Ask anyone and most would agree that life is meant to be lived with a purpose. However, very few people, especially young adults today, value this viewpoint. But Elise Guerra, of El Nido, CA, exemplifies a life lived with purpose. The recent high school graduate approaches life’s opportunities with enthusiasm and positive energy, whether with her horses, school, or her extracurricular activities. The fact that Guerra has laser- focus in all facets of her life is reflective upon an experience years ago, which has forever changed the young lady’s perspective.
Guerra cannot remember a time when horses weren’t a part of her life. In fact, she learned to ride before she could walk, and her world has revolved around them ever since. “When I was first born, my mom would ride horses with me in a baby carrier and from then on, my passion for them only grew,” she shares. With a start to her show career at the young age of five, it’s easy to see how Guerra would make a strong connection with many of her equine counterparts over the years. However, the young lady says one of her favorites was her gelding, Only By Invitation, who was one of her best friends. “I competed in English for quite a while, but I have always reverted back to Western Pleasure. I won many buckles on this horse and more excitedly, my first two saddles,” she says.
As Guerra grew, so did her love for horses, and she spent the summer of 2015 volunteering at Rockin’ JR Ranch, as she had years prior, helping facilitate therapy lessons as well as gaining knowledge on riding professional barrel racing horses. During that time, a series of events occurred which will continue to influence Guerra’s life forever. The young horsewoman attended a barrel race every Tuesday that summer, until one week when her horse lost his footing at the second barrel and somersaulted over her. It was a moment that changed her life and resulted in an axonal diffusion, a low chance at survival, and an even smaller shot at retaining her motor skills. She says, “I worked closely in therapy with speech pathologists, neurologists, and physical therapists at Valley Children’s Hospital to make sure I was on a path to recovery. By the time I was discharged from the hospital, I was at a six month recovery stage with only being two weeks out of my injury.” Guerra adds that it was a feat that still shocks her neurologists to this day, and the fact that she not only fully recovered, but prospered, following the limitations that go hand-in-hand with this type of injury, is astounding.
What’s most impressive however, is how this catapulted Guerra into a mindset of living a life of purpose. Because of her time spent with her neurologists and speech pathologists while in recovery, she realized she was put on this earth to make a difference, as they had in her life. In the fall, she will attend Fresno State on a full-ride academics scholarship and will be majoring in Communicative Disorders and Speech-Language Pathology in order to become a Speech Pathologist. Guerra says she also plans to implement the research she’s currently working on, into speech-pathology; the effects that riding horses has on speech patterns and how it can help children. “I want to have the influence on a child’s life that the Valley Children’s staff had on me,” she shares, “…I want to use my injury, my struggles, and my story to reach out to others who have limitations. I want to make a difference in this world and I cannot think of a better way to do so.” And it’s because of her drive and devotion to academics that Guerra can pursue these big dreams of hers. In taking multiple AP and honors courses throughout high school, she has earned college credits and never received a grade lower than an “A” in all four years of high school. She will graduate as one of the Golden Valley High School’s class of 2019 Valedictorians.
Guerra has also been dedicated to bringing that kind of focus to the show pen. She rides under the guidance of Kellie Hinely and Deann Hudson of Chino Hills, CA, and currently has two horses. The first, Real High Cotton, is a seven-year-old chestnut overo gelding who Guerra has had since she was able to ride again following her injury. The other is a five-year-old bay AQHA gelding named Im Lookin Cool. While both geldings will eventually be ready for the all-around classes, the young horsewoman says that they’re currently both doing well and when ready will compete at the AQHA and APHA Youth World Shows, Quarter Horse Congress, and the NSBA Championships. For now, however, Guerra’s goal is to really bond and create a good partnership with each horse show season. “…after all, they’re my teammates,” she says.
Guerra has also continued to lead a focused and driven life when it comes to her extracurricular activities. Unable to ride for a full year after her accident, she became very involved with the Golden Valley FFA chapter. As the most involved person in her 500-student chapter her freshman year, she constantly pushed herself out of her comfort zone. From public speaking to showcasing a horse project, the FFA helped Guerra reach new milestones she never thought possible. Just this past April, she was awarded by the CA FFA for having one of the top three Equine Entrepreneurship projects in the state. Guerra is also an active member of her school’s Speech and Debate Club and served as Vice President this year. Again, taking advantage of an opportunity to better herself, she says her experiences in branching out of her comfort zone have led to some amazing things, such as being selected for the 2018 American Legion Auxiliary CA Girl’s State. The only girl chosen from Golden Valley High School to attend, Guerra says it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. “…I stayed with young and empowering women from all across CA and learned about how the state and national government operates,” she shares, “It was an amazing experience to be around a variety of viewpoints, and therefore expand my own.”
It’s without much hesitation that one can see where Guerra’s drive for purpose is rooted from. The young horsewoman says she’s been blessed with an amazing support system, especially when going into high school with a bit of a disadvantage after her accident. But it was nothing that little hard work and inspiration from her two biggest role models couldn’t solve. Guerra credits her grandfather, Tony Mendes and her mom, Robin Baldes, with passing on a passion for horses as well as a will to strive for great things in life. “Hearing about how great of a horseman papa was, makes me want to become a better one too,” she says of Mendes. And as for her mom, Guerra says she’s certain she wouldn’t be where she is today, both academically and with her horses, if it weren’t for Baldes’ continued love and support. “She has taught me a lot in 17 short years about professionalism, respect, humility, how to be a great horsewoman, and much more,” she shares, “I know that she is proud of me, and I want her to know everyday that she makes me want to be the best version of myself that I can be and that I love her more than words can truly express.”
Guerra is certainly a young lady on a mission. Although her captivating attitude stems from an unfortunate situation, it’s helped her to strive for the big dreams and even bigger plans she has for her future. From her horses and college studies, to a promising potential career path, she’s destined to do some wonderful things in her lifetime!