- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Ollie can be stubborn.
“He makes his rider work,” Emma Miller of Great Mills, a freshman at Leonardtown High School, said of the innocent-looking Appaloosa trotting past a group of onlookers.
The next horse in line, Tango, a handsome quarter horse, is a little skittish. “He’s a bit of a nervous horse, Miller said. “When his rider gets nervous, he just goes.”
Miller stood by the outdoor ring at A Moment in Time equestrian farm in Leonardtown on a recent Saturday and described to a visitor the temperaments of the horses being ridden by members of the Interscholastic Equestrian Association team as they practiced. Miller is a member of the team, but wasn’t practicing due to injury.
Those temperament differences Miller noted were key for the practice, as one of the team’s coaches, Ashley Bailer, pointed out at the beginning, because she and fellow coach Frannie King wanted the team’s riders to each work on specific skills at the session that those individual horses would test.
At the beginning of the practice, as the horses and their riders entered the ring and trotted in a circle along the inside of the fence, heavily splashing through the cold puddles, Bailer stepped up on a pink mounting block at the center of the ring and called out to the team members.
“All you guys! These horses have been particularly selected for each of you,” she yelled, noting that each horse’s quirks matched a skill that that rider needed to work on.
“Anna ... You’re on Annie to work your legs. I want you to work on your feet and positioning.”
“Brittany ... You’re on Ziggy because if you fight her, you’re going to have a [tough] time.”
Bailer went on down the list, letting each rider know what they were to focus on during the session.
“For the sake of all that’s good in this world, please relax your elbows,” she told the riders.
The Interscholastic Equestrian Association team was formed this year by Caitlin Adams of Compton, a junior at Chopticon High School. In addition to practices once or twice a month at A Moment in Time, the team has competed in three shows — two in Owings Mills and one in Virginia Beach, Va., all three times with every member of the team coming back with some kind of ribbon.
“It’s interesting,” said Bobby Lindsley of the new team. Lindsley is the owner of A Moment in Time and is also listed as one of the team’s coaches. “We’re still in the learning phase ... learning what [the judges] expect.”
“I started IEA after hearing about it from a family friend in Fredericksburg” in Virginia, Adams said. “I thought it sounded fun and challenging.” The next closest IEA team to the one in St. Mary’s is in Upper Marlboro.
In the IEA competitions, riders do not compete on their own horse or even a horse with which they are familiar. They show up to the competition and they compete on a horse randomly selected for them. In the over-fences class, the rider gets five minutes to get acquainted with their mount’s quirks. In the flat class, they get no time at all before the competition begins, Adams said.
This means the competitions are all about the rider’s skills, not so much a relationship built between one horse and one rider. Those skills can be as subtle as the direction of the eyes, the position on the saddle, the pressure of the legs.
“It’s about effective communication with the horse,” Bailer said before practice, “making sure you have the proper skills to tell the horse what to do.
The sport can be dangerous. “They are controlling this very large animal that they don’t know,” Bailer said. The horses used at practice range between 900 and 1,500 pounds.
The sport strengthens a person’s empathetic abilities, Bailer said, as the rider is communicating with an animal that can’t talk back. She said she believes that translates to better interpersonal skills overall.
Bailer, whose day job is as a seventh-grade English teacher, should know. Not only does she serve as one of the two coaches for the IEA team, she is the coach for the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association team (the next step up) at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, where she participated as a team member for all four years of her college career there.
Open to both middle school and high school age riders, the local IEA team has 13 members, with representatives from the three public high schools in St. Mary’s and two of the county’s middle schools.
“They’re great,” Bailer said. “They really want to learn. They’ve always been very positive.”
All the participants in the team have other experience with horses — they are regular riders, they take lessons, they compete in other ways. What the IEA team offers is the chance for the riders to take what is often an individual event and learn what it is like to be part of a team. It’s an attractive opportunity for those involved in a sport that doesn’t necessarily foster camaraderie.
Anna Thomas, a senior at Great Mills High School, hopes to pursue a career in the equine world. She’s been riding between 10 and 11 years, and she just joined the IEA team.
“I’ve learned so much equitation-wise,” she said before practice. Being on the team is a key attraction. “We get to know each other better,” she said of the riders.
Jennifer Groat of Hollywood stood on a bench outside of the ring as the team practiced and took photos of the team members that they could study later to see what they did right, what they did wrong.
She is a regular at the practices — her daughter, Brittany Groat, an eighth-grader at Esperanza Middle School, is on the team.
“It’s definitely made her better,” Jennifer said. “The coaches are wonderful.”
She noted that for many of the team members, riding is their only sport. “It’s the team aspect ... the camaraderie with the other girls,” she said, that makes the IEA special.
Adams, the team founder and team captain, said she is pleased with how the team is turning out. “In the beginning, not everyone knew each other,” she said. “But now, we are good friends. At each show and during each practice, the whole team supports each other.”
To learn more
For more information about the Interscholastic Equestrian Association team that is based at A Moment in Time farm in Leonardtown, visit the farm’s website at www.amitfarm.net. For more about IEA, visit www.rideiea.org.