Two Highland Lakes middle school equestrians qualified to compete in the 2021 Western National Finals in Fort Worth on June 30-July 1 as part of the Lone Star Equestrians team.
Ella Claiborne of Marble Falls and Peyton Carr of Bertram are members of the squad along with Kendall Crow of Dripping Springs and McKenzie Templin of San Angelo. Kelly Haydon of Burnet coaches the team.
The team earned a spot at the national finals by winning the Interscholastic Equestrian Association Region 7 Western Finals on April 17-18 in Westmoreland, Kansas.
“They beat the second-place team by two points,” Haydon said. “This is the first time one of our teams qualified to go to nationals. We are very proud of the girls this season. We saw improvements in every ride and improvements every show.”
The high school team, which includes Savanna Dean of Briggs, didn’t have enough riders to earn a team score.
“They did remarkably well,” Haydon said. “They had challenging horses. They had some bad luck in some of their races.”
Teams compete in six shows throughout the season with the goal of accumulating 15 total points to advance to the regional contest.
Each team collects points from four different riders competing in the novice, beginners, and intermediate categories. Riders can earn at least one point if they finish in the top five of their category. Lone Star Equestrians had a rider in the beginners and novice categories and two in the intermediate.
They’re judged on how they trot, walk, lope, and ride the horse.
“Kids ride together and compete,” Haydon said. “And judges judge them on how well they ride. The twist is they’re not riding their own horse. They draw that horse’s name out of a hat at the show. It’s very challenging and takes a lot of skill to get on an animal you’ve never ridden before. There’s no practice.”
Meet organizers set aside a time to allow the young riders to study the horses as they’re shown to them. Haydon said the riders take notes on what they observe about each horse and can use their summaries to prepare themselves for riding that horse during the competition.
The host team provides the horses.
Haydon said that when Lone Star Equestrians hosts a competition, she tries to hold it at a college or university that has an equestrian program. Along with having horses on hand, it gives young riders exposure to the college squad, its coaches, and facilities.
“There’s so much good for high school and middle school teams because it gets kids engaged in colleges,” Haydon said.
The coach added that the team’s success isn’t surprising because of how her athletes prepared.
“They come to practices and are eating it up,” she said. “They were wanting to be better. They were enthusiastic. They were determined. They gave it their all. You have a lot of girls who were in their second year of showing. We’re proud of all of our girls. They get stronger every year.”