Lexington, KY - Skylar Rowan's high school in Knoxville, TN, offers a plethora of sports teams - even bowling and sailing. More than 20. But, there is one missing - the most important one to Rowan: An equestrian team.
"Just like the majority of schools in my area, my school doesn't have the facilities or the budget to support an equestrian team," the 16-year-old says.
But what is more frustrating to this high school sophomore is that most people outside the horse world, she says, don't understand the time, effort, dedication and athleticism - for both horse and rider - that are required to compete in any equestrian discipline.
"It's not just learning how to compete as an individual, or even as a member of a team ... it's forming a partnership with an animal athlete to whom you trust your very existence. And while jumping a course or completing a dressage test looks beautiful to spectators, it is every bit as difficult as the quarterback completing the perfect touchdown pass or the baseball pitcher pitching a perfect game."
Rowan wrote those words when asked, "What does the USEF High School Equestrian Athlete Program mean to you?"
And by answering that question - very well, according to judges - she became one of 15 high school equestrians to win a $1,000 grant from the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) as part of its USEF High School Equestrian Athlete program.
"What the (program) has given to me is validation and recognition from those who truly understand this amazing sport," Rowan wrote. "By earning my varsity letter every year, I can also say to the world that I am an athlete... not just the girl who leaves school every day to 'ride horses.' Riding is my life, my passion and my sport. Yes, it would be great if my school was able to recognize me in the way that they do the other student athletes. But because of the USEF High School Equestrian Athlete program, I now feel every bit as empowered as those that parade across the stage each May to pick up a letter."
With its third year well underway, the USEF High School Equestrian Athlete program continues to grow both in nationwide participation and through offerings for students. More than $20,000 in grants was offered for the first time in 2011 to program participants - there are nearly 4,000 students in the program - as well as to equestrian clubs or schools.
Students who had completed one or more years of the program and were current members of a USEF International or Recognized Breed/Discipline Affiliate Association wrote the essays describing their experiences and opportunities through the USEF High School Equestrian Athlete program. One applicant from each of the affiliate essay submissions was selected to receive a $1,000 grant for future academic or equestrian educational pursuits. Rowan is a member of the United States Dressage Federation.
Additionally, 10 equestrian clubs and team were awarded $500 grants for their programs by simply having the most student participation in the USEF High School Equestrian Athlete program, based on students advising USEF of their participation in these clubs or teams.
Along with Rowan, the following are the recipients of $1,000 grants, listed with an essay excerpt:
• Rebecca Salberg, Rockaway, NJ (American Connemara Pony Society): "Prior to riding for this program, I was riding for the enjoyment of riding, now I am part of something much larger and it drives me to do my very best in practice and in shows."
• Brianna Ek, Southern Pines, NC (American Driving Society): "The cadence of the four in full gallop and the feeling of oneness with my team are electrifying. My confidence soars and I can feel my tightly pressed lips turn into a big smile. Welcome to my world, and the extreme sport of Combined Driving."
• Ayla Spry, Milaca, MN (American Endurance Ride Conference): "Because of the recognition through USEF and then the High School, I was no longer viewed as one of those horse kids, but as an athlete. I thank USEF for that."
• Kahlie Kroells, Hamburg, MN (American Hackney Horse Society): "The USEF High School program has opened my eyes to all the other industries that the Equine world touches and has given me so many options beyond riding."
• Nancy Merritt, Chapel Hill, NC (American Morgan Horse Association): "Through the USEF High School Athlete program I am able to easily share my commitment and the hard work that I put into my riding with academic leaders and peers, while attaining a greater sense of self-achievement."
• Kathryn Alexander, Morrison, CO (American Saddlebred Horse Association): "Horsemanship. The word itself embodies its spirit: the partnership between a person and their horse. That is what the USEF High School Equestrian Athlete program has come to mean to me; my horse and I are the team, competing not only for our own enjoyment, but for my pride as a recognized equestrian at my school."
• Katharine Wick, Hillsborough, CA (American Vaulting Association): "Having the acknowledgement and support from the national governing body of equestrian sport for my hard work and commitment to vaulting throughout my high school career became very important to me in my goal of being admitted to a highly selective liberal arts college."
• Zane Sullivan, Albuquerque, NM (Arabian Horse Association): "Completing the criteria for this program is not what I would consider easy, but by striving to meet the goals placed in front of me it has better prepared me for my future goal of trying out for the Saddle Seat Equitation World Cup Team."
• Thea O'Dell, Whittier, CA (International Andalusian and Lusitano Horse Association): "In the end, dressage and horses is what I live and breathe and would be nothing without it. The USEF High School Equestrian Athlete program has strengthened my ambitions in my riding and education, rewarded my equestrian accomplishments, and shown my high school that riding in all disciplines is ready to be a widely recognized varsity sport."
• Tynan Morley, Murrieta, CA (International Friesian Show Horse Association): "The USEF High School Equestrian Athlete program provides me an opportunity to interact with other kids our age and talk about the number one thing we love, horses, as well as opening doors of opportunity for me to introduce my non-horse showing or non-horse owning friends how great the USEF program and equestrian competition life is!"
• Laura Orr, Topsail Beach, NC (Paso Fino Horse Association): "It is an avenue through which kids in the equestrian sport can verify the time, sweat, hard work, victories and losses they have experienced as part of the world of horses. It's how the girl who takes her math assignments to every show, the young man that spends his time between classes studying Chemistry, and the homeschooled kid can be part of something bigger than themselves."
• Victoria Kager, Lancaster, PA (United States Eventing Association): "Atop all else, the USEF High School Equestrian Athlete program means commitment to my horse, my sport, and my future."
• Devon Conley, Sandy Hook, CT (United States Hunter Jumper Association): "The USEF High School Equestrian Athlete program has afforded me different opportunities outside of the equestrian sport. During the school year on my day off from riding I volunteer for Best Buddies program that helps handicapped kids. I have learned to be patient and have a sense of humor from riding which helps me greatly when working with the kids."
• Mackenzie Kurtz, Sugarloaf, PA (Welsh Pony and Cob Society of America): "Equestrian sports were not recognized in my school, except as a hobby. Now, I feel like I am part of a team or club. I am proud to wear my jacket with the USEF logo and pins I have earned."
The 10 equestrian clubs or teams receiving $500 grants through the USEF High School Equestrian Athlete program include:
• Cash Lovell Stables
• Century Mill Equestrian Team
• Concord Equestrian Team
• Dare Equestrian Team
• Essex Equestrian Center Show Team
• Mounds Park Academy Equestrian Team
• Oak Creek Equestrian Team
• Archbishop Spalding Equestrian Team
• Smoke Rise Riding Club
• Stanford Red Barn Equestrian TeamFor more information on the USEF High School Equestrian Athlete program, please visit http://www.usef.org/_IFrames/Youth/highschool/highschool.aspx or email firstname.lastname@example.org.