Three members of the Culver Academies Western Team have qualified for the Interscholastic Equestrian Association regional competition on April 18-19. McKenzie Aebi ’17 (Dhahran, Saudi Arabia), Caroline Gadlage ’18 (Jasper, Ind.), and Ashley Dillard ’17 (Elk City, Okla.) are the first Culver riders to accumulate the necessary points to advance.
A recent addition to the Horsemanship program, the Western Team has been in the works since 2009. The team began competing in IEA Western division events during the 2011-2012 school year. The Western season covers the full academic year and concentrates on horsemanship and reining, with the occasional barrel race added for fun.
For the regional, Gadlage and Dillard will be competing in the junior varsity novice division and Aebi is entered in the junior varsity beginners level. In order to qualify they must ride in at least five competitions and accumulate a minimum of 15 points.
If a rider gathers 21 or more points, they move up a class the following year. Gadlage accumulated 22 points, which will allow her to move up to the varsity level next season, coach Melissa Hougas said. However, she will still be competing at the JV level for the regional.
Gadlage and Aebi explained the biggest differences between English and Western are the saddles and bridles. But Western is very similar to the flats portion in English riding, they added. While English riders are judged in the trot and canter, Western riders are judged in the jog and lope. The speed at which each gait is performed is the biggest difference. The goal in Western riding is for the horse and rider to maintain form while going as slow as possible.
At the Interscholastic level, Gadlage and Aebi said riders are assigned by blind draw to horses provided by the host school or club, so the riders are primarily judged on their form and ability to control the animal. In the adult competition, when the rider brings their horse, the judges concentrate on the horse’s ability to carry out the rider’s commands smoothly and precisely.
Hougas, who shares coaching duties with Melissa Alexander, said she is very happy with the progress of the team overall given the lack of experience the students have in Western. Of the three going to the regional, Dillard had shown in the American Quarter Horse Association and in Western before joining the team; Gadlage had experience riding Tennesse Walking Horses; and Aebi had ridden English and jumping.
The regional competition is being conducted at Windy Knoll Farms, Sullivan, Ohio