KIRKLAND – Controlling a horse in competition under normal circumstances can be challenging enough.
“A lot of people don’t think that riding a horse is difficult,” said Nadia Brown, 14, of Sycamore. “You can’t just jump on and ride off into the sunset. It’s hard work.”
“The horse can go either way,” added Michael Stadler, 13, of Malta.
It’s even more difficult when you’re competing on a horse you’ve never ridden before.
That’s one of the biggest challenges facing members of the new equestrian team On Eagles’ Wings, which was formed last year by Marie Hoffman of rural Kirkland. The local team, consisting of six high school and three middle school students, competes in Zone 5 of the Interscholastic Equestrian Association, which includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky and Ohio.
According to its website, the IEA was formed in 2002 “to promote safe riding, instruction, equestrian competition and education available to middle and secondary school students.” Beginning with just 200 participants, the IEA now has more than 8,000 members in 32 states. Competitions are divided into three styles of riding – hunt seat, western and saddle seat. There’s a junior division for grades 6-8 and a senior division for grades 9-12. Riders compete both individually and as teams.
Kirkland coach Michelle Dobosz said the local team was formed for children in grades 6-12 who don’t own their own horses, but still like to show. She said she heard about the association as a student at Lake Erie College in Ohio.
“It teaches a lot of values,” said Hoffman, who offers horse riding lessons at her stable, On Eagles’ Wings.
“It’s a good experience with scholarship opportunities,” Krista Day, 16, of Cortland, said. “It teaches us responsibility.”
Like some others on the team, Day leases a horse from the stable, where she also volunteers.
“It sounded fun,” said Allie Drake, 11, of Clare. “It’s something I haven’t really done before.”
Dobosz said riders in IEA shows, which are divided between a flat class and a jumping class, aren’t allowed to use their own horses. Instead, they draw names of horses out of a hat before they compete.
“They don’t know what they’re going to get,” Dobosz said. Riders go twice around the ring with their new steed before the jumping competition. Jumps consist of seven different heights.
“It’s pretty challenging with a horse you’ve never ridden before,” she said.
“Controlling a 1,200-pound animal with a mind of its own, you have to know what to do and what not to do,” Brown said, adding that some horses are more stubborn than others. “You have to know what buttons to push.”
“They can test you,” Day agreed.
Unlike some of her teammates, 17-year-old Betsy Koehnke of Clare does have her own horse. Competing on unfamiliar mounts, she said, will be something new.
“It’s going to be fun,” she said.
The experience should make them better riders, Aubrey Sieve, 16, said.
“You have to be prepared,” she said. “Some horses are hotter and have more energy.”
Most of the riders are from the local area; Sieve is one of two from outside the county.
“We really like Marie as a trainer,” she said, explaining why she comes all the way from Lisle. “She has the same ideas as us. She teaches a lot of the different ways to ride.”
“The horses in my life are why I am successful in my own business,” Hoffman said, “My goal is to help my students learn the valuable life lessons from horses that I did.”
Scott Roush of Belvidere said his 11-year-old daughter, Piper, has made a lot of new friends at the stable.
“This is great for the kids,” he said.