Lexington, KY- Sarah Hood is not your typical high school cross country runner. On torrid Georgia afternoons, after classes are over, she joins her teammates for practice and runs for miles. After that, most of her teammates head home. Sarah Hood heads to the barn.
"As my teammates and l left every day, drenched in sweat and exhausted," she says, "many complained about being tired and couldn't wait to go home and crash. I just smiled as l left, knowing that I had horses waiting to be ridden, and stalls to clean, before I could call it a day."
Sarah participates in the USEF High School Equestrian Athlete program and, thanks to the strength of an essay she submitted, is one of eleven high school riders chosen to receive a $1,000 grant. The program totals over 5,000 participants and strives to provide young equestrians with an avenue through which they can be recognized as high school athletes.
"When my instructor told me about the USEF High School Equestrian program," Hood wrote, "I was thrilled to hear I could earn a varsity letter in the sport that is my passion. I also hoped that a varsity letter would show the other kids at my school, as well as my teachers, that being an equestrian means I am an athlete, just like the guys who play football and girls who play softball."
Thanks to the determination of students like Sarah more and more high school equestrians are being recognized, alongside the participants in their school's more traditional sports, as letter earning varsity athletes. When asked to write an essay describing their experiences with the USEF High School Equestrian Athlete program, those high school equestrians often cited the value of having their hard work appreciated, and being recognized as athletes, as one of the program's most valuable assets.
Loewe Kasprenski, a grant recipient from Allentown, PA, wrote, "the USEF High School Equestrian Athlete program really made me feel like I belonged and that what I so loved and practiced for hours on end did in fact make me what this program is for; an athlete."
Now heading into its fourth year, the program has offered more than $40,000 in grants to deserving athletes. Students who had successfully completed at least one year of the USEF High School Equestrian Athlete program, and were members of at least one USEF Recognized Breed/Discipline Affiliate or International Affiliate Association, were encouraged to submit essays for the grants in June. The author of one outstanding essay was selected per affiliate to receive a grant.
The essays not only told the stories of some very deserving high school athletes, but were evidence of a sincere commitment to horses, a passion for equestrian sport, and dedication to pursuit of a good education.
Listed below are all eleven of the $1,000 grant recipients and excerpts from their essays.
- Sarah Hood- Monroe, GA (American Connemara Pony Society): "It's quite a challenge to keep a 4.0 GPA, ride 3 horses a day, and clean the barn, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. I'm so grateful for this program to show the world how hard and demanding our sport really is and the dedication it requires of young equestrians."
- McCamey Kimbler- Aberdeen, SD (American Endurance Ride Conference): "What the USEF High School Equestrian Athlete program means to me is opportunity! The opportunity to show my fellow high school athletes that you do not have to be in a traditional school sport to be an athlete."
- Kendra Peeples- Oxford, NJ (American Morgan Horse Association): "When I heard about this program, I felt like my close-knit Morgan family suddenly expanded. All the breeds associated with the USEF were now recognizing not only myself, but all the other student athletes that were never treated as such. I was even able to get a varsity letter..."
- Loewe Kasprenski- Allentown, PA (American Saddlebred Horse Association): "Along with receiving the assurance of my place and being an athlete, the USEF High School Equestrian Athlete program kept me on the track for success, in the horse world and out. It showed me the importance of hard work."
- Clare Sitzer- Santa Rosa, CA (American Vaulting Association): "As a USEF athlete I have learned collaboration and leadership, listening and persuasion, contribution and support for colleagues, and appreciation and respect for other cultures and for equine members of the team. Equestrian athletes are more than individual stars; we are family."
- Sarah Reega- Loveland, CO (Arabian Horse Association): "Once I finally began competing, I entered the program immediately, and for the first time I was able to be recognized for what I've dedicated my life to. The High School Equestrian Athlete program is a way to bring together equestrians from diverse backgrounds and recognize them for a sport which oftentimes isn't recognized through schools."
- Maria Weber- Salisbury, NC (Paso Fino Horse Association): "To me, the USEF School Equestrian Athlete Program has meant a chance to connect with people who share my passion for horses and to be recognized for the hard work and dedication that I put into this great sport. The program has allowed me to become even further involved in the equestrian community and to foster my love of riding."
- Jessica Hainsworth- Mount Morris, NY (United States Dressage Federation): "Finally, there is a path for riders like myself, to be recognized for my dedication to the development and training of myself and my equine athlete partners. I am only 15, but I have spent 8 years giving up the outside activities of my peers to attend clinics, lessons and shows."
- Sarah Smith- Marietta, GA (United States Eventing Association): "When I lettered in this sport it made me feel like I accomplished something big and made all the logging of the hours well worth my time. When I got my letter I immediately put it on a saddle pad and I use it at every horse show...The USEF High School Equestrian Athlete Program changed my equestrian experience by making me realize how much I actually ride and the time I spend working at the barn."
- Elizabeth Simonian- Acworth, GA (United States Hunter Jumper Association): "The USEF High School Equestrian Athlete Program means many things to me; most of which is validation of the sport I am totally devoted to... as a Varsity Letterman I take seriously the responsibility to be a positive role model/advocate for our sport both at and away from the show ring."
- Emma Boslet- Orlando, FL (Welsh Pony and Cob Society of America): "Through the USEF High School Equestrian Athlete program, I am connected to a 95-year-old tradition that stretches from the pony pastures of my childhood to the Olympic Games in London this summer. I have a program prescribed for me by the same organization that governs the U.S. Equestrian Team. I follow the same USEF rules with the same passion as my heroes, McLain Ward and Beezie Madden."
In addition to individual grants, the following ten equestrian clubs or teams with the most student participation in the USEF High School Equestrian Athlete program will also receive $500 grants.
- August Farm- Holliston, MA
- Cranberry Equestrian- Plymton, MA
- Doule Deuce Farm- Concord, OH
- Golden Gate Vaulters- Golden, CO
- Minnesota District #196 Equestrian Club- Eagan, MN
- Mystic Valley Hunt Club- Gales Ferry, CT
- San Domenico Equestrian Team- San Anslemo, CA
- St. Timothy's Equestrian Team- Stevenson, MD
- Starbuck Equestrian Team- Ridgefield, CT
- Tally Ho Equestrian Team- Key Largo, FL
For more information on the USEF High School Equestrian Athlete program, please visit www.usef.org/highschool or email firstname.lastname@example.org.