Travis Knight became accustomed to pressure-packed situations during his days playing basketball at the highest levels.
During his college career as a center at Connecticut, Knight’s team reached the Sweet 16 three times and the Elite 8 once in the NCAA Tournament.
He went on to play in a total of 27 NBA playoff games with the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks, including four NBA Finals games, in his seven-year professional career.
Still, none of his own experiences could ever prepare him for the butterflies that creep into his stomach each time his daughter, Natasha Knight, mounts her thoroughbred and hits the cross-country course, as she did Saturday in the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships at The Event at Rebecca Farm.
“It’s nerve-wracking,” Travis Knight said.
“I get more nervous for her than I did when I was playing. It’s a different sport. This sport brings danger. It’s definitely a danger sport. To watch the first girl (riding the course Saturday) go out there and fall, my heart was pounding.”
It never gets any easier, but Knight continues to watch each time his daughter makes her way around courses at eventing competitions around the country. And that’s good, because Natasha Knight doesn’t show signs of slowing down any time soon.
Following in her father’s footsteps, the 17-year-old Knight is well on her way to reaching the peak of her sport, a journey that began before she may have even consciously realized it.
“I’ve always wanted to be at the top of a sport, especially at the sport that I love,” Knight said. “It’s (Travis Knight’s basketball career has) always driven me a little bit more than any other kid, I think.”
Natasha Knight sees the fingerprints of her father’s career — and the lifestyle that accompanied it — all across her life in athletics, even though he played in his final NBA game when she was just 3 years old.
The Knights have never been the type of family to plop down on the couch together and watch TV. Although the younger Knight never took a liking to basketball — “I don’t even know what position he played; I don’t know anything,” she said — that didn’t stop the father-daughter duo from finding other activities they could enjoy together.
Whether it was surfing, fishing or simply playing in the yard with her dad, Knight was always active.
“I think that set the stage when I was young,” she said.
“Everything we did was athletic.
“Everything was active. Everything was treating your body right. Without that, I wouldn’t be able to perform the way I do.”
Knight started riding horses at a rescue barn in her hometown of East Haddam, Connecticut, at the ripe age of 4, but she did not begin competing until she was 13.
In the time between, Travis Knight encouraged her to try basketball and several other team sports. But there was no pulling Natasha Knight away from equestrian. She was hooked.
“I tried to get her to play basketball, you know, because I like the team aspect of it, just the camaraderie of it, just the synergy with the team,” Travis Knight said.
“I’m pretty low-key about that. I didn’t expect her to live my life. As long as she’s passionate about what she does, I support her.”
Passionate, she is.
Natasha Knight beamed Saturday as she traversed the grounds at Rebecca Farm after a clean cross-country ride on her thoroughbred, Harbour the Truth, which moved her up the leaderboard into 15th place in the NAJYRC CCI1* division.
And, to the delight of her father, she is finally on a team.
Knight is competing this weekend as a member of Team 1, a collection of the best young riders from New England. She and her three teammates sit in first place after two of the three disciplines, with only show jumping remaining today.
“He’s all happy now, because I’m on a team,” Knight said. “I’m playing a team sport, but it’s my sport.”
Knight’s involvement in eventing has required quite the acclimation for Travis Knight and Nicole Phaneuf, Natasha’s mother, both of whom were never involved with horses before their daughter began riding.
Even today, there are occasional struggles.
“My dad is still scared of horses,” Natasha Knight said with a laugh.
“I tell him, ‘Can you hold (Harbour the Truth) when I ice him?’ He has his arms out as far as he can go. My mom has really taken it on more than I thought anybody could ever do. She’s really grown into it. She’s my groom all the time, so they’ve been really nice and really supportive about it even though they’re not horse people.”
Even four years after she began competing, some things have not changed.
Travis Knight is still apprehensive around horses, yet he can always be found just outside the ropes as Natasha Knight darts off into the distance and onto the course, his stomach tying itself in knots within his 7-foot frame each and every time.
“I can’t say that I’m an eventing fan,” he said. “I’m a Natasha fan. For any parent, you just support your kid and what they love to do.”