The UW-River Falls Western Intercollegiate Horse Show Association Team started out its 2017-18 season riding high. In early season competition, the UW-River Falls team rode against the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, University of Minnesota-Crookston, North Dakota State University at Fargo and UW-Eau Claire to bring home championship ribbons.
The UW-River Falls team didn’t have to go far to compete in its first contest even though the Oct. 14-15 competition was hosted by UMTC. UW-River Falls riders had home-court advantage as the Minnesota team trailered their horses to UW-River Falls’ indoor arena for the weekend.
“At the UMTC show, UWRF Falcon Riders were team champions and had both high-point and reserve high-point riders,” said UWRF IHSA Western Team coach Janie Huot. “The second day, UWRF was reserve high-point team and had high-point rider again.”
While championship wins are celebrated, members of the team value the other benefits of being part of the program.
“This team is my second family, a family of friends and people who understand my horse crave,” said team co-captain Danielle Paulson. “We strive to make each other better inside and out of the arena every day. Every single person on this team is a support system for me.”
Co-captain Autumn Kappers echoed Paulson’s sentiment about her teammates and the program. In her third and final year as a member of the team, Kappers has bittersweet feelings as she looks toward graduating in December.
“As excited as I am to be graduating, it breaks my heart knowing I won’t get to spend as much time with the team second semester,” Kappers said. “This team means more to me than words can describe. The bond, work ethic and talent this team has is unbelievable. We build each other up when we are down and cheer each other on when we are at the top. We have had an amazing year and it has only just begun. When a coach and 19 girls share the goal to be number one, there is nothing that can stop us.”
The co-captains value the coaching they receive from Huot, now in her 10th year of working with the team.
“She has our backs and believes in each and every one of us,” Kappers said. “She is a great listener and is full of wonderful advice. Janie is like a second mom and makes this team feel like a home away from home.”
Paulson received high-point rider placings at the Crookston competition and Kappers received reserve high-point in the Nov. 4-5 show. At that meet, UW-River Falls was high-point team on Saturday and reserve high-point team on Sunday.
Founded 51 years ago by Bob Cacchione when he was a college student, IHSA now has more than 10,000 undergraduate students from 500 colleges around the country competing in the two divisions, hunt seat and western.
The organization’s mission is to give undergraduate college students the ability to show without the expense of owning and hauling horses.
In the competitions, riders are mounted on horses they haven’t ridden before. An hour before the show starts, riders “draw” the name of the horse they will be paired with for the day.
“The team watches the warm-up and when they find out what horse they’re riding, can study how it is handled,” Huot said. “They are not allowed a ‘warm-up’ before they show. We get them mounted and their stirrups the right length; they’re led into the arena, the gate shuts and they ‘go show.’ ”
The competition is designed to allow riders of all abilities to compete according to their experience. The divisions are Beginner (walk-trot), Intermediate I & II (walk-trot-lope), Novice, Advanced, Open and Open Reining.
“The riders are judged on their ability to hold and keep a balanced seat with head, shoulder, hip, heel in alignment while negotiating a strange horse around the arena to the gait commands of the judge,” Huot said. “Beginning riders are those individuals who have not loped a horse in competition and have not taken 24 weeks or more of instruction. The open division riders are those who have shown in national-level breed competitions.”
As with any sport, riders feel the pressure and adrenaline rush they get competing at the different levels offered by IHSA.
“At every competition, I endeavor to have a better ride than the previous but I also aim to make sure all my teammates have a better ride than the previous, so we can not only take home the blue ribbons, but also the team championship at the end of each show,” Paulson said.
All members of the team are undergraduate students enrolled full time at UW-River Falls and may ride on the team for four years. Tryouts for the team are held in September with returning team members also trying out for a spot on the roster.
In addition to UMTC, UMC, UW-Eau Claire and NDSU, other colleges in UW-River Falls’ region with western riding teams are Ellsworth Community College, Gustavus Adolphis and St. Cloud State University.
The UW-River Falls western team will have home meets Dec. 2-3 and Feb. 17. The team will also host the regional finals Feb. 18. The other competitions on the 2017-18 schedule are the semifinals in Hamburg, N.Y., and nationals set for May 3-6 in Harrisburg, Pa.