Trotting the trophies

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A look at Zionsville Community High School’s first equestrian team

By Mark Ambrogi

It started with a little conversation between moms with daughters involved in equestrian events.

Kris Hillman told Angela Brown she was thinking about starting a club.

“I was at a horse show in Kentucky and someone starting telling us about the Interscholastic Equestrian Association,” Brown said.

“So I got online to look at their website. I thought it would be great for my girls to join a team because there were teams all over. When I first started looking there were no teams in Central Indiana. So I went back to Kris, ‘You know that club you wanted to start, how about a team?’”

The team competes out of Zionsville’s Sierra Woods Farm. Sierra Woods trainer Kristin Bonacum, who competed for Purdue’s equestrian team, agreed to coach the team. Hillman and Brown serve as team moms.

The Zionsville Equestrian Team includes teams in both the high school and middle school divisions. There are 11 middle school riders and nine high school riders on the squads. Most are from the Zionsville area but two riders come from Valparaiso and one from Terre Haute.

Brown has two daughters on the team, Lauren, a Zionsville Community High School freshman, and Emily, a Zionsville Middle School seventh-grader. Hillman’s daughter Kara is a freshman at ZCHS.

The teams use horses supplied by the host team of the show.

“It’s good experience to ride other horses because you get used to riding your own horse,” Kara said. “Getting to ride other horses you don’t know can be more difficult. It’s a good way for people who don’t own a horse [to learn].”

Kara said it’s fun to compete with other horses.

“Sometimes you get a good draw, sometimes you get a bad one,” Kara said. “You learn stuff either way. It’s fun when you have a good round on horses you don’t know.”

Emily, 12, agreed.

“It takes a lot more skill to get on a random horse and do well than it does to ride your own horse,” Emily said.

Hillman said the IEA follows the college equestrian horse shows format by horses being shown at random and assigned to rider.

“Because you don’t have to have a horse, it’s a more inexpensive way of showing,” Hillman said.

Kara, 14, enjoys the team aspect.

“Normally we compete at horse shows individually but as a team we all come together,” Kara said.

Emily said she likes receiving support from the other girls.

“It’s more exciting if you do well and all your friends do well,” said Emily, who has been riding for eight years.

Hillman said the girls are now cheering on girls that they used to compete against in shows.

“It’s a very refreshing thing for them because they’ve never had a team before,” Hillman said. “Everyone’s points matter as a whole.”

The first horse show for the teams was in Shipshewana, Ind., on Oct. 11. In that first show, Zionsville tied for second in the high school division and the middle school team placed fourth. The high school and middle school teams were champions the first day in a two-day show at Culver Military Academy on Nov. 8-9. Both the high school and middle school team have qualified for the regionals, which will be held March 7-8 at Culver. A number of the team’s riders have qualified individually as well. The high school team won and the middle school team tied for second place in Fort Wayne in Dec. 6.

“They get points based on the different categories of riders,” Brown said. “It also allows the beginners to [work with]advanced riders. So people that don’t have much experience going to horse shows can work together. It’s been wonderful and they’ve had fun doing it.”

The Interscholastic Equestrian Association is open to riders in grades 6-12. There are only a few teams in Indiana, although there are 800 IEA members nationally. Westfield has recently added a team in the IEA.

Hillman said Zionsville High School officials are letting the team make announcements and officials said next school year it can post the call-out meetings.

“They’ve (school officials) been really great to work with announcing their accomplishments and any wins they’ve had,” Hillman said. “They’ve been supportive.”

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