It’s been that way since he was just a five-year-old kid riding horses back home in Israel. In hindsight, Baruch said he never realized how far riding a horse could take him.
After showcasing his effortless reining style earlier this year, Baruch punched his ticket to the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games, a subdivision of the Olympics, where he will ride for his home country on the Israeli National team.
“Every athlete’s dream, more than being a professional or their career is to represent their country,” Baruch said. “Going to the Olympics, riding for Israel, This is my dream."
Baruch’s journey from Israel to Oklahoma began with a VHS tape.
When he was a kid, Baruch saw the 1984 film “The Never Ending Story,” about the magical adventures of a boy and a magical beast that whisked him away on an epic, fantastical journey.
While the movie captured the imagination of many children at the time, Baruch lived it.
“Atreyu got me into it,” Baruch said. “After I saw it, I kept asking my dad ‘please, please take me riding.”
Eventually, Baruch’s dad gave in, and after witnessing Baruch’s instant connection and natural ability with horses, he enrolled him in riding school.
Baruch’s ascent to international competition and turning his passion into a career took off when he met Ilan Rosenberg, an Israeli trainer.
Rosenburg took a 13-year-old Baruch under his wing, and eventually introduced him to reining, the western competition of guiding horses through a precise pattern of circles, spins, and stops.
Baruch flourished under Rosenburg’s guidance and after two years of learning from an established trainer, Baruch started his own operation, training horses until he turned 18 and began his mandatory three-year service in the Israeli Military.
Once his time in the military was up, Baruch had a choice — go to school and get a ‘real’ job or go all-in on training horses.
Much to his family’s chagrin, he chose the latter.
Baruch’s parents are both doctors, his sister has a pair of master’s degrees, and his uncle works as a mathematician at NASA.
“I’m basically the black sheep,” Baruch said.
Soon Baruch’s bet on himself paid off.
After managing a training facility that produced 14 Israeli champions, Baruch caught the eye of Oklahoma trainer Craig Schmersal.
While Israel was Baruch’s home and continues a proud tradition of training horses, the United States is the big leagues.
The competition is tough, the risks are high but the rewards of successfully training and selling reining horses are bountiful.
So Baruch began anew in the United States, with a dream of becoming the best.
In his six years as an assistant to Schmersal, Baruch said he made sure to glean every bit of insight and expertise as he could from the widely renowned trainer.
In 2012, Baruch started his own venture, opening Baruch Reining Horses on a ranch in Marietta.
Though Baruch has established himself as a professional trainer in the United States, locking up sponsorship deals and racking up nearly $200,000 in sales, the five-year-old kid who felt like he was flying on the back Atreyu can still be seen in his eyes.
He trains these horses for years. He earns their trust and they trust him.
In competition, he surrenders all control and lets the fruits of ceaselessly training and nurturing that bond take over.
“I call it, Jesus take the wheel,” Baruch said “The relationship is symbiotic. It’s all about trust.”
Not much will change for Baruch entering the World Equestrian Games in September.
His approach to the event will be the same, the main thing he’s worried about is managing his nerves and picking the right horse to represent Israel on the national stage.
“It’s my chance to represent Israel and go up against the best in the world, the best,” Baruch said. “I’m nervous, but more so I’m excited.”