BERLIN – Several local equestrians are expanding their horizons thanks to a new competition team at Autumn Grove Stables.
For the first time, the Berlin equestrian center has launched an Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) team. The team enables participants to travel to competitions throughout the region and ride a variety of different horses. Riders are excited about the opportunity it’s given them to enhance their skills.
“It helps me build more experience and become a better rider because every horse is different,” team captain Lauren Paulsen said.
The IEA program is open to middle and high school teams from private and public schools as well as to barn teams. Coach Kristie Naughton of Autumn Grove said she was inspired to start an IEA team after several former students visited and described their experiences as collegiate equestrians.
At that level, instead of competing with their own animals, the riders travel to a show and compete with horses and equipment provided by the host stable. Their selections are drawn and they have no choice in the matter.
“It’s completely different than what they’re used to,” Naughton said. “A lot of the girls said it took them a year or so to get used to it.”
The IEA program features the same layout as collegiate shows, which Naughton says will prepare her students for competing in college. It’s taken them some time to adjust to the new layout.
“You go to a show and draw a horse to ride,” Paulsen said. “Every barn is different and we have to adapt to their ring, their horses. For us, it makes us all better riders.”
To prepare them for the change, Naughton spent much of the past year hosting monthly practices in which students would be put on horses from Autumn Grove they weren’t familiar with.
Nevertheless, Paulsen said she still felt she was out of her comfort zone when it came time for her first IEA event.
“It was very nerve wracking,” she said.
She and her teammates soon realized though that their riding skills transferred to whatever horse they were on and have done well at four IEA shows so far.
“We’ve done better than we thought,” Naughton said, adding that the girls brought home ribbons from every show.
An added benefit to the IEA shows, most of which take place near Washington D.C., is the sense of camaraderie they’ve built among Autumn Grove’s students. Naughton says that rather than gathering the girls, their horses and all of their equipment for a trek to a show, the team simply gets in a car and drives over. When they arrive, they’re assigned horses that are already tacked up and they don’t have to care for.
“We’ve had a lot of fun traveling without the horses,” Naughton said. “It’s less work and makes us feel like more of a team.”
For more information, visit www.autumngrovestables.net.